SANBORN – Niagara Wheatfield Central School District voters won’t be asked to break the state tax cap this year.
The School Board has voted to keep any tax hike in 2013-14 within the maximum property tax hike limits. State law permits taxing entities such as school districts to raise taxes no more than 2 percent each year, with a number of exceptions. A district can override the taxing limit if the budget is passed by a “super majority” of voters, or 60 percent.
In 2012, Niagara Wheatfield voters were asked to approve a $61.7 million budget that carried a tax hike of slightly less than 10 percent. Several factions of the district had been lobbying at meetings to convince the board that a large tax bill was preferable to devastating cuts in programs and personnel.
Voters rejected that budget proposal and later supported a second proposal that kept the tax hike at less than 5 percent.
Board president Steve Sabo said he would not make the same mistake again.
“When we tried last year, we barely broke 40 percent (of the vote),” he said of the failed attempt to exceed the tax hike limit. “This year, we decided the people spoke. They didn’t want it.” On that premise, the board voted Feb. 6 to notify the state that it would not try to exceed the tax limit.
Sabo conceded that the board’s choices are few. Nearly 40 teaching positions were on the chopping block in the current year’s budget and a number of programs and offerings were eliminated or restructured.
“Not much is left,” he noted. “Last year, it was all flesh and muscle. Next is the marrow.”
But even with the taxing limit, Sabo said voters needed to be aware of what the state allows.
“People don’t know that it’s a ‘soft’ cap, not a ‘hard’ cap,” he advised.
Exclusions allow a district to go beyond 2 percent.
School business executive Kerin Dumphrey said if Niagara Wheatfield is allowed to include all of its budgetary exclusions, the tax cap would be increased to nearly 6 percent of the tax levy.
State law permits each district to adjust the tax limit beyond 2 percent by figuring in various factors such as assessment roll increases, losses from payment in lieu of taxes agreements, budget carry-overs, payments on the interest for capital projects, and increases in the cost of the teachers’ retirement system.
For Niagara Wheatfield, Dumphrey explained that if approved by the state, its tax levy could be increased from $28,661,923 to $30,354,760. The increase amounts to about 5.9 percent or 5.74 percent when the School Tax Relief Program (STAR) exemptions are included, he said. The exclusions for the district amount to an additional total of $1,372,466 toward the levy.
Dumphrey added that the proposed aid package from the state would make the situation worse as its increase is at 1.5 percent or $330,066.