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Tarrytown Schools Must Weigh Tax Cap Law in Budget

SLEEPY HOLLOW, N.Y. – School officials will have to decide in the coming months whether to ask voters to approve a 2012-13 budget that includes a tax levy over the limit mandated by the recent property tax cap legislation.

Such a budget would need approval of 60 percent of voters to pass, instead of a simple majority.

The property tax cap puts a limit on the tax levy percentage that the school can raise each year with a simple majority vote as in previous years. Based on the rules of the legislation, Assistant Superintendent for Business John Staiger told school officials that the limit comes out to 1.975 percent.

That tax levy limit, Superintendent Howard Smith said, “doesn't really line up with the rate of increase that you see associated with a lot of our expenditures.”

If the Union Free School District of the Tarrytowns simply rolled over its entire budget from this year to the 2012-13 school year, it would need a tax levy of about 5.5 percent to pay for it, Smith said.

The property tax cap legislation was passed because New York State has some of the highest property tax rates in the nation. Years ago, Smith said, “5.5 percent would seem mainstream, so it shows you how times have changed.”

The 5.5 percent figure includes a projected 1.8 million deficit based on no changes or cuts being made to the 2011-12 budget.

School board officials took a preliminary look at the status quo budget, noting that they had already cut back on services during the previous budget rounds. Smith said the district had already identified some areas they could look to for cost savings.

Smith noted there weren't many areas left to look at and he “wouldn't voluntarily choose any one of the areas here” to trim or cut, but the projected deficit means the school district must consider some.

Trustee Craig Laub noted that, all of the school board members were pro-education, there were some taxpayers in the community who “want to see a big fat zero” when it came to tax increases.

School officials will have to deal with an estimated 4 percent increase in personnel expenses, such as health coverage and retirement, as well as a 1 percent increase in non-personnel expenses. While revenue is also expected to increase from a tax levy, state aid and other things, school officials estimate revenue will only increase by about 2 percent.

Personnel cost increases would be about 3.2 million, Smith said. The costs of personnel, Smith said, are “not surprising.”

The school district and school administrators will continue to look at its budget throughout the year. It will introduce a preliminary budget in January and review it in March. The school board will vote on the budget in April so that voters can approve it in May.

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