Tag Archive | "tax cap"

Sag Harbor to Adopt $8 Mil Plan

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By Kathryn G. Menu

The Village of Sag Harbor is poised to adopt an $8,056,311 budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year. If a public hearing held last Friday is any indication, no one is protesting the 2.78-percent increase in spending.

Under New York State’s mandated two-percent tax cap, the village is allowed to raise its levy — the amount of money raised through property taxes to fund the budget — by 2.7-percent.

Due to an expected increase in revenues of $300,000 for 2012-2013, mostly from anticipated increases in mortgage tax revenues, dock rentals and justice court related fees, this budget would result in a 1.4-percent tax levy increase.

Based on assessed values of homes in Sag Harbor Village, the general fund budget will result in a tax increase of one percent. For a home in the village with an estimated value of $795,000, this would result in a tax bill of $2,175.80, a $21.55 increase over a tax bill received in 2011-2012.

Following the budget presentation on Friday, no one spoke against the proposed spending plan or the village’s proposed sewer budget, which has remained steady at $506,224.

While the village has managed to keep the general fund budget under the two-percent cap, several projects including the remediation of Havens Beach, the restoration and possible reconstruction of the Municipal Building and a bulkhead at West Water Street are not included in the spending plan. According to Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride, those projects will likely be funded through the use of the village’s reserve account, which currently holds $2.1 million.

Also absent from the budget is any increase in pay for officers in the Sag Harbor Village Police Department, which is in the midst of a contract negotiation that has been ongoing for the last year. An increase in pay in the 2011-2012 spending plan was also not budgeted for.

That contract negotiation has entered mediation. The next meeting between the village, the mediator and the Sag Harbor Police Benevolent Association is scheduled for June.

On Friday, Mayor Gilbride did not expect the budget would change before the board adopts the spending plan, during its Tuesday, April 10 meeting at 6 p.m.

Tax Rate Stays the Same in North Haven

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By Claire Walla

Though North Haven Village had entertained the thought of imposing a minimal tax increase this year, that plan was promptly abandoned.

At a village board meeting last Tuesday, April 3, the board voted unanimously to keep the tax rate the same as it was last year — in fact, board members pointed out, they kept it the same as it’s been for the past five years.

According to figures presented by Village Clerk Georgia Welch, the village is looking at a budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year of $1,326,330. This represents an overall increase over this year’s operating budget of 1.38 percent.

“We’ve been a very responsible board and kept the tax rate the same,” said Mayor Laura Nolan, emphasizing the board voted not to increase taxes despite rising costs and revenues that are down.

While the village’s fire contract is expected to go up by about $9,000 for next year, village assessments have not increased by as much as they had in years past. At $1.47 billion, assessment numbers for the 2012-2013 fiscal year are up about $5.6 million over this year’s value. From 2009 to 2010, however, assessment values increased by about $126 million.

In addition, building permits are down, having fallen from 117 last year to 80 this year. Besides taxes, this is one of the village’s only sources of direct revenue.

To balance the books, the village will take $351,197 from this year’s fund balance — which is expected to total about $700,000 at year end — and apply it to next year’s budget.

While the village had already voted to pierce the two-percent tax levy cap, which was adopted by the state last year and imposed for the first time during the 2012-2013 budget process, it was unnecessary. The village’s tax levy came out just under the two-percent limit.

Tax Cap Worries

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The Sag Harbor School District has accomplished an impressive feat. With a lot of careful tweaking, the district has come up with a budget that falls just below the two percent tax cap. It’s a feat that most likely would have required much more gruesome slicing and dicing in prior years.

Last year alone, the school board presented a budget that projected a 6 percent increase to the tax levy, and a year before that the projected tax-levy increase hovered around a whopping 10 percent—which, at that point, was the highest tax rate increase the district had experienced in 10 years.

But times have changed. This two percent tax cap is here to stay. This year, the district has not only had its sights set on keeping its budget under control, it has taken a magnifying class to current expenditures.

