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LOCKPORT – Gambling that Congress will restore money cut from federal education programs, the Lockport School Board voted Wednesday to set the 2013-14 property tax levy increase at 2 percent.

It reduced the expected tax increase from the 2.75 percent it had agreed upon two weeks ago by taking out a contingency account of nearly $500,000 that was intended to protect the district from the possible effects of the federal budget sequestration.

“I don’t think it’s ever going to come to fruition,” board Vice President David M. Nemi said. “I think they’ll fix it before then.”

Nemi, chairman of the board’s audit committee, portrayed the move to set the tax increase at 2 percent as assistance to the public.

“There’s still people out there who think our tax cap is 2 percent. This takes away all the confusion,” Nemi said.

Actually, when legally allowed exceptions are included, Lockport’s real tax cap for the coming school year is 5.04 percent, said Deborah Coder, assistant superintendent for finance.

The only vote against Nemi’s recommendation came from board member Edward P. Sandell.

“I don’t agree with the way of making it 2 [percent], that we’re going to make it clear to people who don’t understand it anyway,” Sandell said.

He said he would have supported a slightly larger tax increase to build up the reserves, saying that not doing so was hurting future school boards.

The state of the district’s reserve funds “is not a pretty picture,” Superintendent Michelle T. Bradley said. “Many of them are at zero or will be at zero.”

The proposed budget to be placed before the voters May 21 totals $83 million in spending, which is an increase of 3.96 percent from this year. The 2 percent tax levy increase will equate to 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, if assessment rolls and tax rates remain unchanged, Coder said. That would mean a tax increase of $37.50 for a house assessed at $105,000 with a basic STAR exemption.

The district is slated for a state aid increase of $966,000, but only $440,000 of that is being applied to the new budget. The remainder is being set aside for use in 2014-15.

Member Thomas W. Fiegl said, “To come up with the 2 [percent increase] took a lot of work. I appreciate it, and I think the public will, too.”

“At the end of the day, it comes down to what our community can afford,” member Diane Phelps said. “My neighbors don’t even have the 2 percent.”

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com