By Kathryn G. Menu
In a unanimous vote on April 23, the Bridgehampton School Board of Education voted to pierce the New York State tax levy cap for its 2014-15 budget. The district will now depend on voters support the decision by approving the budget by more than a 60-percent majority at the May 20 budget vote and board election.
“With an increase in health benefits that exceeded the tax levy limit, we knew this would be a difficult budget season,” said Bridgehampton Superintendent Dr. Lois Favre following the vote.
District officials cited not just the increase in health care costs, but also the rising cost of retirement benefits, transportation and unfunded state mandates as being some of the expenses behind the need to pierce the tax cap.
The district adopted a $12.3 million budget for next year which would increase spending by $1.1 million, or 9.9-percent. The amount of money the district needs to raise through property taxes, would be $10.6 million, $855,819, or 8.8 percent over the current levy of $9.8 million.
According to Dr. Favre, in order to stay under the cap. The district would have had to cut just over $500,000 from its budget.
“We need to pierce the levy limit by approximately $534,000, which represents a 4.3-percent increase over our allowable levy limit of 4.4-percent to keep current programs and staffing in place,” said Dr. Favre in an email on Tuesday. “This permits us to accomplish the continued delivery of a viable program for our pre-k through 12th grade students. This increase amounts to about a $56 increase for the year on the tax bill for a $500,000 home. With new properties also being added to the tax base, we hope that the impact may be even less.”
The tax rate is expected to rise under the adopted budget by 7.7 percent to $1.67 per $1,000 of assessed valuation
According to Dr. Favre, the need to pierce the cap is critical this year.
“We have made cuts to staffing and programming over the past two years that were deep; so the piercing this year permits us to keep the programming we must have to meet state requirements,” she said. “We did not replace the principal, a part-time technology teacher, a business teacher, a guidance director, a head custodian, and a main office secretary over the past two years, along with many other budget line cuts.”
In order for the budget to be approved by voters, it needs to be supported by a supermajority, or 60 percent, of voters who turn out on May 20. If the spending plan does not gain that kind of support, the district can ask voters to come back to the polls a second time—with an identical budget. If that second vote fails, the district must adopt a 0-percent tax levy increase which would force it to craft a spending plan that cuts $1 million from the current adopted budget.
Dr. Favre said in an email this week that the district has made every effort to be open about its needs throughout the budget process.
“We have made every effort to be transparent, and open about our need to exceed the levy limit, early on,” she said. “The decision was made with recommendations from our community forum, which we have held annually for the past three budget season, involving the community in our decision making.”
The district will host a public hearing on the adopted budget on Wednesday, May 7, at 7 p.m.
“Our stakeholders have always supported the school, and we believe that a budget built with community input has a much better chance of being supported,” said Dr. Favre.