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Tax Levy

Comsewogue school board President John Swenning and Superintendent Joe Rella, along with the rest of the board and administration, have begun 2018-19 budget preparations. File photo by Alex Petroski

The Comsewogue School District is in strong financial shape, but as has been the case in recent years, their outlook could be stronger. Superintendent Joe Rella presented a 2017-18 budget draft during a February board of education meeting that would be an increase of 2.9 percent more than the current year’s budget and would maintain all existing academic programs.

The $89,796,337 budget first draft was constructed based on the district receiving nearly $500,000 less in foundation aid than they expected after New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) proposed an adjustment to the formula, used to calculate how much districts receive from the state, which was established in 2007.

According to the activist coalition Alliance for Quality Education, the formula was put in place in response to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit resolution, which ensured $5.5 billion would be committed to mostly high-need school districts in 2007, and was supposed to take effect over the course of four years. The decision was reached 14 years after the initial lawsuit in 1993. It eventually reached the New York State Court of Appeals, which ruled high-need districts were being neglected. The money still has not been fully
phased in.

A summary in Rella’s budget presentation said the district is disappointed in the decision to change the formula.

“The district lost out on $462,000 that would have helped lead to stronger educational programs for our students,” the summary said. “The foundation aid formula change is unacceptable…we are going to be forced to reduce services if we do not see additional state aid.”

Rella was vocal in his opposition of the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which was enacted seven years ago in an effort to close a state budget deficit by deducting funds from each school district’s state aid allotment. The aid deducted by the adjustment was fully restored to districts last year.

In total, Comsewogue will receive nearly $31 million in funding from the state for the upcoming school year. About $55 million in revenue will come from property taxes, which is 2.7 percent more than the 2016-17 school year. The increase won’t require a cap-piercing vote because the district did a fund transfer for several capital improvement projects, which are exempt from impacting the tax levy increase cap because the money was taxed previously.

Some of the capital improvement projects slated for the upcoming school year include asphalt replacement at the high school, a new roof at Terryville Road Elementary School and upgrades to the turf on the high school field.

Assistant superintendent for business Susan Casali said the district is also budgeting to increase their reserves.

“I think financially we’re very sound,” Casali said in a phone interview. She added enrollment is increasing by about two percent for 2017-18, which is a positive sign for financial considerations going forward.

Casali attributed a large chunk of the $2,559,120 increase compared to the current year’s budget to the expiration of the district’s transportation contract. A new agreement will be reached after the contract is put out for bid.

According to Rella, the district also plans to expand on a pilot consortium program, which began in 2016-17, where two ninth-grade classes were exposed to a project- and inquiry-based curriculum, alternative to typical Regents classes, to create a deeper understanding for several subjects. Casali predicted the expansion will require the hiring of at least one more full-time teacher.

The final budget discussion is scheduled to take place March 30 before the board can adopt it April 3. A budget hearing will be held for the public May 2 and the vote is May 16.

Superintendent Jim Polansky. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Huntington school district has begun preparing for budget season.

Superintendent Jim Polansky discussed the state of the 2016-17 budget on Feb. 11, and said the district will have to work hard to create a budget that stays within its 1.68 percent cap on its tax levy increase.

A rollover of programs from the 2015-16 budget would put the district above that cap, and would cost about $2 million more than last year’s budget. That figure comes from an increase in health insurance costs for the district and other personnel items, despite an expected savings of almost $1 million in pension costs, according to Polansky.

As of Feb. 29, the district’s $122 million working budget was still about $132,000 over the allowable limit, meaning that costs need to be cut or additional revenue needs to be found to close the gap. Polansky has said that the district’s goal is still to adopt a budget that comes in below the cap on the tax levy.

“These are decisions that have to be made by the board as we move forward over the next couple of months,” Polansky said at the Feb. 11 meeting.

Piercing the tax cap, which requires a super majority vote of 60 percent from the community, is probably not an option.

“I don’t think that the board is interested in piercing the cap at this point,” Polansky said. “I will state that on the record even though we haven’t discussed it.”

To help matters, the district is also expecting an increase in state aid, due to a partial restoration of money lost to the Gap Elimination Adjustment, a deduction enacted several years ago that cut into state aid for New York school districts in an effort to close a state budget deficit.

The district has additional budget meetings coming up on March 14 and March 21. The vote to adopt a 2016-17 budget will take place on May 17, at which point the budget will be sent to residents for approval.

Funding would increase for snow removal, environment

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine. File photo by Erika Karp

By Giselle Barkley & Elana Glowatz

Brookhaven Town won’t ask for more money from residents next year, according to Supervisor Ed Romaine’s 2016 budget proposal.

