Editorial: School districts, tighten your belts

Editorial: School districts, tighten your belts

Girl doing school work in classroom

This year, more than ever, Long Islanders are about to find themselves in a jam when it comes to taxes. 

It’s been a little more than a month since employees received their 2018 W-2 forms. While that extra $20 or maybe $60 in each paycheck felt great to pocket in January 2018 due to passage of President Donald Trump’s (R) Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, it probably doesn’t feel quite so good now. 

Thousands of middle-class residents are facing a sobering reality upon calculating their 2018 tax returns. Many are finding out their anticipated tax refund has turned into an IOU to Uncle Sam. It’s in part thanks to the elimination of several federal deductions of moving expenses, home equity loan interest or, particularly, the $10,000 cap on state and local taxes deduction. 

It’s the SALT cap that is playing a major factor in reducing or elimination people’s anticipated federal tax return. The average property taxes for Suffolk homeowners is $9,333, according to a 2017 analysis by ATTOM Data Solutions. It’s even higher for many property owners along the North Shore in Setauket, Huntington and Smithtown. Now, there’s nothing to help offset Suffolk’s high taxes. 

For the average Suffolk homeowner, 60 percent of their annual tax bill is due to educational costs, according to the 2017 study. Or, more than half can be attributed to your local school district’s tax levy and annual budget. 

As many North Shore residents come to the realization their property taxes alone exceed the SALT deduction limit of $10,000, school districts are starting to unveil their first drafts of the 2019-20 budgets. While most districts, if not all, anticipate a proposed budget that stays within the state-mandated 2 percent tax cap, any increase in taxes no matter how marginal will continue to put an increased burden on residents. 

It is an undeniable truth that providing our children with a good, solid education in a safe setting is of the utmost importance. We must beg the question — is there some way to do it in a more cost-effective manner? We’re not asking school administrators to cut corners but think creatively when drafting their 2019-20 budgets. 

Whether the state-mandated tax levy cap is 1.83 or 2.58 percent, we’re asking you to think of cost-saving measures — for example, collaboratively purchasing goods and services cheaper in bulk — to help keep the school taxes increases far below that cap. If we were to think of the state-mandated tax cap as a ceiling, we want to ensure there’s adequate space or gap between the budget’s ceiling and the annual increases. 

Everyone has to pull together to keep living on Suffolk’s North Shore affordable, one part of which is keeping taxes as low as possible. As school district taxes make up the largest portion of our taxes, we have to ask districts to please tighten your belts a little more and keep those tax levies low.

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