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Board members debate keeping budget under tax cap

Most Orchard Park Central School Board members said they want next year's budget to stay under the tax cap.

"I don't believe it's worth the risk," Vice President Natalie Schaffer said. "I believe the tax-levy cap is high enough. It looks like the district can maintain its current programs and stay within the cap."

The district's tax-levy cap is about 3.7 percent, although the figure is a fluid one as New York State gives the district more information to plug into the tax-cap formula.

Board member Sean Wittmann asked why the board doesn't try to fund a spending plan that might have a tax rate higher than the tax cap but maintains the good programs.

"Everything I've heard is let's keep the district great," he said, adding that the board can put the budget up for two votes.

But if the budget with a tax levy higher than the tax cap is not passed by more than 60 percent of the vote, and if a second budget fails, under state law, the tax levy could not be increased. That would mean another $2 million in cuts.

Board members Carla Marrazzo and Donna M. Omar said they were not willing to take the risk of going above the tax cap. Marrazzo said she does not think the district could get a high enough voter turnout to override the tax cap.

Board member David Nielsen said the district should not go above the cap unless there is a drastic expansion in the programs. Board President Alfred McClymonds said that he sees both sides and that the board might look at the possibility of exceeding the cap by a small amount.

To get down to the tax cap, the district would have to cut more than $200,000 on top of changes announced Tuesday night.

The target total to stay within the tax cap is $83.64 million, an increase in spending of $1.84 million, or 2.25 percent, said Jeffrey Petrus, assistant superintendent for business.

In last month's budget presentation, he said the district would have to cut $328,717 to stay under the tax cap. Because of changes in the formula, that figure grew to $375,000, he said.

There have been additions and subtractions since, bringing the new target to $217,000.

Administrators want to reinstate the gifted and talented program and the Middle School librarian, increase academic intervention, reinstate the athletic director to a full-time position and increase special-education instruction and speech support. Those changes would add nearly seven full-time teaching positions and cost $531,200.

"This is on the heels of last year's budget when we lost 37 positions," Superintendent Matthew P. McGarrity said. "These aren't things we view as extras."

Budget reductions, including reducing four elementary teaching positions based on lower enrollment projections and four teacher's aide positions, lower than expected teacher's pension payments, changes in BOCES services and reductions in substitute pay rates, would save $689,899.

Administrators expect to present a final plan at the board's next meeting March 13.