Romaine (R) revealed his nearly $281 million budget plan at a meeting on Oct. 1, touting its benefits of complying with the state-imposed limit on property tax increases and putting more funding toward snow removal as the winter season approaches.

Crafting the budget was a challenge given the tight limit on how much the property tax levy could increase, according to Romaine — the state’s limit was 0.73 percent this year. Despite that, “I support the tax cap because I understand what the tax burden is on the taxpayers of this town,” Romaine said during a meeting with the press last week. “I’m trying to do my best to limit that tax burden while providing needed services and that’s crucial, and our five-year plan reflects that.”

According to the budget proposal, the town’s property tax levy will not see a net increase in 2016, holding taxes steady for many residents. Romaine was able to maintain the levy because of the amount of money the town will save from satisfying debts. Some of the money that would have gone toward those debt payments was used instead to fund increases in other budget lines. When money from the town’s debt reserve fund is excluded, the budget proposal actually reduces overall spending more than $800,000.

“That’s come from careful management of capital projects and the elimination of pipeline debt,” Finance Commissioner Tamara Wright said during the meeting.

Just as there were cuts in the budget, there were also additions. Romaine proposed bringing the highway department’s snow removal budget up to $5.2 million — a budget line the supervisor and the town board have been adding to since the massive February 2013 storm, frequently dubbed Nemo, that buried Long Island under three feet of dense snow. That removal budget has doubled in the last few years.

“I hope that someday we will have a less snowy winter,” Romaine said.

Town officials hope any leftover snow removal money will be deposited into a reserve account, to be used in an emergency winter weather situation.

The supervisor’s proposal also increases spending on environmental protection and funding for public safety staff, code enforcement and internal auditors, among others.

Romaine’s proposed capital budget totals $62.2 million, a reduction of about 2.4 percent from the current year. The capital funds will go toward local projects like long-awaited athletic fields in Selden and road and drainage improvements.

Northport-East Northport school board president Julia Binger at a recent school board meeting. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Northport-East Northport school district residents could be asked to shell out $2.2 million more for next year’s school budget — an increase of 1.62 percent from this year’s property tax levy, interim schools superintendent Thomas Caramore said in a budget presentation on Monday.

That comes down to increasing the tax levy to a total of about $141 million next year, or about 88 percent of next year’s proposed nearly $160 million school budget. This year’s tax levy was about $138.6 million.

“Clearly, Northport [school district] budgets are supported by the taxpayers,” Caramore said.

The remainder would come from state aid, and right now school district officials are estimating 8 percent of the total budget to be supported by state aid, Caramore said, because they don’t yet know what the actual figure will be. He added that 2 percent of the budget will be funded from the district’s reserves and fund balance, and 2 percent miscellaneous income.

To keep the tax levy increase as low as possible next year the district proposes to use about $2.4 million of its assigned fund balance monies, Caramore said. The district applied about $2.8 million of its assigned fund balance to reduce the property tax levy for this year’s budget, he said.

The preliminary budget already includes $1.95 million in capital projects — replacing three boilers, exterior bleachers and the press box at the high school. On Monday, Caramore recommended the board consider approving three additional capital projects: paving the gravel parking lot at the high school, at a cost of $325,000; replacing two boilers at Norwood Avenue Elementary School, at a cost of $750,000; and replacing auditorium theatrical lighting at East Northport Middle School for $100,000. He recommended the projects be funded by the district’s capital reserves.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Kathleen Molander said at the meeting that the district has a total of about $1.2 million in capital reserves, in two capital funds.

Although some district residents spoke at the meeting to thank Caramore for his work on the budget, others questioned the district’s previously-announced plans to consolidate supervision of the high school’s music and visual arts departments. Under that proposal, Julia Lang-Shapiro, district chairperson for the visual arts, would be let go, and Izzet Mergen, director of music education, would supervise both programs. Caramore has said the move, a structure other school districts use, would not compromise the quality of the departments. At this week’s meeting, Caramore said Mergen is looking forward to the dual supervisory role.

Parents who want their children to opt out of state assessment testing need information on how to do that, district resident Kim Nertney told the board, and she asked why the school district doesn’t provide “informational forums” on the matter.

“Well, if we do that, then we’re in effect saying that we’re in favor of opting out, and we’re not doing that,” Caramore responded. He doesn’t want to emulate “renegade superintendents” in giving information on how to opt out, Caramore said, and won’t join those superintendents “in their civil disobedience.” The district will honor requests from individual parents who don’t want their kids to take the exams, Caramore said.

There will be a special school board meeting to finalize the budget on Wednesday, April 1, at 7 p.m. in the William J. Brosnan building.