Lid on school budget won’t mean lower tax

If your school board really held the line on spending and turned in a budget that actually cut or limited spending for the 2010-11 school year, you still might see an increase in your taxes. Why?

The answer can be found by examining the revenue flow to the districts.

There’s still no state budget in place. In past years, districts choosing a conservative route would plug in state aid numbers provided by the governor and generally feel certain the state Senate and Assembly would add money to what the governor had proposed.

That’s not likely to be the case this year, educators agree. Schools may be lucky even to get the amounts the governor is proposing. Just a few months ago, districts waiting for the state money allocated for this year had to wait and, in some cases, borrow until the checks were finally in the mail.

Another factor affecting revenues this year is a drop in assessments as a result of declining property values. As real estate prices fell during the economic downturn, more people challenged their assessments and the result was lower bills for those who won their cases, with the balance made up by the rest of the taxpayers through a correspondingly higher tax rate.

Another revenue stream in jeopardy for next year is the federal stimulus money that saved the day in the current year. This year’s federal aid will be considerably less and next year’s less still.

Grant money, which has helped some school districts get over hurdles in the past, isn’t flowing as readily as it once did. What grant money there is finds an increasing stream of would-be takers competing for that money.

Riverhead is an example of the bind many school districts face. Its spending would rise just 1.99 percent, but with a 2.57 percent tax hike if the $108 million budget gets voter approval next week. That administration anticipated no rise in state aid and planned for cuts in other areas.

Similarly, Mattituck-Cutchogue, the largest school district in Southold Town, is offering voters its lowest spending hike in the district’s history, 1.81 percent, but anticipates a tax hike of 3.79 percent, the result of an anticipated $200,000 drop in state aid.

Greenport, with its spending all but frozen with an increase of only .11 percent, still projects a 4.5 percent increase in taxes. The tax rate might have dropped, if the district had sufficient funds in surplus to offset revenue cuts. Greenport tapped its fund balance for roof and boiler repairs, leaving the fund practically depleted.

The Southold and Oysterponds districts drew from their reserve accounts to ease the tax burden. Southold’s spending increase is 2.24 percent, but the projected tax hike is only 1.5 percent. That’s a result of the administration’s transferring $445,000 from the fund balance, up from $260,000 this year.

Oysterponds cut spending by .02 percent with the tax rate unchanged. That board drew $400,000 from the fund balance, significantly above the $170,000 tapped last year.

Tiny New Suffolk is virtually untouched by aid cuts because it gets only $2,500 to $3,500 a year from the state.

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