The business department took crucial steps to streamline its costs — from refinancing the 2002 Bond Issue ($22,524) to paying off Teachers’ Retirement System Incentives early ($132,240) — garnering a total savings of nearly $400,000. And the Special Education Department, which has worked hard over the years to facilitate special needs students’ transitions into regular classes, this year showed savings of almost $500,000.

In total, the district claims it has taken measures that have resulted in exactly $935,413 of cost savings.

Furthermore, the district has shown significant efforts to think outside-the-box to save even more on costs. While the district proposes spending nearly $570,000 of tax-payer money to buy six new buses this year, that money would be accounted for via cost savings by the 2017-2018 school year. Overall, the business office projects this maneuver would generate upwards of $170,000 in savings over the next seven years.

Our hats are off to you, Sag Harbor School District.

However, we can’t help but worry about what this budget process will look like down the road. And not just in the distant future, we worry about where we’ll be exactly this time next year.

Getting through the first year of a mandatory tax cap is admirable. But getting through it in year two, three, four and beyond — well, that’s going to take some doing.

So while the district has taken several cost-cutting measures that have helped with the budgeting process this year, these won’t necessarily generate additional savings each consecutive year. In fact, while special education has seen a dramatic decrease in costs this year, this number can just as easily increase in coming years—and this is not something the district can necessarily plan for.

At this week’s school board meeting, board members Walter Wilcoxen and Ed Drohan spoke to a need for developing a long-term plan for the district. And we support this idea in full.

The two-percent tax-levy cap will be here again next year, and the year after that, and the year after that… for at least four more years until the state will finally have the chance to reassess the legislation. Who knows what will happen then? But in the meantime our school district is looking at a cap, all the while costs of benefits are expected to increase each year by more than that.

At some point, the tax cap is not going to allow us to keep up with those expenses — the next round of contract negotiations could be an issue. This means cutting costs. This can mean cutting programs, or staff members, or teachers, or — you knew we were getting to this — cutting benefits.

It was mentioned on Monday and we’re going to say it again: we highly encourage the Sag Harbor School District to enter into contract negotiations with the teachers’ union early. And we urge the teachers’ union to consider negotiating down.

The cost of personnel is high and continuing to climb. Let’s try to curb these growing costs before we have to make serious cuts to our children’s educational programs.

And let’s not wait until next year to do it.

Sag School Board Approves $34 Million Budget

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By Claire Walla

Pulling no surprises, the Sag Harbor Board of Education voted on Monday, March 26 to approve the district’s proposed $34 million budget for the 2012-2013 school year.

“I want to thank the district for all its hard work,” said board member Chris Tice. Because this is the first year the district has had to make allowances for the state-imposed two-percent tax-levy cap, Tice said the budget process “was particularly rigorous this year.”

Passed by Congress last spring, tax cap legislation has caused most school districts across the state to search for ways of trimming expenditures—Sag Harbor not excluded.

With the rising cost of health insurance and increases for teachers’ retirement plans to contend with, the Sag Harbor School District ended up with a proposed budget up 2.88 percent from this year’s operating budget, which represents only a 1.94 percent tax-levy increase.

According to the district’s budget presentations, Sag Harbor has managed to maintain a budget that keeps all programs in place thanks to significant savings in several key areas.

According to numbers compiled by Dr. Lisa Scheffer, the district’s director of pupil personnel services, the special education department has shed nearly $500,000 in expenses, which is reflected in next year’s budget. The decrease is due to program changes, including the elimination this year of three staff members.

The school has also seen nearly $400,000 in savings from the district business office, as well as $60,000 in savings in transportation. While the budget calls for $500,000 of the district’s fund balance to be put toward energy conservation measures, District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto pointed out that there will be a bond measure tied to the budget vote in May that—if passed—is estimated to generate significant savings for the district.

Proposition #2 would allow the school to purchase six busses at a cost of $575,000. The district estimates that by bringing transportation costs in-house, it will be able to save roughly $170,000 over the next seven years.

However, while the district was able to squeeze the budget beneath the tax cap this year, school board member Walter Wilcoxen expressed some trepidation about the future.

