by Susan Mikula Campbell
Niagara-Wheatfield School District voters will have another chance to speak out about the proposed 2012-13 budget, as well as meet the candidates for the Board of Education on Wednesday, May 2.
A meet-the-candidates forum will be held at 6:30 p.m., and the regular meeting will start at 7 p.m. with a public budget hearing in the Adult Learning Center of the Niagara-Wheatfield Senior High School, 2292 Saunders Settlement Road, Sanborn.
Three candidates are vying for two three-year terms open on the board this year: Steven Sabo, current board president, who won a one-year term last year; incumbent Kristin MacKenzie; and Town of Niagara resident Richard Sirianni, who ran last year.
The proposed budget is $61,780,335, which is down 1.9 percent from the current year, according to Robin Vertino, district clerk. However, reduction in funding will mean a 9.9 percent increase in the tax levy.
Interim School Superintendent Kerin Dumphrey said tentative equalization rates have just been received from the state. These balance the difference between towns that have full assessment and those that haven't done a re-evaluation in years. Rates remain at 59 percent in Town of Niagara, 69 percent in Wheatfield and 100 percent in Cambria. Lewiston went to 82 percent from 81 percent.
A 9.9 percent increase in the tax levy will mean those owning a home assessed at $100,000 and having the basic STAR discount from the state will see the following increase in their taxes, according to Dumphrey:
•Cambria - $108.37 per year or $9.03 per month.
•Lewiston - $115.54 per year or $9.63 per month.
•Wheatfield - $156.52 per year or $13.04 per month.
•Town of Niagara -$185.09 per year or $15.42 per month.
Dumphrey noted that the average appraised value of a home in Town of Niagara is about $48,000, less than half of the $100,000 used in his tax example, because there has been no re-evaluation since 1987. The state considers this not up to fair market value.
"I'd like to point out that because of the fact we only raised our tax once in the last five years, if you take what the state calls true value tax rate, we haven't raised taxes much," Dumphrey said. If the new budget is passed, the true value tax rate will be only about 1.8 percent higher than it was six years ago, "because we haven't increased taxes to keep up with the increases in property values."
The value of homes in the district has increased $165 million during the last five years, he said, and although new builds leveled out between 2009 and 2011, construction has started to pick up again during the last year.
The proposed 2012-13 budget reduces the number of guidance counselors and increases class sizes at each level from elementary to high school. There are fewer electives and special programs.
Among other cuts are the district's pre-kindergarten classes, unless the state comes through with funding. N-W is the only district in the county not receiving state support for this program.
Dumphrey said he doesn't like to use the word "disaster," but that is the likely alternative if the budget fails. For one thing, the district's noted athletics and music programs would have to go and other cuts made that he doesn't think residents would want.
If the budget fails, he said, "it's not going to be the Niagara-Wheatfield we've known and been proud of."
The annual budget vote and school board election will be held from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday, May 15, in the ALC at the high school.