Riverhead School Supe: We have to cut $3.1 mil to stay under tax cap

The Riverhead School District will have to cut an estimated $3.1 million from its budget and still receive the same amount of state aid as it did the previous year to come under the two-percent tax levy increase cap in 2012-13, Superintendent Nancy Carney said during Tuesday’s school board meeting.

That figure anticipates increases in health insurance costs, contributions to employee and teacher retirement funds and salary increases, all of which are contractually required.

The district would also have to cut an estimated $13.5 million from the tax levy between now and the 2015-16 school year to stay under the cap, Ms. Carney said during the meeting in the Riverhead High School cafeteria.  If the district were to maintain programs between now and then, the tax levy would raise from its current $87.7 million to $109.8 million in 2015-16. But due to the constraints of the cap, the tax levy — the amount of cash the district collects from taxpayers — would have to stay below $96.2 million that year.

Those figures are all contingent on maintaining the same amount of state aid.

In comparison, last year’s budget carried only a 1.96 percent spending increase yet raised the tax levy by about 5.97 percent from $82.7 million in 2010-11 to $87.7 million in 2011-12. That increase was due largely to a reduction in state aid.

The two percent tax cap, made law in New York State in 2011, can be punctured by approval from 60 percent of voters and through certain contractual increases. Capital improvements, such as the voter-approved $78.3 million plan for infrastructure upgrades, are exempt.

Ms. Carney said the law creates an “unsustainable fiscal structure” for school districts.

“Each additional year more cuts will be needed to keep within the two percent tax cap,” she said.

School board vice president Greg Meyer asked Ms. Carney what would happen if the district ignored unfunded state mandates, for example certain required teacher training programs, to come under the cap.

“I would lose my license,” Ms. Carney explained.

“We’d all be in jail and they would take away your state aid,” added school board president Ann Cotten-Degrasse.

Ms. Carney said the school board will be evaluating its extracurricular programs and other priorities to see where cuts can be made. The school board will also be negotiating teacher’s and administrator’s contracts this school year.

The first budget presentation is scheduled for Feb. 7, 2012. The statewide school budget vote is set for May 15, 2012.

In other news, the school board rejected a second petition from residents of Bettina Court in Hampton Bays to secede from Riverhead and be annexed by the neighboring Hampton Bays School District. School officials said the original petition, submitted in June, was not filed according to the proper procedure.

Ms. Cotten-Degrasse said the district opted not to allow the secession because it would bear too much of a tax loss for Riverhead. Tax loss is a viable ground for rejecting the petition, according to state law.

The board also recognized Riverhead students Jesse Meehan and Autumn Montgomery who each read 1,000 books.

VERA CHINESE PHOTO | The Riverhead school board also recognized Riverhead students Jesse Meehan and Autumn Montgomery (pictured above) who each read 1,000 books.

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