The Bridgehampton School Board last week unanimously agreed to ask voters to pierce the New York State cap on tax levy increases, a move that will require at least 60 percent of district voters to approve the budget in May.
At a Board of Education meeting on Wednesday night, April 23, district officials explained that increases in medical insurance, teacher retirement and transportation costs, and for the Bridgehampton Child Care Center, had forced the district’s hand, making piercing the cap necessary to maintain educational programs and staff.
After exemptions are factored in, the highest tax levy increase allowed under the state tax cap this year would have been 3.8 percent for Bridgehampton.
In total, the district approved a $12.3 million spending proposal for 2014-15, an increase of $1.1 million, or 9.93 percent, over the current year’s $11.2 million budget. At the same time, the district is proposing a $10.6 million tax levy, an increase of 8.8 percent, or $855,819, over the current year’s $9.8 million levy.
If the School Board had voted to stay under the tax cap, the tax levy would have been only $10.1 million, or 5.55 percent less than the proposed increase. This year, the district had an even tighter squeeze for the budget, as the annual tax cap is set at either 2 percent or is based on the 2013 Consumer Price Index, whichever figure is lower. Since the CPI this year was 1.4648 percent, school districts had to meet the significantly lower figure.
Under the current plan, the tax rate would be expected to rise 7.7 percent, from $1.55 to $1.67 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, with the owners of a $500,000 home paying approximately $56.64 more in taxes next year.
By piercing the tax cap, the district also would lose out on a possible rebate for district residents. In March, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office announced a two-year “tax freeze” plan that will give homeowners across New York State a property tax rebate, but only if the district stays beneath the 1.46-percent tax levy cap during the first year. The rebates would cover the difference between last year’s and this year’s property taxes, essentially freezing the rate for the taxpayer.
Now that the district has voted to pierce the cap, it will need a minimum of 60 percent of district voters to approve the budget on May 20. If the budget fails to pass with a supermajority, the district will have one opportunity for a re-vote. At that time it can either propose a new plan with reduced spending, or it can try again with the current proposal. If the vote fails to pass a second time, the district will be forced to adopt a budget with a zero percent tax levy increase, which officials said would force it to make more than $1 million in cuts to operate next year.
Superintendent Dr. Lois R. Favre said this week that the district has not received any comments for or against the adopted budget, but noted it will host a public hearing about the spending plan on at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 7, at the Montauk Highway school.