Hampton Bays School Board adopts budget

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The Hampton Bays School Board approved a $41.2 million budget on Tuesday night, a spending plan that carries a proposed 8.6 percent increase in expenditures.

If voters give the nod to the budget on May 20, the school tax rate for district property owners will rise by about 3.3 percent, from $8.48 per $1,000 of assessed value to $8.76 per $1,000. Between the new tax rate and a 6.7 percent increase in the total assessed value of all the taxable properties in the district, the tax levy will rise 9.9 percent over the current fiscal year—from $32.5 million to $35.7 million.

Therefore, the owner of a house assessed at $500,000 will pay about $4,380 in school property taxes next year, an increase of $140.

School Board President George Leeman said he thought a 3.3 percent tax rate increase was phenomenal, and Superintendent Joanne Loewenthal said she could not recall the last time the increase had been as low.

In fact, it was back in 1997-98, when the proposed increase was 2.4 percent. However, the tax impact on individuals could be greater if their houses were reassessed by Southampton Town at a higher value during the past year.

Larry Luce, the district’s business administrator, pointed out that voters do not really vote to approve the tax rate; they vote to approve total spending. Reassessments during the coming school year would redistribute the tax burden, but not result in the school collecting more money, he said.

Mr. Luce added that in preparing the budget, he used a conservative estimate of how much the district would receive in payments in lieu of taxes, or PILOTs, from the town. PILOTs make up for the preserved properties in the district that are off the tax rolls.

Hamptons Bays received PILOTs for the first time last year, resulting in a $1.35 million break for taxpayers. Mr. Luce said he has heard from town officials that the payment could rise to $1.8 million this year, but he warned that the PILOTs could also be reduced, or not come at all, thus increasing the tax rate. “That’s a number we don’t control,” he said.

Hampton Bays has managed to nearly double the amount of money it receives in local and state aid over the past two years, Ms. Loewenthal noted. On top of now receiving PILOTS, the school district is seeing a jump in its state aid. In 2006-07, the state contributed $3.2 million to Hampton Bays, and in 2008-09, the district is slated to receive $5.1 million. “The state did very well by us,” Ms. Loewenthal said.

Mr. Luce said state aid had probably gone up because the district opened a new $42 million middle school this year. The fifth and sixth grade classes moved in to the new building in February, and the seventh and eighth grades will join them in September.

Voters approved building the new middle school in 2004, and Ms. Loewenthal said approving the proposed budget is the final piece in endorsing the school.

To fully staff the middle school, the budget calls for the hiring of four new teachers, two secretaries and eight custodians. Mr. Luce said the district will need to “see how things flush out” before deciding whether to hire an assistant principal or not.

The budget would also provide the district with two additional special education teachers, an additional kindergarten teacher and aide and more part-time nurse services. The district will also offer new courses: Advanced Placement English composition and a new elective in music technology composition.

A public hearing on the budget will be held on Tuesday, May 13, at 7 p.m. at a middle school library on Ponquogue Avenue in Hampton Bays.

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