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By John Addyman

   NORTH ROSE (Mar 22 11) – School Board Member Phil Wagner admitted he had learned a lot. A tax hawk elected to the North Rose-Wolcott board with a mandate to cut taxes first, then worry about the educational programs, he said he has experienced an epiphany.
   Wagner headed a budget committee, walking into the first meeting with the thought of using every reserve fund available to make sure the budget came through with no tax increase.
   But Tuesday night, after many meetings of that budget committee, Wagner recommended the district proceed with a three-prong approach to cutting the budget deficit created by the Governor’s stiff reduction in state aid. The budget will see a 5% decrease in expenditures (including the elimination of 11 positions), withdrawal of $475,000 from the school reserve funds, and a 4.5% increase in the tax levy for towns that send their kids to the NR-W schools.
   The board will vote to adopt the budget at its April 12 meeting. 

   North Rose-Wolcott sustained a $567,000 hit in its state aid, based on the Governor’s proposal. On top of that, explained senior Business Administrator Bob Magin, the district will see $1.2 million less in building aid. When all the revenue and expenditures (after the cuts) are added on opposite sides of the ledger, NR-W had to make up an $863,000 shortfall. The tax increase would contribute about $387,000; the $475,000 in reserve funds makes up the rest.
   Wagner said he had learned a great deal from the more-experienced people on the budget committee. The lesson? The board could either raise taxes, use reserve funds or make cuts – or portions of all three – to balance the budget.
   “Last year was ugly,” Wagner said, noting the pain the district went through to balance that budget. Here was a new year, with bigger problems. “But this school district, through its planning for the next several years, is one of the best in terms of financial shape, in the surrounding area.”
   He said if the board had not decided on its three–pronged approach to the budget and used all available reserves this year, “we’d have to raise taxes 15% to 20% next year because we’d have nothing left in reserve.”
   Wagner commended the district’s administrators for cutting the year-to-year budget by 5%, to $25.57 million, despite the normal rises in salaries, benefits and other expenses. That reduction was fueled by the 11 staff cuts (three teachers, three teacher aides, one psychologist, one nurse, one clerical worker, one cleaner and one administrator) – much of this made possible because of the closing of Florentine Hendrick elementary school this summer.
   “Nobody wants to raise taxes,” Schools Superintendent John Walker added. “We’re are in this for the long haul. We are in survival mode.”
   “I was humbled by the experience and shared concern by every member of our staff,” said Wagner. “We have so many great educators. The education system will take care of itself.”
   Magin said the 4.5% levy increase would raise taxes for the owner of a $100,000 home by $48-$60 per year, after the STAR exemption is taken out (for those who qualify). “But some people’s tax bill won’t go up 4.5%, and some will go up more. It depends on the town’s assessment and equalization rate.”  Huron, Butler and Rose are going through property revals this year.
   Walker told Wagner, “These are difficult times. I am so proud of the work you and the committee have done. You’ve shown the board cares about this community and all aspects of it.”
   Board Member Cliff Parton noted that the 4.5% tax levy increase “isn’t cast in concrete. Several us voted for it reluctantly because we think taxpayers won’t support it.”   


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