Budgets back on the ballot

05/13/2010 12:00 AM |

After perhaps the most grueling budgeting season most educators can remember, all five districts in Southold Town have developed spending plans for the next school year that are remarkable in that they maintain current services, programs and staff — with a few obvious exceptions — while keeping spending increases to a minimum.

Faced with sharp cuts in revenues and a looming question about whether the state will be able to make good on its school aid promises, administrators and board members have labored for months over the challenging revenue numbers. And for months, residents had ample opportunities to weigh in on how they would like to see these budgets developed. The few who showed up at hearings definitely had an impact on the decisions that were made, even if the changes they sought couldn’t always be implemented.

But most people stayed home. Many, we suspect, were displeased to varying degrees with their tax bills. And yet they made no effort to make their voices heard where and when it might make a difference.

Not only are spending plans and taxes low or flat this year, there seems to be a new emphasis on long-term thinking to avoid year-to-year spending and tax spikes.

On Saturday mornings throughout the winter and into the spring, members of North Fork United Schools — school administrators and board members — gathered to explore concrete ways to combine some services to save money. Their efforts should not have been made in vain.

Each of the five districts has done the best it can to maintain educational quality without breaking the bank. In each case, we strongly believe the budget proposal deserves a yes vote. To those inclined to vote no, please take a moment to learn how a failed budget will affect both the school’s day-to-day operations and the resulting tax rate. The financial savings that a contingency budget may bring usually aren’t worth the pain inflicted on the students. Whether or not a budget passes, staff salaries, fuel oil and light bills and bus contracts all must be paid. Who bears the brunt? The kids.

In addition to the annual budget question, Southold voters will be asked to support two separate ballot propositions.

The first is fiscally neutral. It calls for transferring money from the district’s fund balance into a capital reserve, essentially a rainy day fund, for major expenses such as roof or boiler replacements.

The second is Southold Free Library’s annual budget, which would raise the tax rate by less than a half percent.

We recommend a yes vote on both.

We are not endorsing candidates in the three districts with contested school board races, Mattituck-Cutchogue, Greenport and Oysterponds. But we encourage you to think hard and long about which candidates you believe are ready to commit to the job and can bring a broad range of experience and knowledge to the table.