by Susan Mikula Campbell
Only 545 people turned out Tuesday to vote on the proposed $11.085 million Niagara-Wheatfield School District capital project referendum.
The capital project, which provides funding for recreational and safety upgrades at the district's schools, was approved 335 to 210.
"I wish it was where I didn't have to think it's all or nothing," said Frank Chiarella of Wheatfield as he inspected information boards detailing the planned projects and their costs at the high school's Adult Learning Center.
The recreation improvements part of the project costs $6.094 million and will not go forward unless Greenway funds and state aid completely cover the cost.
The safety part of the project, however, costs $4.991 million and the portion not covered by state aid will be paid by taxpayers. This will result in an average tax increase of $21.41 per year for three years on a home assessed at $100,000, according to district figures.
Kerin Dumphrey, school district business manager, explained that due to the economy and state budget woes, this might be the last year Niagara-Wheatfield will be able to receive an extra 10 percent in aid over its regular building aid ratio. That's why the district included a varied list of safety-related improvements in this capital project plan.
"Maybe 10 percent doesn't sound like a lot, but without it, the local share would double," he said.
Chiarella wasn't happy about raising property taxes.
"We're done. They're high enough," he said.
He added that even with the state Greenway funds from the relicensing of the Power Authority, the funding really comes from the taxpayers. "They're basically giving back money they took from us. One way or another, we paid for this," he said.
A Wheatfield voter who gave her name as Chris brought her daughter to the vote.
"I think it's a great idea. We have to take advantage when the money is there and make the schools up to date," she said, adding that it didn't make sense to let things deteriorate to the point they become more expensive to fix and affect safety.
The Greenway portion of the project will include a bike/walking path and a Cayuga Creek nature trail on the high school/middle school campus. In addition, facilities that are used by the public and students, such as bleachers, concession stands, restrooms and an outdoor track are included in the plan.
The long list of safety updates includes items such as roof replacement over the high school pool, gym, cafeteria, auditorium area; a snow melt system, handrails and replacement of concrete steps at Edward Town Middle School; and parking lot improvements and storm water drainage at various schools.