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Board eyes budget with lower tax hike

Voters will get a second shot at a Niagara Wheatfield Central School District budget next month -- one with a lower property tax increase.

Still stinging from the decisive defeat of a proposed 2012-13 budget that carried a tax hike of 9.9 percent, the School Board agreed Wednesday night to meet next week to approve another budget for residents to vote on June 19.

Most board members said they favored a second budget with a tax increase of 5 percent or 7 percent.

The district needed the support of 60 percent of voters Tuesday to pass the $61.7 million budget, because the proposed tax hike was nearly 3 percentage points more than the 7 percent maximum allowed under the state tax-levy cap.

The budget was defeated by a 2,004-1,713 vote.

During Wednesday's meeting, some board members said that expecting voters to agree to a 9.9 percent tax hike was unrealistic.

Kathy Fleming said people were insulted by the amount, as the district should have asked for 10 percent.

David Breier explained that the board may have been naive to expect positive results.

Under state law, the district is allowed another shot at a budget. If the second one goes down, the district is required to work with a budget that has no tax increase.

Board President Steven Sabo said he preferred a 5 percent increase, as it represented a compromise for voters. Bringing the tax hike down to that amount would mean eliminating another $1.3 million from the budget. The effort needs to include cuts to the "upper level," Sabo said.

In addition, he said, other, more creative cuts, such as eliminating nonleague games in some sports, should be investigated.

Other areas considered for elimination are kindergarten, prekindergarten, bus transportation and all sports.

Perhaps the most vocal board member during the lengthy meeting was Christopher Peters, who criticized parents and district supporters who did not vote. "People who have children in this district and did not show up to vote? They should be ashamed," he said.

He said he gives credit to those who opposed the budget for coming out and "speaking their minds."

Interim School Superintendent Kerin Dumphrey said he planned to meet with building principals to begin discussing the additional cuts. Sabo told him to come back with "a laundry list of new things" that would not impact students.

A public hearing on the new budget was set for 7 p.m. June 6.