Although the tax cap has been widely called "2 percent," according to a recent release from the New York State Comptroller's Office, the average tax levy limit for schools in the upcoming budget vote is about 3 percent.
The tax levy cap is calculated differently for schools than other municipalities and includes certain exclusions which make each districts allowable "tax cap" different.
A proposed levy under the cap needs only a simple majority to pass, however any district seeking to override the law will need at least 60 percent of the vote.
"The majority of school districts are meeting the new spending limits," Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said. "The average growth allowed under the law amounts to about 3 percent but there are some school districts with double digit reductions or increases because of how the formula is calculated."
This statement is also true as it pertains to Chautauqua County, with Bemus Point as the only district seeking to override the tax cap.
The other 17 districts have decided to stay under the cap but to varying degrees, ranging from no increase to a 3.4 percent increase. (All percentage increases are estimates calculated from NYS Comptrollers Office data.)
Districts with zero increase were Pine Valley, Jamestown and Panama
"Our board did not want to raise taxes," Pine Valley Superintendent Peter Morgante said at a recent board of education meeting. It is the seventh year the school has not increased it's tax levy.
The fourth lowest increase was in the Dunkirk city school district with approximately 1.15 percent increase.
Superintendent Gary Cerne explained in a phone interview Thursday the levy is the same as last year's vote, however the district decreased the levy with unexpected reserve funds after the vote, making this year appear to have a slight increase.
Cerne explained the board wanted to keep taxes low for residents.
"We start the budget process early in November or December when I ask for the board's thoughts on taxes, and their response was the want to keep them flat. That is how we have had the same tax levy for the fifth straight year," he explained. "We understand it is a difficult time for our taxpayers that is why we want to keep the levy flat."
He said it has been tough but in anticipation of hard times the district saved up adequate reserves.
"We looked at all the programs to see where we could trim and no budget line was spared. We tried to make the cuts that would have the least impact on the children," Cerne explained.
A majority of the school districts hovered around the two percent mark for tax levies, even if it was allowed more.
This was the case in Silver Creek, where the district was allowed an increase of 2.6 percent, but rose the levy just 1.96 percent.
"We are sensitive to tax rates and our community's ability to pay. We thought this was the most fiscally responsible option," Silver Creek School Board President Matt Bogosian explained at a recent budget hearing.
Several districts did opt to go with the maximum allowable amount.
Fredonia School district was one of these, also having the highest percent, aside from Bemus Point, with 3.4 percent.
"What we have done the past four to five years ... we have budgeted for the contingency level plus equipment ... In the past we looked for what the contingency would be and this and this year we just looked at the tax cap as the contingency, as high as we could go," Fredonia Superintendent Paul DiFonzo explained.
He said the district is aware of residents who may have problems paying taxes but said the district tries to be fair to both the taxpayers and the students in this budget.
"In our minds we are where we should be to be fair to the taxpayers and give the students their programs," he said in order to stay under the cap the board had to cut $900,000 from the budget and appropriate $1.3 million in fund balance.
All of New York's districts have reported their levies and the data is available on the Comptroller's Open Book New York website at www.openboo-knewyork.com. The actual tax levies have not yet been reported by the school districts and will not be known until after the public votes on school budgets, which happens statewide on Tuesday. District-by-district data is also available here: www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/pubs/research/snapshot/taxcapbyschool.xls.
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