Re-Vote For Tuckahoe School Budget Passes, 256-222

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After a month of advocating for an amended $17.7 million spending plan, Tuckahoe School officials were relieved on Tuesday night when the revised budget was approved, 256-222—a narrow 34-vote margin.

In addition, a $465,000 capital expenditure to replace heating pipes at the school was approved comfortably, 298-182.

Once word of the budget’s success spread to the parents waiting outside the gym, where the ballot count took place, cheering echoed throughout the school’s hallways.

“Words cannot describe,” said Tuckahoe resident, parent and Parent Teacher Organization member Kathy Cervone. “Everybody worked hard. It was a good fight.”

Last month, voters rejected the district’s proposed budget of $17.8 million for the 2012-13 school year by a 47-vote margin, 275-228. Proposition 2 also failed along with the budget, but a lever on one of the polling machines—the one recording “yes” votes for the proposition—was not working properly. The malfunction might have contributed to the proposition’s failure.

The approved $17.7 million budget reflects only a 0.99 percent, or approximately $157,000, tax levy increase from the current 2011-12 school year, from about $15.82 million to about $15.97 million. Spending in the adopted budget is nearly $593,000 more than this year’s $17 million budget, but about $150,000 less than in the failed spending plan.

According to district officials, the budget and tax levy increases this year are the lowest in the last 10 years in the district, largely because of the New York State-mandated 2-percent tax levy cap, as well as increasing pressure to save taxpayer money in light of plummeting property tax assessments within the district.

A resident whose home is assessed at the average district value of $685,800 for 2011-12 paid about $4,530 in school taxes this year. The tax rate was $6.60 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. Although the tax rate for next year could still change, district officials said the estimated tax rate for next year is $7.22 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. A resident’s home assessed at the new estimated average district value of $653,703 for 2012-13 could expect to pay $4,723 in school taxes next year, a $193 increase. The impact on individual tax bills would be more or less, depending on how much a specific home’s assessment changed.

Since the budgeting process began, there had been much confusion among Tuckahoe residents about the role the district played in affecting the tax rate. The debate between Tuckahoe residents on how to vote for the budget continued in front of the school Tuesday night before the ballots were counted. The Tuckahoe PTO and the concerned taxpayers rallied outside with bright signs and spoke with incoming voters about the importance of voting “yea” or “nay.”

“Don’t be misled—it’s only 0.99 percent,” one PTO sign said. “Vote ‘yes’ for the future,” another read.

On the western side of Magee Street, Douglas Unger and his mother, Donna Unger, quietly held up signs suggesting that taxpayers vote the budget down because of the possible 9.5-percent increase to the tax rate.

“I did expect the vote to pass and was very surprised that it was so close in numbers,” said resident Diane Sadowski, who opposed the budget. “And, of course, I will be ready for next year, and with greater force if no major changes are made.”

District officials have stressed in recent weeks that they have no control over where the Town of Southampton sets the total assessed value for Tuckahoe properties, and that their part of the equation—the tax rate—puts the district well below the tax levy cap. Despite their attempt to dispel any confusion, there was still loud opposition to the 0.99-percent tax levy increase, though it was the lowest increase on the East End.

But as the budget vote grew nearer and nearer, school officials felt confident that their budget would pass this time, since they had cut more than $100,000 from the previous budget.

“I’m relieved, very happy and very appreciative to the community for coming out to support the budget we worked very hard to present,” said School Board member Sharon Grindle.

School Board President Robert Grisnik agreed that the amended budget was on target and satisfied both the needs of the taxpayer and the needs of students. “If the budget failed, it would’ve been a disservice to the children and to the community,” he added.

“We have a wonderful school, great kids, terrific teachers and parents, and the Tuckahoe Common School is a gem in the Southampton community,” said School Superintendent Chris Dyer. “We need to keep our academic focus high for all children, and I sincerely thank the community.”

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