April 30, 2012

Most NY school budgets comply with new tax cap

BUFFALO — Most school districts in New York have complied with new state-imposed taxing limits in the budgets they'll put before voters next month.

For residents, that will mean an average increase in the property tax levy of 2.37 percent. For districts, despite the increase and a bump in state aid, it will mean making do with more than 5,000 fewer teachers and support staff, according to the state's largest teachers union, which nevertheless supports passage of budgets around the state.

The budgets in the May 15 vote are the first since the state adopted a property tax cap last year that provides a formula to calculate the maximum amount a municipality can increase its levy.

The new law permits schools to increase their property tax levy by 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. But there are exemptions like pension costs and capital expenditures that let them go over, so the cap amount varies from district to district. School systems can choose to override the cap but would need a supermajority of 60 percent voter approval to pass a budget instead of a simple majority.

All but 49 of 671 districts decided to work within the cap, according to the New York State Association of School Business Officials. Ten districts are proposing tax decreases and 22 are proposing no increase.

In East Aurora, the teachers union aggressive lobbied to exceed the cap.

"We did debate that. We spent a good deal of time talking about it," said Daniel Brunson, president of the school board. "But we decided that the right thing to do was to respect the spirit of the legislation and do what we can to help control taxes."

The end product was typical of what districts across the state are reporting, a budget that both increases taxes and includes reductions in staffing and services.

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