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Lackawanna schools refuse to refund taxes on former church

A Lackawanna School Board member was stymied this week in his attempts to persuade his colleagues to refund school taxes apparently overcharged on the former St. Barbara's Catholic Church property owned by the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo.

Omar Saleh also failed Thursday to win a reversal of a resolution the board adopted in November, consolidating the district's 11 polling sites at one central location.

Trustees from Queen of Angels Church on Warsaw Street, which has merged with St. Barbara's, told the School Board that the City of Lackawanna had refunded $23,000 while Erie County had repaid $18,000 of taxes collected from 2008 to last year on St. Barbara's Church, which is being demolished.

The school district, however, has not refunded its taxes.

"Through an improper determination by the city assessor, [the school district] overcharged us by $9,378," said Gene Nowicki, a trustee on the board of the former St. Barbara's.

"So, when the city assessor, after many meetings, realized that [he] made a mistake, [the city] turned around and gave us our money back, and the county gave us our money back," Nowicki said after the meeting.

During the meeting, Saleh questioned why the district was not returning the funds, prompting Carl Morgan, the board's attorney, to explain that, legally, the district could not do so because it was not a party to whatever legal action prompted the city and the county to return the funds.

"There is no reason why we should withhold [the church's] money," Saleh countered. "Legally, it's not right; it's unethical."

Morgan, however, warned that if the board ignored his legal opinion and refunded the money, each board member could be held liable if a resident successfully claimed the refund amounted to be a gift of public funds.

"You took an oath. You have to stand by our legal opinion," Ronald Miller, another board member, told Saleh.

The board also voted to establish four election districts at one polling site in Martin Road Elementary School. The move followed a decision by the state education commissioner overturning the board's action reducing the number of election districts to one, with a single polling place.

Saleh unsuccessfully sought to table the resolution in favor of rescinding the entire plan to consolidate polling places.

He charged that it violated state Education Law as well as the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and said he plans a further appeal to the state education commissioner.

e-mail: hmcneil@buffnews.com

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