SANBORN – The proposed tax hike to be presented to Niagara Wheatfield Central School District voters on May 21 will not be higher than 5.91 percent.

The School Board formally set the limit Wednesday which represents the state tax increase limit as adjusted for Niagara-Wheatfield.

State law permits each district to adjust the tax limit beyond 2 percent by figuring in factors such as assessment roll increase, losses from payment in lieu of taxes agreements, budget carry-overs, payments on the interest to capital projects expenses, and increases in the teachers’ retirement system.

By staying within the cap, the district only needs a 50 percent majority of voters to accept the budget. If it wanted a larger increase, as it did last year, at least 60 percent of voters would have to agree.

A tax hike of 9.9 percent in 2012 was rejected at the polls and voters later approved a budget with a 4.85 percent tax hike.

But by accepting the adjusted cap, the board must find about $1.4 million in budget cuts in the next few weeks. The $63,679,712 needed for expenditures next year exceeds revenues by $1,461,577.

Spending in the roll-over budget is slightly more than 5 percent higher than this year or about $3,160,725, according to the budget presentation.

Richard Hitzges from the Orleans-Niagara Board of Cooperative Educational Services, said the board can look at a few items to close the gap such as reducing its debt service, more teacher retirements, additional state aid, and discussions with staff for further reductions.

Board president Steve Sabo said “anything that’s non-mandated” is on the table for discussion. The board is trying to avoid the situation that occurred last year when about 63 positions at all levels were eliminated to balance the budget.

But the district cannot afford further staff cuts, board members all agreed. Sabo noted that the district classrooms are “maxed out” with 30 to 32 pupils in some elementary schools and the high school would have to “send kids home at noon everyday” because not enough teachers would be available to instruct.

He and board member Christopher Peters asked the small audience to encourage other residents to come to the next meetings to learn about the budget and provide input on what should be done.

Following a series of budget meetings at the elementary schools that concluded Thursday at West Street, the board will convene again April 10 and 17 with a budget public hearing set for May 8. All meetings begin at 7 p.m.

In another financial matter, the board discussed the possibility of going with a private bus company rather than keeping its own transportation department to save money.

Although the board agreed to get proposals this summer from private companies, the largest deterrent was identified as the cost of buying out its transportation employees, estimated at $5 million. Other drawbacks would include restricting transportation to only those students who live two miles from school instead of providing transportation to all students and increased contract costs with private companies. Sabo and Peters also said they preferred to have control over who was being hired to transport district students.