3.82% tax levy increase proposed for Riverhead

04/10/2013 5:00 AM |
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Riverhead School District Superintendent Nancy Carney said Tuesday her tentative budget uses additional state aid to offset the tax levy.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Riverhead School District Superintendent Nancy Carney said Tuesday her tentative budget uses additional state aid to offset the proposed tax levy increase.

Riverhead School District Superintendent Nancy Carney announced Tuesday that a chunk of additional aid the state Legislature secured last month for the district will help offset next year’s tax levy increase.

The state aid boost wasn’t anticipated when Governor Andrew Cuomo released his tentative state budget in January in Albany.

Mr. Cuomo’s proposed spending plan had earmarked $18.75 million in state aid for the Riverhead district for the 2013-14 school year, which would have been a 6.37 percent boost over the current school year. Two months later, the state Legislature secured a 16.17 percent increase, totaling $20.45 million.

Ms. Carney said during the school board’s regular meeting Tuesday night in the high school auditorium that her $117.5 million spending plan proposal for next school year — if approved by voters — would increase the tax levy by 3.82 percent over this school year.

The spending plan includes applying $1.16 million of the extra $1.7 million in state aid money to cutting down the tax levy increase.

While a state law passed in 2011 caps year-to-year increases in the tax levy — the total amount the district collects from taxpayers — at 2 percent, the district is allowed to exceed the mandate because some expenses, such as $1.13 million in pension expenses and about $2.36 million in capital costs, are exempt.

By calculating in those exemptions, Ms. Carney said Riverhead is allowed to raise the tax levy by as much as 5.14 percent without needing to obtain 60 percent voter approval.

In an interview after the meeting, she said the amount of the unexpected state aid boost that would go toward reducing the proposed tax levy increase was determined after deducting some other costs that have come up during the budget process.

Some of those items include a reduction in federal aid from the federal budget cuts known as “the sequester,” and an estimated increase in expenses for students planning to attend the Riverhead Charter School’s new seventh-grade class. A recent projection of student enrollment also shows the district will need to add an extra special education classes next year, she said.

“We deducted those additional expenditures from the overage of the state aid and the rest is putting toward the tax levy,” Ms. Carney said.

The school board is also looking into the feasibility of using some of the state aid money to pay for security upgrades. School board member Jeffrey Falisi suggested investing in an enhanced surveillance system he described as an “eye in the sky.” It involves installing cameras in hallways, at entrances and outside buildings at all facilities, he said, and a single control room would monitor the entire district. Although there’s a cost to purchasing the new technology, Mr. Falisi said he believes the system will be more efficient and cost effective in the long run.

“It will be nothing compared to hiring [more security], pensions, medical, once we get passed the initial cost,” he said.

The school board agreed to schedule a public meeting April 17 to discuss the idea further.

The school board is scheduled to adopt its proposed budget April 23.

It goes before voters in May 21.

jennifer@timesreview.com