Tax drop approved by city school district

The upcoming repowering of NRG Energy Inc. seems to be the gift that keeps on giving for the city of Dunkirk.

The Dunkirk Board of Education on Thursday approved a 2014-15 school tax decrease of 71 cents per thousand dollars of assessed value for city property owners, lowering the tax rate 3.08 percent to $22.32. That means for a $100,000 property in the city, the owner will save $71.38.

The town of Dunkirk’s tax rate dropped 10 cents to $25.60, while the town of Sheridan’s rate climbed 96 cents (3.56 percent) to $27.95 due to a 10 percent spike in assessments and a fall of 4.5 percent in its equalization rate.

Business Administrator William Thiel said the decrease is due to the application of an additional $250,000 in fund balance now that the 10-year payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement renewal between NRG, the school district and the city is in its final stages.

“We don’t have paperwork (for the agreement) yet, but everything’s lining up and the community made an unbelievable effort to make that happen,” Thiel said. “Also, the economic climate with our business customers remains difficult. We’ve just suffered a recent plant closing with ConAgra and other major employers are focused on the taxes that they pay (on their assessments), especially school tax because it’s the largest tax.

“We’ve built reserves to the point where we can now, with NRG moving past us, begin to make strategic decisions on how to deploy those reserves.”

This is the city’s first significant tax decrease since 2008-09; the tax rate remained stagnant between then and now.

“We’re thrilled to be able to lower the tax rate,” Superintendent Gary Cerne said. “We’re very thankful for the support that the taxpayers have always shown us in the eight years that I’ve been here and I just feel thrilled that we’re able to give back to them this year.”

Cerne added school officials have been “very cost-conscious,” especially during the time of uncertainty for NRG.

“We’ve been trying to maintain as much as we can in reserves because we didn’t know where we were with NRG and where it was going to end. With the PILOT agreement (nearly finished), we don’t have to be as cautious with our reserves,” he said.

Thiel noted that all municipalities will still qualify for the state’s tax rebate program. STAR-eligible property owners should receive a check in November equal to either the increase in their taxes or 1.46 percent of their 2013 bill, whichever is greater. The increase in Sheridan should thus get canceled out for those receiving a check.

Voters in May had approved a budget plan that called for a tax warrant of $9,705,854 after an application of $2,670,585 of fund balance, which translated into a .95 percent increase in the proposed levy and, by extension, a likely tax increase for everyone. With the now-finalized levy, that warrant has decreased 1.65 percent to $9,455,854.

“I’m only aware of one other district doing that and that is Salamanca, which received a large settlement from the state and the Indian reservation,” Thiel noted.

The district’s full-value rate decreased 58 cents to $18.31. Compared with all other districts in the county, Dunkirk’s full-value rate is now in the lower third when it used to rank at the top of the list in 2006-07, according to Thiel.

Taxes may be paid without penalty Sept. 15 through Oct. 17. A 2 percent penalty will be added Oct. 20-24.

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