The Southold Board of Education is “within striking distance” of a 2011-12 budget that would keep any increase close to the 2 percent limit Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to set statewide on property tax increases.
That’s the word from Superintendent David Gamberg, who presented an initial proposal to the Board of Education last Thursday that calls for a 3.5 percent increase in spending from $25.67 million to $26.57 million in the next school year.
The school board will work to lower that number in the coming weeks before a final proposal is submitted to voters in May, Mr. Gamberg said in an interview Tuesday morning.
“Our goal is to keep things moderated,” the superintendent said. He and board members have avoided “spikes” in taxes for the past few years, he said, and can continue to do so with responsible budgets that don’t depend on one-time solutions.
Because the district planned ahead, it can spend up to $417,606 in the next year for building repairs without hitting taxpayers because the money has been set aside in a reserve fund. All of the repairs — from air conditioning equipment and roofing to flooring, masonry and sidewalks and curbs — are no-frills expenses, according to board president Paulette Ofrias. She told her board colleagues last month the repairs are required to protect the integrity of the building.
Money for two or possibly three new buses also has been set aside in a reserve fund. Voters in May will have to approve the expenditures before the administration can order the vehicles, as they did last May for building repairs.
The draft budget made public last week includes an estimated 3 percent increase in salaries, but there are anticipated reductions in payments to Eastern Suffolk BOCES, interest costs, cafeteria expenses and capital spending, Mr. Gamberg said.
With taxpayers already heavily burdened and less in revenues coming from the state and federal governments, Mr. Gamberg predicted that tough times are ahead and sacrifice will be necessary, not just for the upcoming school year but for a long time.
Cuts in spending are necessary, but they must be made “thoughtfully,” the superintendent said.
The board will have its next budget meeting on Wednesday, March 16, at 7:30 p.m.