Editorial: The biggest chunk of your tax bill is up for a vote

On Tuesday, voters in Riverhead and Southold towns will go to the polls to vote on school district budgets. Several districts are offering propositions along with their budgets, and voters will need to read those closely before making a decision.

For example, is a turf field necessary at Mattituck High School? Voters in that district will have the opportunity to answer that question directly at the polls. Last year, Greenport schools asked voters to approve a budget that pierced the tax cap; this year, the district’s $19.4 million budget comes in under the cap. Read our coverage in today’s newspapers for specifics on the impact on the tax levy. 

But there is a catch in Greenport: On June 26, district voters will be asked to return to the polls to weigh in on a $23.8 million bond proposal that, if approved, will fund major school improvements. District officials have said the school building has not been renovated since the 1970s; voters will have to decide whether making those improvements is worth the price. 

The Southold Union Free School District is asking voters to approve a $30.6 million budget, which remains under the tax cap. Within that budget, if approved, are funds to add a full-time security guard at the elementary school. At this time, the district has just one guard working in both buildings. This is surely an investment worth making.

If consolidation of our school districts is the future — and, clearly, it must be — here is something worth noting: The sharing of services between Greenport and Southold districts has saved $1.3 million thus far. This achievement should point all of our districts toward consolidation and reconfiguration, with potential savings of millions more to be reaped.

Perhaps in the near future we will see a referendum on the ballot asking voters to approve school district consolidation.

In Mattituck-Cutchogue, taxpayers will vote on a $40.7 million budget, a very slight increase over the current $40.6 million budget. This proposal is well below the allowable 2.5% tax levy cap.

But here, voters will want to pay close attention to the two additional propositions on the ballot: a $2 million plan to tackle safety and security upgrades and repair air conditioning; and a request to spend $1.6 million to create a turf field and other improvements on the western side of the high school property.

Both propositions would be funded through the district’s capital reserve fund and not through the budget proposal. These are still taxpayer funds, of course. 

The tiny New Suffolk district, its red clapboard building an icon of a bygone North Fork, is proposing a $1.01 million budget for the coming academic year — a decrease of 28% from the current budget.

Riverhead taxpayers will vote on the district’s $144.4 million budget, also under the tax cap. They should go over their ballots carefully, as there are critical propositions to be voted on, including a $3.9 million proposal to buy 44 new school buses. There is also a cafeteria-related project to be considered. 

Taxpayers in the Shoreham-Wading River district will be asked to vote on a $75.9 million budget, a 1.57% increase over this year. As with the other districts, Shoreham-Wading River is well within the allowable tax cap.