School Districts Get Some Relief in Property Tax Cap

But still not enough to add programs without cuts  

By Lily Gordon

The Haldane, Garrison and Beacon school districts will have a bit more breathing room in their 2017-18 budgets after the state announced the property tax cap will rise to 1.26 percent. It was 0.12 percent for the 2016-17 school year, a record low.

Under a state law that went into effect in 2012, the cap is used to calculate the maximum amount a district can increase the budget it presents to voters for approval in May. It is the lesser of the rate of inflation or 2 percent. To exceed the cap, at least 60 percent of district voters must approve a referendum.

Some groups, such as the New York State Association of School Business Officials, have suggested making the cap a straight 2 percent annually so that it doesn’t jump up and down each year.

School Tax Caps

2012-13: 2 percent
2013-14: 2 percent
2014-15: 1.46 percent
2015-16: 1.62 percent
2016-17: 0.12 percent
2017-18: 1.26 percent

Source: Comptroller’s office

Both the Haldane and Garrison boards continue to shape their budgets in meetings and workshops, and even a more generous cap allows neither the luxury of adding programs without difficult discussions about cutting elsewhere.

The rate, announced each year by the New York State Comptroller, is based on the consumer price index and then plugged into a formula that determines the maximum levy for each district.

For Haldane, the percentage will be about 2.2, according to Board of Education President Jen Daly; in Garrison, it’s about 1.5 percent, said Board of Education President Ray O’Rourke. Anthony White, president of the Beacon school board, referred questions to Interim Superintendent Ann Marie Quartironi, who could not be reached.

“Our rollover budget — if we were to maintain the same programs and services in 2017-18 — showed a 2.1 percent increase,” said Daly at Haldane. “That’s good news! We definitely don’t have any fluff money coming, but we’ll be able to keep things as they are.”

While the cap is higher  than last year’s, O’Rourke said the Garrison district still faces a deficit.

“Our health-care expenses are going up by $50,000 more than the total revenue increase,” he explained. “There’s really no comfort in the change in the tax levy cap.” Health-care expenses in 2017-18 are expected to jump 8 percent, or about $186,000, he said. The estimated increase created by the increase in the tax levy will be $136,000.

“We’re glad to have the incremental revenue, but it’s only helpful if it’s not offset by expenses,” he said.

While it’s still early to discuss the administrations’ budget “wish list,” Daly said she doesn’t foresee any “monumental” requests. Replacing the gym bleachers is on the table; however, buildings and grounds funding comes from capital reserves.

At its Jan. 18 meeting, Garrison board members said they hoped to hire a reading specialist, one of the factors contributing to an anticipated budget increase.

2 Responses to "School Districts Get Some Relief in Property Tax Cap"

  1. Michael Leonard   February 13, 2017 at 3:30 pm

    As this article points out, mandatory expenses such as health care, union contracts, benefits, insurance and workers’ compensation are just a few expenses that a school district, town or village must pay regardless. The state should exempt these types of mandatory expenses from counting as part of the 2 percent increase and still allow for an increase of up to 2 percent regardless of inflation unless higher than 2 percent. Small towns such as Garrison have little capability to cut costs to begin with and need this small increase capability when the need is called for. State officials need to make this change to its current program.

  2. Patty Villanova   February 14, 2017 at 1:53 pm

    School districts are able to negotiate these “mandatory” expenses such as teachers and administrators’ salaries and benefits which are quite generous. It’s about time that the school district employees start to feel some of the pain that the taxpayers have been feeling for years.