The Board will move forward with putting a revised budget before voters on June 19, taking a second shot at getting a tax levy increase passed.
The budget that , with only 45.3 percent of voters in support, included a 1.99 percent increase in the tax levy, amounting to $314,485. The School Board now has the delicate task of finding a levy increase that will preserve as many services and programs as possible, and still be acceptable to taxpayers. If voters reject the revised budget, the district will be forced to keep the tax levy flat, and cut the entire $314,485 from the original $17.8 million spending plan.
At a School Board work session Tuesday, with more than 80 community members in the audience, School Business Official Keri Loughlin said the 1.99 tax levy increase that had been proposed was the lowest Tuckahoe has had in at least a decade, and on average the increase has been 7.65 percent.
The levy increase could have been as high at 2.7 percent while still adhering to New York State's new tax cap law, according to school officials.
But the estimated tax rate increase under the failed budget was 9.54 percent. Approximately, the first 7.41 percent of the estimated tax rate increase is a result of tax assessments in the school district declining, while the remainder was due to the increase in the tax levy. So even if the budget fails a second time and the district is forced onto a contingency budget, the tax rate will still rise about 7.41 percent, under current projections.
But the assessments and tax rate will not be finalized until the fall.
“The tax rate isn’t set until October when they close the rolls, so a lot can change before then,” School Board Chairman Robert Grisnik said.
There were a number of reasons the total assessed value of properties in the district slid, according to Grisnik. For one, he said, 's assessed value dropped significantly, which was a big hit. Another factor is new rules on how condominiums are assessed, he said.
Rather than assessing the value of condos based on sale value, tax assessors must consider rental rates instead. So condo owners can now pay far less in taxes, and house and business owners are making up the difference.
Grisnik noted that the school district is not involved in assessing homes — that is the job of the Southampton Town tax assessor.
Douglas Unger, a district voter critical of the school budget, steered the meeting Tuesday toward discussing the actual impact the tax rate increase would have on individual taxpayers. District officials had pointed out that homeowners whose assessments dropped would not actually see their tax bills go up 9.54 percent, but by less than that.
Unger, and some other attendees Tuesday, took issue.
“It is true, some assessments went down, but other people are paying for it, and their taxes are going up,” Tuckahoe resident Marilyn Fitzgerald said.
Unger prepared a chart based on the tax assessments rolls for Tuckahoe School District, and distributed copies at Tuesday’s meeting. In his research, he found that 48 percent of properties had no change in their assessments — those owners will feel the full brunt of the 9.54 tax rate increase. Meanwhile, 47 percent of properties went down in value, and those property owners will see their tax bills go up by less than 9.54 percent. And the remaining 5 percent of assessments increased, meaning those property owners will have their individual tax bills increase by more than 9.54 percent.
After the meeting, Loughlin said that the town assessor's office is reluctant to give preliminary assessment numbers to the school district, since they are not finalized until October. She said school districts are not legally required to publish their projected tax rates and distribute a budget brochure before school budgets are put to a vote, but Tuckahoe customarily does so.
The public discussion Tuesday also swung to what cuts may be made, such as to prekindergarten, and other money-saving measures the district could take.
District resident Bill Dasimer suggested the School Board stop tuitioning ninth- through 12th-grade students to , and instead send them to Hampton Bays or Westhampton Beach high schools, where out-of-district tuition is cheaper. That way, more Tuckahoe tax dollars will stay in the Tuckahoe School District, he said.
Grisnik said that the Tuckahoe School Board has a meeting planned with the Southampton School Board on June 6 to discuss the future relationship between the districts, but, he added, the meeting will not be open to the public.
And Tuckahoe officials will also be working in the coming weeks on the proposal that will go before voters June 19.
According to Grisnik, legal notices will be published May 31 and June 14, a new budget brochure will be mailed out to district voters on June 4, with details of the amended budget, and on June 5 the budget will be available on the district website and in the district office. A public hearing will take place June 12 and the vote will be June 19.
Funding for New Pipes Will Be on Ballot Again
A second ballot proposition that failed will also get another chance June 19.
Grisnik announced at Tuesday's meeting that a voting machine malfunction was discovered that may have affected the outcome of Proposition No. 2 on May 15. He said that one of the machines did not register any "Yes" votes for the proposition, which was for permission to expend $465,000 from the capital reserve fund for new heating pipes. The measure does not affect the tax rate.
There were 222 "No" votes recorded and 120 "Yes" votes. There was also an inordinate number of abstentions reported, 161, but now it appears that most, if not all, of the abstentions were really "Yes" votes that went unrecorded.
Grisnik explained that, because there was an error, the district can, and will, put the proposition up for a second vote. He said that the manufacturer of the voting machine — which was used by voters with last names that start with "A" through "L" — confirmed the malfunction.