Oysterponds school board holds the line on tax levy

By a 4-3 vote, the Oysterponds Board of Education held the line Tuesday night on the district’s tax levy after considering increasing it by as much as $500,000 to account for potential unforeseen expenses.

During the board’s special Oct. 4 meeting Vincent Cullen of Cullen & Danowski LLP in Port Jefferson, the school’s accountants, advised the board to consider the change to provide a larger financial cushion, known as a fund balance, than the district would otherwise have by June 2012.

With rising expenses and the state-imposed 2 percent cap on property tax increases that will impact the district’s budgeting next spring, Mr. Cullen argued that a strong fund balance would be vital to the district in meeting its obligations for the next school year.

But board members Thom Gray, Debra Dumont, Dorothy-Dean Thomas and Jeff Demarest remained unconvinced and voted to hold the line.

Mr. Gray was the first to speak out against raising the tax levy that could have been hiked by as much as 10 percent, arguing that it was unfair to taxpayers who approved the budget last May to make a change based on what he called “unknown, unforeseen circumstances” that might not arise.

But other board members were convinced by Mr. Cullen’s presentation that a change was in order. Krista de Kerillis said the district had already incurred about $100,000 in unbudgeted expenses just a few months into the current fiscal year.

Those expenses couldn’t have been anticipated, said Ms. Dumont, board president. She wasn’t specific about what those expenses have been, except to reference some additional staffing.

Board members also want the public to know they considered suggestions from some taxpayers about consolidating the Oysterponds and Greenport school districts and, perhaps, even closing the Oysterponds School building. But such a move could result in each taxpayer being hit with an additional $1,446 annual bill. That’s because Greenport’s tax rate is much higher than Oysterponds and with consolidation, residents of East Marior and Orient would have to pay Greenport rates.

Ms. Dumont voted with the majority to reject an increase and also pointed out that under the Seneca Falls agreement with Greenport to educate the district’s junior and senior high school students this year, Oysterponds could see a change in costs that could save the smaller district as much as $200,000 from what it had expected to pay. That’s because the district is forced to estimate its tuition bill at budget time, while the state doesn’t calculate its actual bill until 18 months later.

Ms. de Kerillis maintains that the district has been over-budgeting for years and building up a larger than legally allowed fund balance. The board agreed this year to work to lower its fund balance to get it within the 4 percent allowed by the state.

“We can’t create a fund balance that we legally can’t have,” Mr. Gray said, bolstering his argument against trying to build it up further to deal with the tax cap issue.

At the same time, he said the board needs to closely monitor expenses and cut spending wherever possible.

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