Highland school district’s revised budget proposal may exceed NY tax cap, requiring 60% support
HIGHLAND, N.Y. — School district officials are seeking the “invisible line” that would garner the 60 percent supermajority needed to override the state’s tax cap when voters consider a second budget proposal for 2012-13 on June 19.
The Board of Education has asked district Superintendent Deborah Haab to prepare budget scenarios that would limit the property tax levy increase to 2 percent. But even that percentage would exceed the district’s 0.87 percent limit set by the state, so 60 percent of voters would have to cast “yes” ballots for the plan to be approved.
The district’s initial budget proposal, which called for raising the tax levy by 5.12 percent, was rejected by voters on May 15.
If the school board decides to accept a 2 percent scenario, the stakes for the district will be high. Late last year, Haab sounded the alarm about the district’s finances, saying that under the state’s tax cap, the district will not be able to support mandated programs by 2013-14.
A budget defeat at the polls next month would force the district to freeze its tax levy at the 2011-12 level, which would require cutting $1.18 million from the $36.89 million spending proposal that was rejected two weeks ago.
Reducing the tax levy increase to 2 percent would require $721,237 in cuts from the initial plan, which itself proposed to eliminate six jobs, including a foreign language teacher and a part-time English teacher.
Fifty-one percent of voters cast their ballots in favor of the first spending plan on May 15, leaving the district 9 percentage points shy of the required supermajority.
Of the 2,030 people who voted on the budget, 1,036 supported it. To reach the 60 percent threshhold, 1,218 “yes” votes were needed.
District officials now are trying to figure out the highest levy increase that 60 percent of voters would support.
“I didn’t know where that invisible line was the first time, and I don’t know where the line is now,” Regina Tantillo-Swanson, the school board vice president, said at a board meeting last week. Continued...
The school boards in New Paltz and Germantown, the only other two school districts in the region to attempt to override the cap on May 15, decided after their original spending plans were shot down to propose new budgets that comply with the tax levy limit, meaning they will need only simple majority approval on June 19.
The Highland school board is exploring a budget that would bring in more revenue than a spending plan that adheres to the district’s 0.87 percent cap, in part because Highland has the smallest limit among 16 districts in the region. The average cap on tax levy increases in the region is 2.81 percent.
Haab said she will highlight options to get to 2 percent at the school board’s next meeting on Tuesday. Those options will include a combination of allocating funds from the district’s reserves and making further spending cuts.
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