Southold schools adopt $28M budget with 4% tax levy increase

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | The Southold school board adopted Superintendent David Gamberg's $28 million proposed budget Wednesday night.
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | The Southold school board adopted Superintendent David Gamberg’s $28 million proposed budget Wednesday night.

The Southold Board of Education adopted Superintendent David Gamberg’s tentative $28 million spending plan Wednesday night, which carries an estimated 4.01 percent increase to next year’s tax levy.

The proposed budget represents a roughly 3.82 percent spending increase from this year’s plan that’s mostly caused by rising pension and health care costs, Mr. Gamberg said. It doesn’t include layoffs and preserves classroom and extracurricular programs, he said, except the amount of time kindergarteners and first graders have for art weekly will be reduced.

While a state law passed in 2011 caps year-to-year increases in the tax levy — the total amount the district collects from taxpayers — at 2 percent, the district is allowed to exceed the mandate because some expenses, such as pensions and capital costs, are exempt.

By calculating in those exemptions, Mr. Gamberg said Southold is allowed to raise the tax levy by as much as 4.01 percent without needing to obtain 60 percent voter approval.

“I’m pleased to recommend a budget I think is responsible to the taxpayers, particularly when you take the long view that the average levy over six years has been less than 2.5 percent is very modest, very responsible,” he said. “The fact that we preserved the programs that makes Southold what Southold is I think is an important thing to hold on to.”

The school board approved the tentative plan and a retirement incentive agreement with district employees by a 4-0 vote. School board member John Crean was absent from the meeting.

At the start of this year’s budget process, the district was contemplating layoffs to help close its budget deficit.

But with the addition of unanticipated state aid recently secured, coupled with a more than $400,000 savings from five district employees accepting the retirement incentive, Mr. Gamberg said the district was able to gain enough revenue to maintain staff and programs without piercing the tax levy cap.

The result of the retirement incentive, he said, reduces the amount the district has to pay into the teachers retirement contributions account. The agreement is a combination of allowing employees to recapture the amount of sick days they had accrued but didn’t use and a $25,000 cash payout, Mr. Gamberg said.

The district also received word last month that they would be expecting additional revenue next year.

The extra state aid wasn’t anticipated when Governor Andrew Cuomo released his tentative state budget in January in Albany.

Mr. Cuomo’s proposed spending plan had earmarked about $1.39 million in state aid for the Southold district for the 2013-14 school year, which would have been an 11.99 percent decrease over the current school year. Two months later, the state Legislature secured a 6.55 percent boost, totaling nearly $1.68 million.

Other cost-saving moves the district is looking into is sharing a technology specialist with Greenport schools and reducing expenditures for supplies.

PTA president Angela Tondo thanked Mr. Gamberg and the school board during the meeting for their work on next year’s spending plan.

Outside the meeting, she had set up a table with information on how to register to vote and how to submit an absentee ballot.

Ms. Tondo said she’s promoting absentee ballots because she believes voter turnout for parents has been low because of their busy schedules.

She’s also using Facebook and other online sources to encourage Southold High School grads away at college to vote this year.

“We’re trying to get parents to understand that every vote counts,” Ms. Tondo said. “If more parents voted, then it will help support future budgets.”

The proposed spending plan will go before voters May 21.

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