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Board OKs budget raising taxes 9.9%

A $61.8 million budget that increases taxes by nearly 10 percent and eliminates about 40 teaching positions will be put to Niagara Wheatfield Central School District voters next month.

The School Board voted unanimously Wednesday to bring the 2012-13 spending plan to voters May 15. Member David Breier was absent from the meeting.

The board had to come up with an estimated $8.2 million to balance the budget.

Although the final budget was not as drastic as it appeared when deliberations began a few months back, it would still hike property taxes by 9.9 percent, increasing the tax on a home valued at $100,000 by about $95. The added tax revenue is about $2.4 million.

Board President Steven Sabo said the entire process "was not an easy one for us." Hard decisions were made, and no simple answers were found, he said. "Now it's our budget, the one we approved."

He urged the board and staff to come up with "creative ways to fund" the items that were removed but are still needed.

Some funding was used from the one-year contract concessions with the teachers union and the school-related personnel group. Givebacks from the teachers were estimated at about $1.2 million; talks with the other group saved $224,000.

The savings allowed the board to return a teaching team to the middle school to help reduce class sizes and, on a motion by member Richard Halleen, to reinstate a guidance counselor who will probably be used in the elementary schools. Also returned was the community education program, which will be self-sufficient by the end of the year.

On the recommendation of interim School Superintendent Kerin Dumphrey, the board will keep another $200,000 in reserve funding.

Sabo said the district needs to rebuild its reserves because he could see the same situation developing next year and he would not support another tax increase.

People arriving for the meeting, which normally begins at 7 p.m., saw signs on the doors of the adult learning center saying it began at 6:30, with the board in executive session. The board returned about 7:45 to start the regular meeting.