Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

March 28, 2013

District looking at smaller tax levy hike

BY JOE OLENICK
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Lockport City Schools will receive a little extra help from Albany and pass that to taxpayers and its reserves.

Under the budget plan adopted by the state Senate on Wednesday, the district is expected to receive about $39.67 million in total state aid for the 2013-14 school year. That would be about $966,000 or 2.5 percent more than Lockport received for the current school year, as well as $950,000 more than $38.6 million Gov. Andrew Cuomo suggested in his proposed budget in January.

Today, the state Assembly is expected to pass the same budget plan as the Senate did Wednesday.

School districts often set up their budgets based on the governor’s proposal, but also often lawmakers add some cash before finalizing a state budget.

The revised state aid figure won’t affect the expenses, which is expected to total $83.5 million for the 2013-14 school year. That’s a spending increase of about 4.2 percent over the current school year’s total.

But there is a question of how to figure in the additional $950,000. Board of Education members heard a recommendation from its audit committee Wednesday.

Board Vice President David Nemi, who chairs the committee, suggested splitting the amount between lowering the levy and refreshing some of the reserves. Lockport was planning on using $2.6 million from its reserves, worrying some members about the long-term health of the accounts.

Nemi said roughly $430,000 should go toward reducing the levy, while the rest would be used to replenish the reserves.

“That way we stabilize the district for future levies,” he said.

Doing so would present a tax levy increase of about 2.75 percent, or $950,371, from the current school year. That was lower than the proposed 4.47 percent increase from a month ago. Either way, the district would be below its tax levy cap of 5.04 percent.

”I think it’s the right thing to do,” said President John Linderman.

Taxes account for about $36 million in revenue for the city school district. If a 2.75 percent tax levy increase were approved by voters on May 21, the impact on a home assessed at $105,000 with a basic STAR exemption would be an annual increase of about 68 cents per $1,000.

Deborah Coder, the district’s assistant superintendent for finance, said if board members chose to put all of the $950,000 toward reducing the levy, the tax levy would have increased by 1.48 percent.

Lockport will see some big increases in the benefits line of the budget, which will increase about $3.1 million in 2013-14 to a total of $21.7 million. That is largely due to increase in the state teacher and employee retirement systems.

Expenses in the Teacher Retirement System will jump about $1 million or 26.5 percent for the district, to a total cost of about $5.1 million next year. The Employee Retirement System will go up about $151,000 or 14.18 percent to $1.2 million.

Board of Education members will adopt a budget April 10. A public hearing on the budget will be held May 8.

In other district news, board members approved a new contract with YWCA to provide universal prekindergarten services.

In the past, Lockport’s universal prekindergarten sites were held at John Pound School, the YWCA and Happy Times Preschool. In an effort to cut costs, the school district decided to move all classes under one roof at John Pound. Pound houses the district’s early education programs.

Lockport had to bid out the new contract, but only two responded with the YWCA being the lowest bidder. The contract is for $189,789, which is covered by the state UPK funding.

Coder said the YWCA lowered its fees for the program. The contract also calls for an increase in the number of kids the YWCA will be responsible for, which will be 100 children, up from 60.

Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241 or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick.