Voters Turn Down Bridgehampton School Budget, While Others Pass On Tuesday

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While voters handily approved school budgets in Southampton, Sag Harbor, Tuckahoe and Sagaponack on Tuesday night, Bridgehampton School District residents defeated a $12.3 million budget proposal for 2014-15.

Because Bridgehampton’s budget would have pierced a New York State cap on tax levy increases, it needed a supermajority of 60 percent of the vote to pass. Although a majority of voters supported the budget, 134-113, the 54.25 percent of those who turned out was not enough to approve it.

None of the other districts’ budgets pierced the cap.

After the results in Bridgehampton were announced Tuesday night, District Superintendent Dr. Lois Favre said that, while she was disappointed, the Board of Education will simply go back to the drawing board. “The BOE will meet and we’ll make a decision to bring it out to the voters” again, she said.

The next step is to schedule a June 17 revote, at which the district will either present the same budget to residents or propose a new one with revisions. If the second budget proposal fails, the district will be forced to draw up a budget with a zero-percent tax levy increase. Last month, officials said that would mean making more than $1 million in spending cuts.

Dr. Favre said Wednesday that she did not know which option the BOE would choose. “I won’t know that until the board meets, on May 28—next week,” she said. “I do know that we took great time to put this budget together, and it reflects community and board consensus on what we believe we need to move forward.”

“I’m encouraged, because I think if we bring it back a second time … we’re going to get the people out that didn’t come for it,” Board Vice President Lillian Tyree-Johnson, who announced the vote, said afterward. “In the end, it’s all about the kids.”

The district had proposed a tax levy of $10.6 million, an 8.8-percent increase; the tax levy increase, after exemptions, was capped at 3.8-percent. The planned budget was a $1.1 million increase, a 9.93-percent increase above the 2013-14 budget—the largest in the region. The tax rate would have risen by an expected 7.7 percent, from $1.55 to $1.67 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. Owners of a $500,000 home in the hamlet would have paid about $56.64 more in taxes next year.

“Most of the budget increase reflects increased costs that we cannot control—and, off the top of my head, I cannot think of anything that is in the budget that we could remove without hurting students and programs,” Dr. Favre said Wednesday. “We removed anything we could to get to a number that we believed would be agreeable to the public, based on the smaller dollar amounts of the increase on tax bills, when all is said and done.”

When asked to comment on Wednesday, former Board of Education member Joseph Berhalter said he was not surprised that the budget didn’t pass, because many students who have graduated have not gone on to do the things they are capable of with the education they received from the district. “I think the people in the town realized we’re supporting a big staff of educators,” he said. “There still is a lot to be done to give the kids the opportunity everybody feels they deserve.”

Bridgehampton voters did approve, 157-89, a proposition allotting $160,000 for a contract with the Bridgehampton Child Care and Recreational Center. Also, Jeffrey Mansfield was voted in for a School Board seat with 187 votes, as well as Kathleen McCleland with 172 votes. With 72 votes, Michael Gomberg, the third candidate, failed to secure one of the two seats to be vacated by Elizabeth Kotz and Gabriela Braia.

Ms. McCleland said she will have a lot to learn before she sets any goals for the upcoming school year, but that she does know that she wants to focus on encouraging the community to be more involved with the school district. “I’m excited,” she said. “There’s a learning curve. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel.”

Southampton

In the Southampton School District, meanwhile, voters approved a $62.2 million budget, 383-167. It represents a $350,750 spending increase, and the tax levy will increase 1.03 percent, from $50.2 million to $50.7 million.

Board of Education President Heather McCallion, who ran unopposed and garnered 290 votes, will retain her seat on the seven-member board for another five-year term.

Propositions that were approved: to spend $104,000 on a school bus, 391-154; to spend $565,000 on improvements to the transportation facilities, 380-163; to spend $1,355,000 on building improvements, 391-151; to spend $398,320 on Southampton Youth Association participation, 383-163; and to spend $125,000 to participate in Southampton Historical Museum programs, 365-180.

Sag Harbor

In Sag Harbor, a $36.9 million budget proposal was approved, 578-222. The 2014-15 budget is a $1.3 million increase above this year’s and is paired with a $32.7 million tax levy, an increase of 1.48 percent.

Sag Harbor Board of Education President Theresa Samot was reelected with 587 votes, and member Sandi Kruel was voted in for another three-year term with 526 votes. Newly elected member Diana Kolhoff received 503 votes.

Thomas Ré fell short of the three seats with 346 votes, and there were write-in votes for John Battle (3), Stephen Clark (2) and Mary Anne Miller (1).

Tuckahoe

In the Tuckahoe School District, taxpayers approved, 199-67, an $18.8 million spending plan for next year that represents a 1.86-percent increase over the current year’s budget. The $16.9 million tax levy represents a 2.46-percent increase over the current year’s, but due to exemptions, it does not pierce the state cap.

Running unopposed to retain his seat on the Tuckahoe Board of Education, incumbent President Robert Grisnik had 158 votes.

Voters approved propositions in Tuckahoe as well, authorizing Southampton Youth Association participation to the tune of $54,386 (196-68), and Parrish Art Museum participation, at a cost of $7,868 (188-75).

Sagaponack

In the Sagaponack School District, a $1.8 million budget, representing a 1-percent spending increase, was unanimously approved, with 23 votes cast. The tax levy will increase $49,502 to $1.7 million, and the tax rate is expected to decrease by 1.3 percent.

Brian Vilante, who was running unopposed for a three-year term, received 23 votes. He will fill the seat of 36-year veteran board member Fred Wilford, who chose not to seek reelection.

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