As winter marches towards spring this is also the season when villages and school districts form their operating budgets for the upcoming fiscal year. Over the course of this winter two important articles appeared in both the OBSERVER and Post-Journal, which should cause residents of Westfield to take notice. First, the Village of Westfield was one of only six villages in Chautauqua County identified as having an average full-value property tax rate HIGHER than 75 percent of other municipalities. Villages, towns, and cities that find themselves on this undesirable list can dig themselves out by agreeing to a review by the state's financial restructuring board. This means a panel of state officials will examine the village from top to bottom to determine where and how it can save money in the future. In December, to its credit, the Dunkirk Common Council agreed to this review by the state's financial restructuring board. Mayor Vandevelde and the Village of Westfield trustees need to follow Dunkirk's lead, and seek the same assistance from the state. With budget discussions right around the corner, the Mayor and the trustees also need to set a goal to reduce the tax burden on their residents in order to remove their name from a list no village taxpayer wants to be on.
The second piece of important news reported on by our local papers involves the Westfield Academy and Central School District. This week state school aid runs for 2017-2018 were released. The governor is recommending a total of $25.61 billion for school aid, which is an increase of $961 million from year-to-year or 3.9 percent. Additional funding is also suggested for Foundation Aid, including an increase in Community Schools funding. Every school district in Chautauqua County is set to receive an increase in state aid for the upcoming school year. The Westfield Academy and Central School District is poised to receive an increase of $101,066, which is a 1.5 percent increase over last year's state aid. Enrollment numbers provided by the school district in September showed that at the end of last year, 2015-2016, the general k-12 population was 673 students. At the start of this school year the population had slightly decreased to 671 students.
Additionally, last years kindergarten class had 53 students, while this year there were only 40 students. To their credit, this reduction in kindergarten enrollment caused the school district to go from 3 kindergarten sections down to 2 sections of kindergarten. These kindergarten numbers set the stage for what will likely be another drop in enrollment for the 2017-2018 school year. Tough choices will have to be made by the school district in this year's budget, but one choice becomes crystal clear in light of declining enrollment and a $100,000 increase in state aid, and that is a school budget for the 2017-2018 school year that remains flat, or one that includes a decrease for taxpayers of the Westfield Academy and Central School District. Anything other than a static tax, or a tax decrease, should be met with a resounding "no" vote when the May 16, 2017 annual budget vote and school board election is held. A tax increase cannot be justified this year when your enrollment is declining and $101,066 is being dropped in your lap.
Over the course of the winter we watched another large business on Main Street close its doors, and our gateway to the village from the New York State thruway, North Portage Street, became even more of a ghost town. Spring lies just ahead, and with it comes a sense of renewal and hope. Even with all its problems and challenges Westfield has the ability to come back. Westfield is filled with hard working people who represent everything that is good about this county and this country, and it is now time to reward them for their sacrifices. Let's make this the year where our elected officials on the village board and the board of education lead the way in Chautauqua County by reducing our resident's tax burdens, which in turn will give us the opportunity to grow our population in order to fill those empty storefronts and school desks.