“You’ve taken so much slack out of the budget it’s laudable,” he began. “But, down the road, how are we going to get the big nut? The problem is, I don’t’ see any major change coming. And that creates some discomfort.”

What Wilcoxen was referring to, specifically, were labor negotiations.

According to Verneuille, teachers’ retirement benefits have not yet been quantified for the coming school year, but last year health expenses went up 13.5 percent. And with a two-percent tax levy cap in the mix, expenditures will inevitably outpace revenues. In other words, the school will eventually be forced to look at ways of cutting costs more dramatically.

“You’re absolutely right, the driver of our budget is labor costs,” Dr. Gratto responded. But, he said the situation might not be so grim. Later that evening, the school board voted to approve bus-driver salaries, which had been negotiated down from its 3.5-percent raise this year to a two-percent raise for next year, with no step increases.

“I think what you’re seeing is a trend,” Gratto added.

Though good news, board members seemed to sympathize with Wilcoxen’s less-than-enthusiastic response.

“This is sort of like the fly on the tail of an elephant,” he joked. “But, at least it’s a start.”

The budget vote will be Tuesday, May 15 from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Pierson High School Gym. Should the budget not pass by simple majority, the district would go to its contingency budget, which would strip $551,510 from the proposed budget, which—according to the district—would eliminate the $500,000 set aside for building improvement projects off-the-bat.

Sag Schools’ Budget Projected Below Two-Percent Cap

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By Claire Walla

Instead of eyeing efforts to pierce the state’s new tax-cap policy, the Sag Harbor School District is hoping to avoid it altogether.

At a budget hearing last Monday, February 6, the district’s superintendent, Dr. John Gratto, revealed a proposed budget for the 2012-2013 school year that came out at $34,182,256, an increase of just barely $1 million over this year’s operating budget.

While it represents a total spending increase of 2.88 percent, Janet Verneuille, the school district’s director of business operations, estimated that this budget figure only accounts for a 1.94 percent tax-levy increase. By comparison, this year’s operating budget represents a tax-levy increase of 5.48 percent.

“I can’t say for sure that we’re within the tax cap, but I’m about 90 percent sure,” Dr. Gratto told the board.

While Verneuille said she is still waiting for the final details on the tax levy legislation from Albany and cannot officially calculate what effect it will have on the district budget until then, her current estimates have the school’s proposed budget coming in under the cap by just about $30,000.

Should this scenario remain true after the school crunches its final budget numbers, the school district’s budget will only need to be approved by a majority of voters in order to be adopted.

(If the school should present a budget that surpasses the state’s tax-levy cap, the district would need a supermajority of all votes — at least 60 percent — to be able to pierce the cap.)

Dr. Gratto made sure to point out that the school’s efforts to keep the budget under the projected tax-levy cap do not involve any cuts to teaching staff, sports teams, elective classes or after-school clubs. They do, however, provide plans for taking $500,000 out of the school’s current fund balance to use for capital projects.

“Using your fund balance is like using your savings,” Dr. Gratto explained. “But we think that we can replicate this [revenue] next year.”

According to Verneuille, the district will end the current school year with a savings of roughly $800,000. About $60,000 is attributed to transportation savings, $467,000 comes from savings in the special education sector, and the business office secured another $267,000 in savings through several measures, including putting internal controls on staff overtime and refinancing the 2002 bond issue.

Verneuille said the school finally reached a fund balance at the end of last year that represented 3.96 percent of the school’s overall expenses (the state recommends 4 percent).

But, Verneuille added that the district could see more savings over the coming years if voters elect to purchase six more buses for the school district.

“I’m optimistic that, if the bus proposition passes, it will have to help us,” Verneuille stated.

By eliminating contractual expenses for transportation, she estimated the district could save $45,000 next year alone, and roughly $600,000 in the next seven years.

“This year is easy, in some ways, because we can look at every category and say where we can make changes,” Verneuille continued.

She added that every budget code, in her opinion, has been scrutinized by every administrator.

“But, at some point you’re going to be getting the best price for every purchase. At some point there’s going to be no more savings unless you move [to cut] different categories.”

At this point, Dr. Gratto said the school district is very lucky that it hasn’t had to make any cuts to personnel.

