Southampton School Officials: Adhering To Tax Cap Will Be Hard

Superintendent says tax cap could force choices.

The 's 2011-12 budget one week ago, 621-363, and district officials are hoping for a repeat next year but are faced with the possibility that a state-imposed tax cap could limit the size of the tax levy increase and “force choices.”

The budget had 63.1 percent of the vote, up about 10 percentage points from the previous year, Superintendent J. Richard Boyes, Ed.D. said.

“I think the increase in the budget, hopefully, was viewed as reasonable,” he said. “We did not have people turning out to demand that we cut the budget further.” Rather, the school board heard from residents who wanted assurances that the district kept programs they value, he said.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Maria Smith pointed out that with that much of the vote, the district could have pierced the tax cap that some in Albany, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, are pitching. While the proposal has not been finalized, a frequently mentioned threshold for piercing a 2-percent cap is 60-percent voter approval. State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., I-Sag Harbor, wants the threshold to be a simple majority vote. Voters would cast one vote on the budget, and if the proposal is more than a 2-percent increase in the tax levy, they would vote on whether the cap could be exceeded.

Southampton’s tax levy increase going into the 2011-12 school year is 4.3 percent. Boyes said that much of the increase was due to the size of annual payments on debt for a multi-million dollar bond to improve and put additions on school buildings and facilities. The payments will not grow again next year, he said, making it easier for the district to adhere to a cap.

However, Boyes said that with a 2-percent cap, the district could only raise taxes by $900,000 on an approximately $44 million levy.

“It’s going to be a challenge to hold the levy to 2 percent next year,” he said. “I think that will force choices.”

Residents will need to decide between eliminating services and exceeding the cap, he said, adding the district administration is on a  to hear from different segments of the community their priorities and desires, and what programs, services and improvements they’d like to see.

Smith said that to form this year’s budget proposal, Southampton was fortunate because the district found a number satisfying to voters, which did not include sacrifice. In other Long Island districts, that was not the case, she said. “They got to the same number,” she said, but with painful cuts.

“Everyone is very happy that the budget passed, and for me, I’m even more happy that the propositions passed, because sometimes they’re really hard for people to understand,” Boyes said.

In addition to the budget, voters approved spending $200,000 for three new buses, $1.1 million for improvements to the district bus garage and $3.1 million for repairs and improvements at school buildings. The funding for came from reserve funds, so approving the propositions did not add to the tax levy.

Peconic Sunset May 25, 2011 at 11:35 AM
It is disappointing how low the voter turnout was, only 984 people voted out of roughly 32,000.


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