NIAGARA FALLS – Niagara Falls taxpayers as a whole won’t have to shell out more to pay for the city’s public schools next year.
The city School Board on Thursday voted to try not to exceed the state’s tax cap but to keep the tax levy for the 2014-15 academic year at the same level it is in the current school year.
By a 5-3 vote, board members finalized the amount of revenue to be raised from local taxpayers at $25.8 million.
Some board members had been talking about the option of raising taxes for the upcoming school year because of a financial forecast that may require a serious tax hike a year from now.
Board President Russell J. Petrozzi, who had previously said he would support a tax increase this year, turned out to be the swing vote Thursday. Petrozzi voted with four other colleagues – Arthur Jocoy Jr., Robert M. Restaino, Carmelette D. Rotella and Nicholas S. Vilardo – to maintain the current tax levy.
Petrozzi said he wanted the district to find another $1 million in savings, which he said it will accomplish by putting back $400,000 into a savings account for workers’ compensation and through savings in retirements.
“I think this is a good compromise,” Petrozzi said.
Superintendent Cynthia A. Bianco’s recommended budget will result in cuts of one teaching position through attrition and 2.5 support staff posts.
Had the board increased the tax levy, 60 percent of voters, instead of a simple majority, would have had to approve the spending plan at the annual budget vote May 20. Both Vilardo and Jocoy have announced they are running for re-election, so they also will be on the ballot in May.
Last week, the board approved a spending package, by an 8-0 vote, totaling $126.4 million, which represents a 1.9 percent increase from the current budget year.
Board members Ronald J. Barstys, Johnny G. Destino and Vincent A. “Jimmy” Cancemi on Thursday voted against the proposal to keep the tax levy the same. Board member Anthony F. Paretto was absent from the meeting, excused because of a death in the family.
Barstys said he wanted the district to consider replacing fewer teaching positions after retirement. By increasing class sizes slightly, the district would be able to save more money this year and head off more serious cuts next year, he said.
Bianco said she did not support increasing class sizes. The district also explored offering a retirement incentive but determined it would end up costing the district instead of saving money.
Included as income for the upcoming school year are about $2.7 million in “one-time” revenues that won’t be available for the 2015-16 school year.
Destino, who said that leaves the district already in the hole right off the bat, said he heard no plan from the administration on how to deal with the existing shortfall.
“We are hoping that the state comes through, and I’m not very confident they will,” Destino said.
What odds would Niagara Falls have faced if the district would have attempted to exceed the tax cap?
The most notable attempted school tax increase last year was in Clarence, where the spending proposal would have raised the tax levy by 9.8 percent. Voters shot it down.
Last year, voters in Lewiston-Porter rejected an initial budget proposal that would have exceeded the tax cap, carrying a 5.52 percent increase in tax revenue.
Voters in Wilson and Niagara Wheatfield also rejected tax increases last year, though both proposals would not have exceeded the tax cap.
Voters in Niagara Falls last year approved a budget with a 3 percent increase to the tax levy, the first such increase in 20 years. The budget carried no staff or program cuts. The district could have raised the tax levy last year by 3.77 percent without needing approval from 60 percent of voters, but merely a simple majority.
Across the state last year, 25 percent of budgets seeking to exceed the tax cap were approved with the required consent of 60 percent of the voters.