In advance of school budget votes next month, many Southampton Town seniors said this week that they gladly support tax increases to provide students with a stellar education.
But many said they are incensed about overinflated salaries and what they deem irresponsible use of school funds that should be directed toward quality education, not squandered on administrators and exorbitant salaries.
“I don’t mind paying more taxes if it’s going to the kids,” Tuckahoe resident Bonnie Goebert said. “But not if the money is going toward buying property, or a new house so a new superintendent can live there.”
Goebert is the co-chair of the , but said she was speaking on her own behalf, not as a representative of the committee.
In December, the Board put forth that would have had taxpayers spend more than $90,000 toward renovating a district-owned house where the school superintendent would live. The measure was .
The Tuckahoe School Board for the 2011-12 school year, a spending increase of about 3.5 percent. The Tuckahoe budget, as well as all public school budgets in the state, will go before residents on May 17.
The budget, if passed, will also mean a 6.2 percent increase in the tax rate, an increase from $6.40 to $6.80 per $1,000 of assessed value.
That means property owners with a home assessed at $400,000 would pay $160 more this year: $2,720, up from last year’s $2,560.
The 2.8 percent increase in the tax levy would be the lowest in 10 years.
Chairman Fred Cammann, 82, said Bridgehampton School Superintendent Dr. Lois Favre gave a presentation on the proposed budget at this week’s committee meeting.
The Board recently that reflects a 5.6 percent increase in spending and resulted in a tax rate of $1.52 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, an increase of 7.85 percent. The tax levy will increase 8.6 percent to $9.2 million.
“We didn’t have a lot of arguments about the school budget,” Cammann said, reasoning that for residents of Bridgehampton school taxes, “are less than they would be if we were living in any other school district. It’s kind of a phenomenon.”
Many people, Cammann said, “get the wrong impression” of the district. With 170 students, the cost of education per student is $58,000, he said. “That sounds like a fortune.” The problem, he added, is if a student were to enroll in any other district, “you would end up paying whatever the taxes were in that school district.”
"We’re lucky to be here," Cammann said of Bridgehampton's seniors. "I have never heard anybody complain about the size of the school budget, except for the fact that it costs $58,000 per student. But everybody seems aware that if they lived in Nassau County — God have mercy on your soul.”
Bridgehampton’s estates and mansions, many agree, help soften the blow to residents with less valuable properties, unlike areas such as Springs, where residents struggle to make ends meet.
Bridgehampton resident Christine Smith, 75, attended the advisory committee meeting and said taxes “are reasonable, going up very little, and much cheaper” than areas such as Sag Harbor. Should the Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor school districts merge, she said, taxes would be equalized. “Our taxes would go up, and theirs would go down,” she said. “It’s an advantage for them, but not for us, so we’ll stick with this.”
Smith, whose children attended private school, acknowledged that residents might “not always like having school taxes, but we realize it’s necessary for democracy in our country.”
Taxes in areas such as Sag Harbor, Cammann agreed, have traditionally been "infinitely higher. Everybody knows that."
Sag Harbor senior Madeline Doran, 84, decried crippling increases across the board. “Seniors any not getting any increase in Social Security. The price of gas and fuel oil are going out of sight. You have to decide whether you want to buy medication, food or pay your bills. You divide your money to where you think it should go first.”
Sagaponack resident Linda Franke, 72, scoffed at seniors who protest increases. “Education is important, and we should all share in the cost, so I don’t have a problem with it. I think it’s just crazy the way seniors protest about school taxes, just because their children are grown up and gone. It’s ridiculous. The only way our country is going to survive is if our population is educated. Taxes are already so high in Sagaponack, another little bump in the budget won’t matter.”
The Board recently , a 3.2 percent spending increase and 2.1 percent rise in the tax levy.
The Sagaponack School is comprised of students from first through fourth grade; others are sent out of district. The school board budgeted $661,922 for tuition to the East Hampton School District and Child Development Center of the Hamptons.
The new tax rate will be $0.48 per $1,000 of assessed property value, up 2.2 percent. Or $478 more in school property taxes for a home valued at $1 million.
Southampton Village resident Mackie Finnerty, 71, said that just because seniors no longer have young children, they shouldn’t close their eyes to future generations.
The Board , representing a 2.1 percent spending increase and 4.3 percent rise in the tax levy. Should the budget get the green light, the tax rate will rise 1.8 percent, amounting to a $20 tax increase on a home valued at $500,000 and $40 for a home valued at $1 million.
The new tax rate will be $2.26 for every $1,000 of assessed property value. On a home assessed at $500,000, taxes will be $1,130. On a home assessed at $1 million, taxes will be $2,260.
“I am a strong supporter of school budgets,” Finnerty said. “I had five kids of my own and I remember all the years when I really worried that seniors who no longer had interest would vote down budgets, and we wouldn’t have a good school system.”
Finnerty, who was living in Smithtown at the time, made a promise: “I vowed when I became an old person, I would vote for school budgets so other people could have a good school.”
While Finnerty said she understands seniors are struggling, she said she feels the need to do her part. “Somebody paid for my kids to go, and it’s my obligation, even though it is a pinch, to help others to get a good education.”
Finnerty also "expects schools to be efficient.” She questioned high superintendent salaries and administrative costs that might be trimmed or consolidated. “Those are the things that are important about a district being well run, budget-wise.”
Students come first, she concluded. “Seniors should try to support well run school budgets so young people can get the best possible education,” she said.