He referenced slides showing how the school’s expenditures balance out. According to the proposed budget outline, 78 percent of the school’s funds will go toward educational programs, versus 9 percent for administrative needs and 13 percent for capital projects. And of those program expenses, 63 percent of the budget is dedicated to regular K-12 instruction and special education.

“Direct instruction and support instruction are the two [line items] that matter most,” he said. “We’re very fortunate that we’ve been able to leave those untouched.”

First Budget Meeting on the Business Office

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By Claire Walla

With the state’s two-percent tax levy cap looming over the upcoming budget season, the Sag Harbor School District has decided to get a head start on financial discussions, kicking off its budget discussions nearly eight weeks ahead of last year’s schedule.

On Monday, November 28, just before the district’s regularly scheduled business meeting, school board members were privy to the first of six budget workshops, this one focusing on the district’s business office.

According to District Business Manager Janet Verneuille, the department’s projected budget for the 2012-2013 school year will increase by 4.8 percent over this year’s operating budget, or about $59,000.

The majority of the overall budget increase for this department is tied to business administration salaries, a line item expected to see an increase of about $38,400 for next year. Verneuille noted that the increase largely accounts for two part-time employees—as well as contractual increases that include financial projections for some staff members potentially joining a collective bargaining unit, and a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and a senior account clerk—and a three-percent raise that Verneuille has factored in for every non-union employee.

“I think it’s fair,” Verneuille said. A three-percent raise, she explained, splits the difference between two extremes: adhering to the district’s financial strains and recognizing the fact that unionized secretarial support staff is set to see five- to seven-percent raises scheduled for next year.

This budget increase also accounts for the fact that the business department is moving more services in-house.

“For years [schools’] financial statements were done by auditors,” Verneuille explained, adding that this practice changed in 2004 when the Roslyn school district on Long Island was found to have misused about $11 million worth of taxpayer dollars. “After Roslyn, one of the things that changed is that outside auditors can’t do district financials.”

The business department has thus spent money on higher salaried staff members, and now employs two in-house CPAs (including Verneuille).

“There are some hefty increases in expenses for the business office,” Verneuille explained.

However, Verneuille stressed that this section of the budget — which also includes the board of education, central administration, legal services, public information services and insurance — currently only accounts for about 3.5 percent of the district’s overall budget.

In addition to salary increases, the preliminary budget also accounts for increases to public information (up from $32,000 to $55,000) and increases to legal fees (up from $130,000 to $149,500). Verneuille said the budget is higher for these line items in anticipation of upcoming events, namely the school’s proposed bond measure and teachers’ contract negotiations with the teaching assistants, custodians and secretarial unions.

Town Board Approves $80.3 Million 2012 Budget

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By Claire Walla

Last week, the town of Southampton unanimously approved a 2012 Adopted Budget that would represent a tax levy of approximately $63.8 million. According to the supervisor’s office, the exact calculation for what next year’s spending cost would be is still being tallied.

While this budget will be less than Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst’s preliminary $80.2 million spending plan, it still represents a 1.2 percent tax levy increase over this year’s operating budget. The supervisor had created a zero-percent increase in her proposed budget. But the 1.2 percent tax levy increase incorporated into the adopted budget still resides within the two-percent tax levy cap local governments throughout the state of New York must abide by for the 2012 fiscal year.

For a resident living in a home assessed at $600,000 outside an incorporated village in the town of Southampton, this represents a tax increase of $18.48, bringing town taxes up from $816 to $834. For residents within incorporated villages with homes assessed at $600,000, this would represent a reduction of about $24.21 on their tax bill.

In total, the town board will see 19 voluntary retirements from those taking advantage of the town’s retirement incentive. Employees will receive an additional $1,000 per every year of service to the town upon their retirement this year.

One of the greatest topics of conversation leading up to last Friday’s vote was the town’s police department. The supervisor had laid-out plans to reduce the staff by eight senior officers. However, the town board ultimately voted to force into retirement only three senior officers, who will retire by the end of the year along with four senior officers who had already planned to retire in 2012.

