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?