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Local News

March 30, 2013

Area schools: Cap isn't realistic

Voters in area school districts could be seeing property tax levies of more than 2 percent on school budgets to be decided May 21, and it could be done without violating the state’s property tax cap, several superintendents said Friday.

While the state tax levy cap was touted last year by state Gov. Andrew Cuomo and others as limiting property tax hikes to 2 percent —  or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower — that’s not the way the law was written, Oneonta City School District Interim Superintendent David Rowley said. None of those interviewed said they’ve finalized their tax rates yet, and all said it would probably be lower than the maximum hike allowed, because the law allows for flexibility based on several exceptions.

In a recent budget presentation, Oneonta school business manager Lisa Weeks explained that a cap-meeting budget requiring a simple majority of voters can vary because of several factors. This includes such items as allowable debt service payments and retirement system costs that the district is mandated to pay into the teacher and employee retirement services. A district could have a budget above the tax cap but that would require a 60 percent supermajority — two of the three districts that tried that last year had budgets defeated on the first ballot.

In the 2013-14 budget going before voters, the Oneonta district will have more than $1.1 million in allowable exceptions and its allowable tax levy increase is $853,621, or 4.48 percent. However Rowley said, “It’s very unlikely we will go to the cap.”

“The retirement service payments are the real drivers here,” he said. All area schools face a large increase in those categories, and other superintendents interviewed said that’s a main reason for the pressure on the tax levy. If the formula didn’t allow some flexibility, it would be very difficult to deal with increases, Rowley said.

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