Town board members have the authority to force into retirement any police officer who has served for at least 20 years on the force. Though never enacted before, this provision to town code was implemented decades ago during contract negotiations between the town board and the police union.

The board’s Republican majority — Jim Malone, Chris Nuzzi and Nancy Graboski — voted in favor of the revised plan, which would retire three members of the Police Benevolence Association (PBA) instead of those officers who are members of the Superior Officers’ Association (SOA). Bridget Fleming voted against it and Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst abstained.

What’s more, board members also voted 3–2 against the supervisor’s proposed plan to spend nearly $700,000 on technology upgrades at the town police department. The program would purportedly have cut-down on the amount of time it takes officers to generate paper documentation and according to Throne-Holst, it would have saved the department money over time. But the board’s majority members, while supportive of the overall idea, felt it best to be more fiscally prudent in these economic times.

Schools: Gearing Up For Day One

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By Claire Walla

Taking Advantage of Tax Cap Exemptions

Starting a process board members hope to continue through the next budget season, the district heard a presentation from District Business Manager Janet Verneuille on the two-percent tax levy cap.

Verneuille noted three crucial exemptions to the cap. First: pension cost increases above a certain threshold, which in this case is two percent. In other words, Verneuille explained that this year the district’s increase in pension contribution costs is 2.49 percent, so .49 percent will be exempted from the cap.

Secondly, the tax cap will exempt the local share of capital expenditures. “That’s good news,” Verveuille exclaimed, “that’s huge.” Without this exemption, she continued, the district would have less incentive to pass capital improvement projects.

The third exemption refers to certain legal expenses. However, Verneuille explained, “this does not apply” to this district.

The board briefly discussed the notion of looking at its current budget with a little more scrutiny to get a better sense of where some cost-saving measures might lie. Referencing the school’s clubs and sports programs, board member Walter Wilcoxen wondered how much the district could save if certain programs were cut.

“What about trying to pare-down now” to avoid making more drastic cut-backs going into next year, he wondered.

Board Member Chris Tice said she agreed, in theory, with being proactive in taking steps to cut costs, but she cautioned the board against looking at certain aspects of the budget with a narrow lens.

“The beauty of the budget process is that we get to see what our program looks like, A through Z,” she said. “We’re looking at it from an informed, balanced perspective.”

With both perspectives, the board had little argument, and yet drew no conclusions. The discussion will be ongoing.

Summer School a Success

Before giving his “back to school” report at last Monday’s board of education meeting, August 14, Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone spoke for a few minutes about the success of this year’s summer school program.

“We invited the same number of students as last year,” he said. “But our participation rate was higher than in years past. Bussing [which was provided for all students] made it more possible for parents to get their kids to and from school.” Most importantly, he added, it made it so that students were in their classrooms on-time, which had been a problem in years past.

School Board Member Sandi Kruel complimented Malone on a job well done, explaining that field trips — like those to the South Fork Natural History Museum, Morton Wildlife Center and even a math-related journey to Conca D’Oro, measuring ingredients for pizza dough — reportedly made the experience worthwhile for one family she spoke with.

“However you did it this year, it was the first time I heard of a student actually enjoying summer school,” she noted.

Enrollment Increases

Though enrollment is slightly up at the elementary school with the closing of Stella Maris last year, Malone said, as of now, enrollment “is still fairly steady” in comparison to last year. In fact, the slight increase is even less than administrators had initially imagined because much of the Catholic school’s student population was from out of district.

“Many of those families that live in Sag Harbor and chose Stella Maris for the Catholic education chose to go to Our Lady of the Hamptons [in Southampton],” he explained.

However, while the main student body will remain steady, the district’s Pre-K program — which was offered last year for a fee, but is free for all families in the district this year — has an expected enrollment of 42. “It’s a big up-tic from last year,” Malone continued, when the program had 12 students. The Pre-K program is scheduled to have two morning sessions and one in the afternoon.

Playground to be Ready for Start of School

Though it may look like a giant sandbox now, Principal Matt Malone confirmed Monday night that the district just signed a contract with Lobo Construction Company to begin work on the school’s new playground. The work actually began last Tuesday, August 15 and is scheduled to be completed next Thursday, August 25.

