Gowanda School Board agrees to no tax increase

GOWANDA — Gowanda school officials have been able to hold the line on tax funds.

The Gowanda Central School 2019-20 budget had an anticipated $196,788 shortfall in March. At a recent school board meeting, Superintendent Dr. Robert Anderson was pleased to report that the March 31 passage of the state budget was good news for the district, though he is concerned about an uncertain future.

During the updated budget presentation prepared by Anderson and School Business Administrator Barbara Smith, Anderson explained that the state came through with additional aid in the amount of $132,849 for the district. “Barb and I went back through the budget and reduced multiple expenditure lines, shrinking the gap to zero,” Anderson announced. The proposed budget for the 2019-20 school year is now $31,973,420.

Anderson asked the board to think about the future and long-term goals for the district. “We’re building next year’s budget this year and using last year’s budget to help us now,” he explained. “Looking three to five years down the road, people are talking about a recession and the state is anticipating the revenues. We need to put ourselves in a position to guard against aid reductions that potentially could come mid year. It’s only happened once since I’ve been here.”

The superintendent discussed the importance of guarding against unforeseen cost increases, too. “With the new tax cap and the long-term implications, we’re getting squeezed,” he added. “Every year, even if we did nothing, there’s contractual increases and things outside our control that aren’t tied to any index.”

Anderson offered the board three options: no tax increase, a modest increase, or “other.” A 1% increase would create an additional tax revenue of $50,548 through an average taxpayer increase of $20.09 per $100,000 of assessed home value. A 1.5% increase would create an additional tax revenue of $75,686 through an average taxpayer increase of $30.14 per $100,000 of assessed home value. A 2% increase (the cap) would create an additional tax revenue of $100,915 through an average taxpayer increase of $40.18 per $100,000 of assessed home value.

Board member Mark Nephew expressed concern over the state budget language, which allows the Gov. Andrew Cuomo to reduce state aid mid year. “This happened in 2000-01 where we got hurt,” he recalled. “We had the reserves to cover it, but it was not fun to go through that process. But I think it is hard to talk about a tax increase when we’re getting an increase in funding…When I look at the district overall, I would much rather do a 1% increase this year and look at another 1% next year, rather than trying to push 2% on the out years.”

Board member Janet Vogtli pointed out possible negative responses. “People are going to misunderstand,” she said. “We can’t tell them there’s no reason for this because our budget, right now, is balanced. There’s no reason except for a rainy day.” She referenced the recent passage of the capital project, when district residents were informed would be no tax increase to fund the project. Though the capital project funds and the district budget are separate pools of money, “People were told ‘no tax increase,’ and that is going to hurt us,” Vogtli said.

Lynn Guzzetta, another board member, agreed with Vogtli, and noted the challenge of having to create a new budget if the proposed budget is defeated.

“I think what we need in our next newsletter is to share that the governor has put language in there that allows him to decrease state aid,” Vogtli said. “I think people should know what really happens and be transparent…The more information we give them, they’re going to trust us more.”

Board member Dan York agreed to be transparent with district residents in sharing the governor’s prerogative and the costs that could increase outside of the school’s control. “If we can show that we can balance the budget this year, then it’s a hard sell,” he stated.

Outgoing board member Cindy Sutherland noted, “I’d like to have a buffer so that if there is a decrease this year in funding that we don’t have to cut programs. But it’s an uncertainty, and I would also not like to have to bring a second budget back to be voted on. That costs money. If I was on the board, I don’t think that would be good for our community.”

Sutherland asked all board members, individually, to share their stance. Guzzetta, Vogtli, Barb Weston and York opted for zero tax increase; Nephew opted for 1%. Anderson thanked board members for their feedback and agreed to propose a budget with a zero percent tax increase for the May 21 budget vote.

The next meeting of the Gowanda Central School Board of Education is Wednesday, May 1 at 7 p.m. in the middle school library.