by Terry Duffy
Lewiston-Porter voters will have the opportunity to review the district's proposed $40.472 million 2012-13 budget and $2.7 million capital improvement referendum, at a budget hearing Tuesday, May 8, at 6:30 p.m. in the board room of the Lew-Port Community Resource Center.
For 2012-13, Lew-Port, like other districts in the state, is again faced with the challenge of containing costs in the wake of ongoing state revenue cutbacks. According to District Superintendent R. Christopher Roser it's the result of what's known as the "gap elimination adjustment," a statewide system of reducing education aid and having districts pick up the slack or cut offerings.
Added to that this year is the new state-imposed "tax threshold," a formula devised to contain actual costs to taxpayers and enable a simple majority of voters to pass a budget. For Lew-Port the tax threshold was pegged at a 3.51 percent increase in the tax levy for 2012-13. As a result, the district, through cutting expenses and fine-tuning the numbers, crafted a proposed budget to voters of $40,472,775, which the Board of Education approved last month. It reflects a spending increase of $138,832, or .59 percent over last year's $40.2 million plan.
For district property owners the 3.51 percent tax threshold brings modest increases in the tax levy. In Lewiston, the proposed tax rate will be $22.91 for 2012-13 versus $22 in 2011-12. For the owner of a home assessed at $175,000 with STAR exemption it means an increase of $138 from last year.
For Porter, the rate will be $19.78 versus $19.58 last year. For the owner of a home assessed at $175,000 with STAR exemption, it means an increase of $30 from last year.
Final tax rates would not be set by the district until August.
By the numbers, it represents a mixed bag for Lew-Port residents. While property owners in Niagara-Wheatfield are contending with a hefty 9.9 percent increase in the tax levy on that district's proposed $61.7 million budget, those in Grand Island are looking at a tax levy increase of just 3.25 percent on its proposed budget of $53 million, due mainly to favorable offsets created by a higher student population, a growing Island community and increased revenues to that district from Erie County sales taxes.
Still, Lew-Port's rather conservative spending plan is much the result of significant cuts in spending, according to Roser. "Balancing our anticipated revenues with our planned expenditures proved to be especially difficult once again this year," commented Roser in the district's "The Link" newsletter. "We began the budgeting process with a $3.7 million gap between expenditures and revenue. This gap was partially filled by holding the line or strategically decreasing expenditures."
•Returning supply and equipment requests to their 2011-12 levels or less;
•Cutting back on programs and services requested from BOCES;
•Reassigning special education students who had been attending programs outside the district to programs on the Lew-Port campus;
•Eliminating Community Education programs and cutting intramurals;
•Leaving 12 teaching positions currently open due to retirements or layoffs unfilled for 2012-13. Four additional positions are expected be filled by existing staff.
•Reallocating federal title grants to cover staffing costs;
•Using portions of the district's fund balance, debt service reserve and employee benefit and liability reserve to offset expenditures in 2012-13;
•Reaching agreement with the Lewiston-Porter United Teachers union to increase member health insurance contributions earlier than expected.
"It's as good as we could get," said Roser. He added, "We didn't cut programs, but some will be run differently" in 2012-13.
Also to be voted on May 15 will be Proposition No. 2, the $2.7 million roofing and pool repair capital project. Highlights of that plan include:
•$1.5 million to replace the high school roofing system above the gym, pool and auditorium.
•$290,000 for high school pool renovations.
•$170,000 to renovate the high school kitchen.
•$260,000 to repair the middle school pool wall.
•$111,000 in construction contingency costs and $369,000 in incidental costs associated with the projects.
The district reports that the capital improvement project would also be funded by $2.06 million in state building aid and $639,000 in New York Power Authority community resource funding, provided to Lew-Port from the NYPA relicensing agreement and the district's association as a community stakeholder in the earlier relicensing process with NYPA. The capital project would have no impact on the tax levy.
On May 15, district residents also will be voting for two candidates seeking office to three-year terms on the Lewiston-Porter Board of Education. Trustees April Fideli and Wendy Swearingen are not seeking re-election.
Candidates who submitted petitions include:
•Mollie Lucas of Youngstown, a supervisor with the Niagara County Department of Social Services Child Protective Services.
•Michael Skrowronski, also of Youngstown, who serves as president with the Western New York Association for College Career Centers, and as a corporate relations developer for Career Services at Niagara University.
Both are running unopposed.
On a related note, it was announced this week that "Meet the Candidates Night," previously scheduled to take place May 9 at Lewiston-Porter High School, will not be held this year. Kimberly Kirch, president of Lewiston-Porter Partners in Education, reported that the student-based candidates forum would instead be taking place in a daytime classroom setting at the high school and is not open to the public.