After Tuesday's budget vote, when Tuckahoe School District residents and estimated tax rate increase of 9.54 percent, School Board members and districts officials have been left to mull how to best slash the budget in a way more palatable to voters.
One idea to pursue to lower taxes for perpetuity is for the school district to give up its sovereignty and merge with the adjacent , which already serves most of 's high school-age students. The notion of a merger, which could result in significant tax savings for Tuckahoe residents, has been floated for years, but the districts have never taken the leap.
Under state law, before a merger can take place both school districts need to hold referendums and voters must sign off.
There are many considerations for homeowners and parents, such as retaining local control, individuality and autonomy. But if voters are primarily motivated by their taxes, then Tuckahoe voters would clearly favor a merger while Southampton voters would nix the plan.
Tuckahoe's current tax rate is $6.60 per $1,000 of assessed property value, compared to $2.29 in Southampton. That means for a home in Tuckahoe assessed at $500,000 in the 2011-12 school year, the annual tax bill came out to $3,300. But for a $500,000 home within Southampton School District, the bill is just $1,145.
Some rudimentary, non-exact calculations reveal that if the districts merged, and were yet to realize any cost savings from the move, Tuckahoe taxpayers would likely see their tax bills cut by more than half. Meanwhile, Southampton taxpayers could see their tax rate rise by close to 20 percent.
But the math and the reality isn't as simple as that. One factor making it difficult to make accurate tax estimates is that property assessments could swing wildly after a merger, since the quality of local schools is a consideration in home prices. And assessments are constantly in flux anyway.
Tax rate proposals are always iffy. In fact, Tuckahoe proposed a $6.80 rate for 2011-12 when voters . But after the tax rolls were finalized, the tax rate came in at $6.60.
The demographics of a new district could also impact state aid, which affects the size of the tax levy.
After reducing the budget size by eliminating redundant positions and programs, and making services such as transportation more efficient, Tuckahoe taxpayers would save even more — and the impact of a tax rate hike would be lessened on Southampton taxpayers.
But other expenses could be added to the budget for the sake of equity. For instance, offers a dual language program that Tuckahoe School does not. But under one combined district, parents might expect to get the same services at Tuckahoe School that are enjoyed at Southampton Elementary School, and vice versa.
Rather than seeking a merger, the Tuckahoe School Board could go in the complete opposite direction — saving money by cutting ties with Southampton in favor of school districts with high schools that charge less to accept out-of-district students.
Tuckahoe already allows parents the choice to send their ninth- through 12th-graders to either or , and Westhampton Beach is the cheaper option of the two. Hampton Bays High School, which is nearer to Tuckahoe than Westhampton Beach, is even cheaper.
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