SANBORN – Teachers health benefits, the budget deficit and regular tax increases were the topics brought up during a public hearing Wednesday on the proposed 2013-14 budget for the Niagara Wheatfield Central School District.
Before a sparse audience of fewer than 40 persons, the School Board presented the details of the $62.73 million budget, which reflects a tax hike of 5.91 percent. The tax increase is within the state tax levy limit, so the budget needs only a simple majority of voters for approval.
Richard Hitzges, the board’s financial director, said although state aid has fluctuated since 2007, it is at its lowest point of less than $29 million during that period. If aid formulas were fully funded as promised, the district would have received $19 million more since 2010.
Spending also has been on the increase with salaries at the top of the list at $27.2 million. Other leading costs include employee benefits at $15 million, debt service at $7.7 million, payments to the Orleans-Niagara Board of Cooperative Educational Services at $6.7 million, and equipment and materials at $4.5 million per year, he said.
Other related figures were a drop in enrollment from 3,981 to 3,728 students and a decrease in staffing from 668 to 565 since 2010.
Hitzges noted that if the budget fails at the polls May 21, the board could schedule another vote with a different package on June 18 or adopt a contingency budget.
A contingency budget would cut revenues and expenses by at least $1.69 million he said.
Walter Bissett, one of three residents who addressed the hearing, pointed out that at a meeting earlier this year, the former business director said the district could underspend its 2012-13 budget by nearly the same amount – $1.5 million. Board President Steven Sabo said that figure was only a projection and the district will not know until the books are closed.
Hitzges said any surplus is unknown at this point, but that if it did materialize, it would be applied toward the district’s negative fund balance.