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Property tax rise proposed in Lancaster school budget

The Lancaster School Board is poised to approve a 2013-14 district budget that would raise the property tax rate by 3.05 percent over the rate for the current school year.

Spending would rise by $3.2 million, or 3.5 percent, in the $94.72 million draft budget, district officials said at a budget work session.

The plan relies on a combination of increased state financial aid, savings from staff retirements and additional money from reserves and the fund balance to close an initial budget shortfall of $2.39 million.

“We’ve done a lot of work to get to the point that we’re at,” said Jamie L. Phillips, assistant superintendent of business and support services.

The amount to be collected in taxes would rise by 3.96 percent.

School Board members who reviewed the plan Thursday night said they don’t like tax increases but they are satisfied district officials made every attempt to rein in spending while preserving district programs.

“I think it’s great. Of course, I don’t want to see anyone’s taxes go up. But most important to me is that our district remain intact,” board member Brenda Christopher said.

The draft budget unveiled Thursday updates a $96.07 million spending plan revealed last month, but retains elimination of three elementary school teaching positions because of declining enrollment.

The State Legislature approved a budget that gave the district an additional $443,808 over the amount of state aid proposed in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s spending plan.

Over the past month, five employees told the district they plan to take a retirement incentive, saving $509,692 in instructional salaries because they won’t be replaced.

Also, the district learned it can expect to pay $400,000 less in utility costs, and $341,323 less in employee benefits, than originally anticipated next year.

And the district plans to use another $1.07 million in reserves and fund balances – for a total of $10.99 million, or 10.4 percent higher than this year – in the 2013-14 budget.

Those and other changes would close the $2.39 million shortfall included in last month’s draft, and allow the district to lower the amount it needs to collect in property taxes.

The 3.96 percent rise in the tax levy is within the state-set cap of 5.99 percent.

The tax rate would rise by 3.05 percent, from the current rate of $16.05 per $1,000 of assessed value for a property in Lancaster to $16.54 for next year.

The owner of a home in Lancaster assessed at $100,000 would pay $49 more in school taxes.

The district also covers a small portion of the towns of Cheektowaga and Elma.

The bulk of the spending increase in the 2013-14 draft budget is the result of rising salary and benefit costs.

“It maintains all programs. Curriculum. Extracurricular. That was the board’s goal, and that was our goal administratively to do that,” Superintendent Edward J. Myszka said.

The School Board will vote on the draft budget Tuesday. The board will hold a hearing on the proposed budget on May 13 and district residents will vote on it May 21.