Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

May 21, 2013

School districts budgets pass, Wilson fails

Majority of eastern Niagara County residents give blessing on 2013-14 spending plans

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal —

Five local school districts have their budgets in place, but a strong message has been sent in the Wilson Central School District.

Budgets for the 2013-14 school year were approved by voters Tuesday night in Lockport, Barker, Newfane, Royalton-Hartland and Starpoint.

But Wilson wasn't as fortunate. Voters shot down the district's $24.3 million budget by a 698-414 decision, then did not re-elect President Timothy Kropp, who has been on the board for 18 years.

"The public has sent us a message," said Wilson Superintendent Michael Wendt. "We'll bring this to the board and determine what to do. It was a large turnout and voters have sent us a message. We'll have to take a look."

Now, Wilson Board of Education members will decide on what to do next. School districts with defeated budgets can decide whether to put up another budget for a June vote, or go directly to a contingent budget. If the June budget is defeated, then the school district must go to a contingent budget.

For a contingent budget, districts must keep their tax levy flat from the 2012-13 school year. In Wilson, the levy for the current school year is about $10.8 million. The defeated budget would have raised that to $11.3 million, a 4 percent increase but under Wilson's 5 percent cap.

The Wilson board will meet at 7:30 p.m. May 28 in the middle/high school auditorium on Lake Street.

Voters in the Lockport City School District sent a message of their own. The $83 million budget was approved convincingly with a 1,158-596 margin, then approved a $22.1 million capital project by a 1,097-606 vote. The project will include a number of repairs and upgrades needed throughout the district, most of which were tagged in a state-mandated building condition survey.

The budget is a 3.96 percent or $3.1 million increase in spending and calls for a 2 percent or $692,000 increase in the tax levy, below Lockport’s tax cap of 5.04 percent.

It was the second straight budget approved with over 60 percent of voters, something district officials see as a sign of strong public support. Last year, Lockport taxpayers voted 1,174 to 512 in favor of the budget.

"We're very happy that both propositions passed," said Superintendent Michelle T. Bradley. "We understand our job in educating kids, but I think we've also kept in mind what's affordable in the Lockport community."

But then residents did not re-elect two sitting members to the Board of Education. Former BOE president Marietta Schrader was elected with 868 votes, followed by newcomer Todd McNall with 864 votes and incumbent Diane Phelps with 853 votes.

Incumbents Edward Sandell and Jon Williams finished with 832 and 700 votes respectively, followed by Randall Parker with 551 votes.

McNall was thankful to voters, saying his involvement in the Lockport community might have been a factor in the election.

"I'm looking forward to the challenge," McNall said.

In Barker, the district's $19 million budget was approved with a 298-95 vote. The budget is a 2.4 percent or $460,000 decrease in spending. The tax levy amount needed would be $3.91 million, a 3.5 percent or $132,500 increase, but below the district’s legal limit of 90 percent. It’s expected the property tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value would rise about 54 cents.

The Barker Free Library, which lacks the funds to finish the year, will become a school district public library. Barker School District residents voted in favor of the change Tuesday, as the new $75,000 tax levy for library was adopted by voters, 276-128.

"We're extremely pleased the public recognizes the value of a library in a small town," said library trustee president Roy Anderson. "Circulation has gone up. I'm gratified people are turning to library."

The library has been struggling with a meager budget with no dedicated source of income.

Under the new procedures, the school district will collect taxes with the school tax and library tax lines separate. The residents will see the library tax on their school tax bill and the town and village will no longer need to allocate funds.

The Town of Somerset provided $18,500 this year, while Hartland and Barker will give the library $3,500 each. According to Anderson, the library once had $26,000 in reserves, now it has $5,000.

"We will spend that and there will be no operating funds to last the year," he said.

The library has two part-time employees and was directed by six volunteers. Seven trustees were elected on Tuesday, including Anderson, James Trinder, Pamela Atwater, Terrence Upton, Henry Charache, Marilyn Zaciewski and Seanna Corwin-Bradley. Each were elected for a five-year term.

For the school board race, Mary Jo Clemens-Harris got 271 votes and William F. Smith got 261 to win three-year terms. John McDonald had 175 votes.

By a 646-416 vote, Newfane residents approved a $33.6 million budget. The budget, a $760,000 or 2.31 percent increase in spending, would require $12.7 million from local taxes, an increase of about $250,000 or 2 percent. Tax rates would probably drop in all of the towns within the school district, except for Newfane itself, officials said.

Newcomers James Schmitt and Donna Lakes were elected to the board, with 675 votes and 666 votes, respectively. Incumber Michele Malone was re-elected with 538 votes, followed by incumbent Joseph Flagler with 520 votes and Margaux Lingle with 504 votes.

"I'm a little overwhelmed," Lakes said. "I look forward to working with the board and working with the community."

"I'm thrilled, I wanted to do this for three more years," Malone said.

Royalton-Hartland voters approved the district's $22 million budget by a 319-109 margin, which raises the levy by 3 percent or $272,000. Newcomer Sara Fry was elected and Vice President Daniel Bragg was re-elected with 348 and 313 votes, respectively. Both ran unopposed.

Over in Starpoint, district residents approved the $46.5 million budget, 622-332. The budget, a 2.62 percent or $1.2 million increase in spending, would require roughly $25.8 million from taxes, a tax levy rise of 3.18 percent or $800,000. That is below the district’s tax levy cap of 4.86 percent.

That would cause the tax rate to rise about 1.99 percent, or 43 cents per $1,000 of assessed land value. The average rate would rise to about $22.23 per $1,000 for Starpoint residents.

Incumbents Michael Zimmerman and Dennis Toth were re-elected with 598 and 569 votes, respectively. Kevin Duffy was elected with 508 votes, while incumbent Jeffrey Duncan was elected to a one-year term with 440 votes. Susan Brooks, Sherri Weber, Andrea Wick and Eugene Stanwich finished with 419, 361, 314 and 186 votes, respectively.

Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241 or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick. Reporter Bill Wolcott contributed to this report.