“We’re right on track,” he continued, noting that the work will all be complete before the start of the school year.

New Courses for the New Year

At the upper school, Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols announced four new classes that will be offered this year. In addition to a 3D sculpture course and advanced marine biology (which will be taught by Dr. Robert Shoemacher, himself a former marine bio major), the school will add a year-long personal finance class. This is a subject several board members and participants at last year’s educational forums highlighted for its importance. Lastly, the school will offer a course in social studies called Philosophy of Understanding. Nichols said it is partially modeled after courses in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which emphasize critical thinking and a depth of knowledge over wide-ranging survey courses.

Nichols also pointed out that the school will see a savings of about $75,000 this year. Instead of hiring a new faculty member in the wake of art teacher Tim Kraszewski’s retirement, “his classes have been farmed out to other departments,” as Nichols put it.

“The big challenge this year will be to finish portions two and three of the IB application,” Nichols continued. Should all go according to the current timeline, Nichols expects the school to be approved in the spring, which would allow Pierson to begin offering its first IB Diploma courses in the fall of 2012.

Tax Cap Cometh, Staff Cuts Likely

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By Claire Walla

By now, local governments across New York are in preparation mode.
In light of news that the state will impose a two-percent tax cap for the upcoming fiscal year (2012-2013), Southampton Town is getting ready to cut back. And it seems cuts to staff will be imminent.
“It is always my goal to avoid layoffs,” said Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst this week. And while she said she will try to reorganize positions and even cut back on hours to prevent eliminating any positions outright, at this point some form of staff reductions will be unavoidable.
According to a presentation made by New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele last Friday, July 15, the tax cap would prevent local government districts from increasing their tax levies by more than two percent, or the cost of inflation, whichever is less. As it stands now, the inflation rate is around 1.85 percent.
During a meeting in her Southampton office this past Tuesday, Supervisor Throne-Holst communicated to members of the media some key elements of the steps she is taking leading up to the budget season. Most importantly, she said she is continuing efforts taken last year to make the budget process as inclusive as possible.
“This year, I’m going to improve on that interactive forum and bring the public into that discussion,” she said, referring to budget workshops held last October after the tentative budget was passed. The process will be a little different this year, as Throne-Holst plans to hold three public workshops the week of September 12, well before the tentative budget is due on September 30. She added that her intent is “to get some input and guidance and feedback on what matters [to the community] and why.”
Last year, Throne-Holst proposed streamlining town operations and combining services in a few departments while also resisting the urge to re-hire some recently vacated positions, most notably in the highway department. The supervisor said that she will look at reorganizing, reintroducing shared services and consolidating work duties again this year.
In the next few weeks, department heads will be meeting with the comptroller, Tamara Wright, to determine exactly what effect such a two-percent cap will have on their funding streams. Throne-Holst has challenged each department to come up with ways it will be able to cut costs in the coming year.
“For example, the highway department uses, overwhelmingly, outside engineering services,” she said. “We have an in-house engineer. This is a time to look very closely at things like that.”
But she anticipated that cutting costs will necessitate a multi-pronged approach. For instance, she added, “Maybe we can cut down on desk hours in the assessor’s office, or the clerk’s department.”
“Again, it will take a lot of careful thought,” she said.
Assemblyman Thiele suggested on Friday that the town might consider raising fees for some of its services. However, Throne-Holst addressed the issue by suggesting such measures would need to be taken into careful consideration.
“In this economy, you don’t want to whack your constituents with a fee increase that’s unsustainable,” she said. For example, if fees rise so drastically it stops the public from paying for certain services, that would dig the town into an even greater hole.
She pointed to senior services as an area that could potentially see a fee increase. “There are hundreds of seniors [at the senior center] every day for lunch. The place is packed. But, we charge very little for that,” she said, adding that even in this instance fee increases might not be the ticket.
“That’s a delicate balancing act, too,” she continued, noting that higher fees could potentially deter seniors from taking advantage of the lunch service, causing long-term health effects.
As the town makes efforts to address its financial future, Throne-Holst ultimately said she hopes the process is as collaborative as possible.
“I’m hoping that both my colleagues and our constituents will work with me through this,” she added. “We have to make sure that both our finances and our tax-payers are protected.”

