By Tessa Raebeck
In an effort to address questions and inform the public about a $36.8 million proposed budget, the Sag Harbor School Board of Education will bring its 2014-15 budget plan to community forums this month.
Interim Superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso and John O’Keefe, the district’s business administrator, will visit the Noyac Civic Council on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. The duo will also make a presentation at the Sag Harbor Elementary School following morning program on Wednesday at 9 a.m., again that day at 2:30 p.m. in the Pierson Middle-High School library and at 3:30 p.m. in the elementary school library. While the latter two sessions have been scheduled for staff, school board vice president Chris Tice said Tuesday that members of the public are welcome and encouraged to attend any of the presentations.
This year, the average proposed school tax increases in New York are dropping below 2 percent for the first time in over 40 years, with an average of 1.83 percent on Long Island and 2.01 percent statewide, according to Newsday, due to the pressures of a state-mandated cap on the property taxes a school district can levy.
Some expenses, such as employee pension costs, are exempt from the calculations, so each district’s individual cap limit varies, based on those exemptions and other factors like voter-approved construction costs.
For Sag Harbor, the tax levy cap is lower than average at 1.51 percent.
The proposed 2014-15 budget has a tax levy increase of 1.48 percent, with an increase of $1,360,881 or 3.83 percent in spending from last year. The monthly impact on a house valued at $1 million is projected to be an increase of $5.83 in Southampton and $5.80 in East Hampton.
“This budget is the result of some key strategic planning that has gone on over the years,” said BOE member Daniel Hartnett at a budget hearing Tuesday night. “You can’t get to this point—with, frankly, low budget numbers, preservation of staff, preservation of program, in fact, some incremental building—without strategic planning.”
The budget and school board vote, for which all registered voters in the school district can cast ballots, is Tuesday, May 20, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Pierson gymnasium. On Thursday, May 8, at 7 p.m. the district will also host a candidates forum in the elementary school gym. There are three school board seats up for election. Incumbents Theresa Samot and Sandi Kruel are seeking re-election with Diana Kolhoff and Thomas Re also vying for seats.
In other school news, several board members who served on the Educational Facilities Planning Committee again brought up the issue of parking. At its last meeting, the board voted to move forward with a parking plan that would add minimal spaces, compromising with a group of residents and Pierson neighbors who were worried the original plans would encroach on Pierson Hill, discourage alternative modes of transportation and ruin their view.
Board member Susan Kinsella asked the board to consider going with a larger option, but having half asphalt parking and half “grass parking,” referencing a presentation on Eco-Raster, a permeable paver that is a green alternative to asphalt, that Gordon Herr made to the board in March.
“I just think it’s a wiser plan, I think it’s more responsible,” said Ms. Kinsella, adding the plan would increase parking while sustaining the green vista.
“I think when the community truly realizes that you’re spending $220,000 to lose 10 parking spots to make it pretty, it’s not what they voted for. Sorry,” added Trustee Sandi Kruel.
Under the current plan, seven spaces would be lost in the Jermain Avenue parking lot, with the potential of adding three, pending the relocation of a tree. Ten spaces would be added at the Division Street lot by filling in the tree wells there, so the net gain of the entire project is three to six spots.
“At the end of the day, those members [of the community] should have been there for the last three years, not the last three minutes,” Ms. Kruel said.
Ms. Kinsella and Ms. Kruel, adamant that the committee they served on had intended to increase parking, asked the board to consider the half grass, half asphalt plan.
Mr. O’Keefe said in addition to bidding the smaller lot as the primary, they could “bid the green as an alternative” and “see how that would work out.”
“I think that would do wonders on building a bridge back to the center on this very difficult discussion for many, many years,” said Mary Anne Miller, a longtime board member.