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Is the New York State Tax Cap Unfair to School Districts?

Budget debates heat up with tax cap adding fuel to the fire.

Everyone, whether they have children in school or not, has a stake in the ongoing budget struggle occurring in districts around Port Jefferson right now.

It’s a back and forth discussion complicated this year by the New York State law capping the tax levy at 2 percent, designed to help homeowners who have been slammed by the financial crisis and economic recession by limiting property tax increases.

As the debate heats up over school budgets heading toward a vote on May 15, the tax cap is a big concern to some residents while others find cause to celebrate the limit.

It's a definite game changer with districts needing 60 percent of the voters to approve a budget that pierces the cap. A budget that is under the cap must pass with more than 50 percent of the vote, as is usual. The cap adds an extra hurdle for schools that need the additional funds or face hard choices in where to save money.

Villages have had an easier time of it than school districts. Recently, . The current tax rate for the village is $22.14 per thousand, so a 10 percent total increase to the levy translates to an additional $2.14.

That’s a big difference from the school district tax rates.

estimated that in their original school budget proposed with the cost to residents would be $9.96 per $100 of assessed valuation. They estimated that the average cost to a homeowner in the district would be $299.

Last year, residents in the , representing an 8.93 percent increase in the tax rate for homeowners. According to Mark Flower, the district’s former assistant superintendent for business, the increase resulted in a rate of $131.55 per $1000 of assessed value. For a home with a market value of $632,000, the annual increase translated to about $543 for the year.

This year, . At a recent school board meeting, Superintendent Kenneth Bossert stressed that the Governor of New York sent a “strong message to voters that there is a 2 percent tax cap.” To get there, the district proposes decreasing the number of class periods in the high school, realigning the elementary school and adjusting transportation as major factors in helping the stick to the 2 percent tax cap imposed by New York State last year, according to current Assistant Superintendent for Business Sean Leister.

of its residents and found that there was not enough support for the proposed budget piercing the tax cap. On Wednesday, Superintendent Joseph Rella announced that he will switch back to a budget that stayed within the tax levy cap of 2.6 percent, when accounting for the original 2 percent plus allowable expenses like increases to pension contributions.

Many people are happy that the state has imposed this cap, citing the years of increases that have made their property taxes increasingly unaffordable.

On a Comsewogue community Facebook page a poster said that he said that “enough is enough” and proposed a negative tax levy instead of an increase.

“For the past several years we have seen levies in excess of 3 and 7 percent all while inflation according to CPI is near zero,” he wrote. “The taxpayers have paid their fair share. There is no more money. We are broke. Our grandparents are broke. Our community is broke.”

His full comment set off a stream of 125 comments and counting.

Others say that even 2.6 percent is not enough and districts need to pierce the cap in order to provide a decent education to the children.

What do you think? Is the tax cap helping to frame the debate by putting a number limit on how high school districts can raise taxes for their budgets this year? Essentially reigning in out of control spending and costs?

Or does the cap unfairly prevent schools from proposing a budget they need to provide a decent education for the children? Does the cap add an extra hurdle for districts to overcome in the budget process?

Bryan Rivera March 30, 2012 at 02:14 AM
During my career I have worked at three different multi-billion dollar Fortune 500 companies. At the end of every financial year when raises come around, without fail the buzz around the office is "Is this a raise year?" Some years our "raises" were capped at 2% which is less than the yearly cost of living increase. Why is it that regardless of district or individual teacher performance, year after year they deserve a raise? And year after year they hold our children over a barrel claiming they wont be able to properly educate them without millions in extra taxpayer dollars? Can they seriously justify an increase in pension contributions in a time when the taxpayers are having trouble funding their own retirement accounts?
Jess S. March 30, 2012 at 08:09 PM
I am all for funding public schools enough to provide quality education and activities for our local youngsters, but how is it that schools in other parts of the country manage to do this without the ridiculous tax rates we pay here. It seems to me that they hold us all hostage by threatening the most emotionally painful cuts (sports, after school programs, teachers) that will be maximally harmful to the kids if we don't vote "Yes" on the budget. How many administrators does the district have that are making well over $100K a year? Something like 13? I don't see them offering to take a pay cut to trim the budget. I admit I don't know all the little details on the budget, but I am sure that they could find lots of areas where money is currently being wasted on inefficiency. For example I almost never see full school buses, I am sure they could adjust the routes to be more efficient. Also, there is no need to send a bus to pick up kids who live much less than a mile from the school. They will never have the incentive to be creative in finding ways to save money (without threatening to hold children's education hostage) if their proposed budget increases keep passing. I personally hope that this cap will help them see that they need to find places to cut the fat.
Fred March 30, 2012 at 09:03 PM
I totally agree with the above posters, there's something wrong with the system when a failed budget means you start cutting sports, savings a few K, while continuing to pay Admins six digit salarys and pensions (one former Comsewogue super gets a 300k pension per newsday). The economy is hurting, there is a forest of "for sale" signs around town, yet the district still raises taxes, which directly reduces property values. After over a 7% increase last year in Comsewogue, there should be a DECREASE this year. Everyone else has learned to do with out in this economy, how come our schools are the last to learn this most basic economic principle?
John March 31, 2012 at 01:39 AM
Just in case you would like to see what people earn in ANY state job (including the entire staff of every school district) you can find it easily on seethroughny.net. I assure you this is a perfectly legitimate site and not a spam post.
Tom G April 02, 2012 at 07:44 PM
I am in full agreement with thoes who have commented here. When is enouigh enough? Homeowners are struggling to cope with the rising cost of everything and cannot continue on this path to higher taxes. Where will the next generation of Long Islands be forced to move to, to avoid the high taxes on Long Island. I say enough is enough!

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