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Niagara Wheatfield looks to close $209,000 budget gap

SANBORN – The Niagara Wheatfield School Board is on the cusp of formulating a palatable budget for next year but it still needs definite numbers from Albany.

School Superintendent Daniel Ljiljanich told the board members Wednesday that without any projected increase in aid, the district would have to cover a budget gap of $209,265, an amount significantly less than what was expected a few weeks ago.

The difference is that the state-mandated property tax cap has gone down for Niagara Wheatfield. The original projections showed the district had to reduce property taxes by 1.4 percent.

The latest figures have brought the tax reduction to less than 1 percent or 0.7 percent.

School business director Allison Brady explained that an additional five agreements for payments in lieu of taxes with businesses through the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency had to be included in the tax cap formula. The difference means that the budget proposal taken to voters in May does not have to reflect as much of a property tax reduction, it was noted.

Ljiljanich said that if the final state budget grants more aid to the district, the money could be applied to the shortfall. But timing is critical as Niagara Wheatfield has to adopt a proposed budget by April 6.

“The frustration is that we will find out close to when our decision is going to have to be made,” he explained.

If no increase in state aid comes, the district does have some options to fall back on.

The district could apply more of the money it gets from the State Power Authority in host community funds, utilize some of its unappropriated fund balance or increase the tax levy.

To increase the tax levy, the budget would have to pass by a “super majority” of voters or 60 percent. Such an accomplishment is generally considered unlikely as most residents want taxes reduced.

The district is expected to bring a budget of $31.860 million to voters May 17 that includes a number of expenditures that were eliminated in previous years.

The additions include modified sports, additional music instruction, technician services, a cafeteria monitor at Colonial Village Elementary School, a transportation attendant and typist, increases in special education, increases in contract busing and a capital outlay project contribution of $100,000.

Brady noted that the $253,300 in contract busing for special-education students represented an increase of about 600 percent over what was paid this year. Only one bid for the mandated service came in. The company, First Student Bus Services, provides five buses to transport seven special-needs students, according to the discussion.