Thiele Grilled Over Tax Cap

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walter tice

By Kathryn G. Menu

A town-hall style meeting convened by New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. at Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton last week was meant to cover a number of issues including the state budget, the MTA payroll tax, the future of Southampton College and the safety of the Millstone Nuclear Power Station.

However, with nearly half the two-dozen people in attendance members of various school boards and administrations, the conversation quickly became focused on a proposed two-percent tax levy cap – a cap that Thiele said will likely be approved in some form this year and that school districts and local governments alike need to begin preparing for.

The proposed cap currently in front of the state legislature has the full support of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has made it one of his top priorities in his inaugural year. The state senate has already approved it.

The law would cap the amount of money  – not the tax rate, individual tax bills, or spending – that any school district or local government can collect in property taxes at two percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less.

“Which means this year if you collected $100, all you could collect next year would be $102,” explained Thiele.

School districts and libraries – the two entities affected by the cap which require voter approval for their budgets – can ask voters to override the cap, said Thiele, but would need a 60 percent vote in favor of any spending plan that would increase the tax levy by more than two percent.

If they fail to gain support after two budget votes, they are then limited to a zero-percent increase in the amount of taxes they collect from their district.

On the town or village level, said Thiele, an override can occur if four of five board members approve it.

If adopted the tax levy cap would take effect in 2012.

Thiele said while the assembly is debating the bill, it has a good chance of being approved, in part, because a majority – many from New York City – appear willing to strike a bargain allowing a cap in return for the continuance of rent control in the city.

“There are those of us, including myself, who feel the governor’s proposal needs some work,” said Thiele.

Thiele said he would like to see the cap tied to a provision that state school aid is increased each year based on the rate of increases in personal income and that no new unfunded state mandates on school districts be allowed once the cap is in place. Thiele said he also will look to cap the cost of existing unfunded mandates, with the state having to pick up the bill on anything beyond that cap.

Thiele added he would like to see school districts able to override the vote with a simple majority, or 51 percent.

“To create a situation where 40 percent of the population can veto what the majority wants is absurd,” said Springs School Board President Chris Kelley.

Kelley added he believes the cap is being proposed as an alternative to the state dealing with the teachers’ union.

“Rather than deal with the true costs, you are telling school districts, ‘You deal with it,’” he said.

“Given the undeniable damage the tax cap will have on East End schools and students, how can you support the tax cap,” asked Walter Tice, a former president of the Sag Harbor Board of Education.

Thiele said he would only support a measure that would institute the cap along with the promise of increased state aid and decreased unfunded mandates, and a return to a simple majority override of the cap.

“We already have a system where the majority approves our budgets,” said Sag Harbor School Board member Chris Tice, questioning why the cap is needed at all if a majority of voters can limit the spending of a school district.

“People support education, but they don’t necessarily support the use of property taxes as a way to fund quality education,” said Thiele.

Thiele added the downturn in the economy has only made it worse and he is looking for a way to continue to provide quality education, but to keep property taxes more stable.

“The property tax cap is a blunt instrument,” he allowed.

Thiele said if he “ruled the world” he would prefer a system where the state provides a basic, quality education to all of its school districts with each district responsible for funding anything additional. However, he said, that scenario is not currently on the table.

Chris Tice said one of the concerns she has is the sense amongst the populace, evidenced by the Governor’s own speeches, that the tax cap will not be as painful for school districts because they have large reserves on hand.

She added the school district has worked hard at becoming more efficient, moving its transportation in-house to save money among other initiatives. To say school districts are not being efficient enough is “insulting,” said Tice.

Thiele agreed that any concept of using reserve monies to offset the tax levy is shortsighted and not advisable as it only provides relief for one year, leaving a school district back at square one the next year.

“In Sag Harbor, we don’t have a large reserve,” said Chris Tice. “We look to build between two and four percent as the state recommends.”