NY schools plan to stay under tax cap

ALBANY -- Fewer and fewer school districts each year seek to override the property-tax cap, and this year appears to be no different.

In fact, just 15 districts indicated preliminarily they will ask voters May 16 to override the cap -- which requires the approval of 60 percent of voters.

So just 2 percent of the 648 school districts that reported their fiscal plans to the state Comptroller's Office this week said they may seek an override -- the fewest since the cap was installed in 2011, records show.

"The tax cap is very respected. There’s pressure on the communities to stay within that," said Deborah Cunningham, director of education and research at the state Association of School Business Officials.

How the cap works

The cap limits the growth in property taxes for schools and municipalities to 2 percent a year or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.

For the school budget votes in May, the cap is 1.26 percent for the fiscal year that starts July 1 -- up from the 0.12 percent cap on their tax levies last year.

Each district also has certain costs that are exempt, however, pushing the average cap back toward 2 percent.
The cap, though, is particularly vexing for schools. While local governments need 60 percent their governing board to override the cap, schools need 60 percent at the polls -- a much higher bar.

And with state school aid on the rise in recent years and lower pension costs, fewer districts appear willing to seek an override: Last year, 36 districts sought an override, and overall just 10 budgets failed.

This year, districts on average said they will seek a roughly 1.8 percent tax-levy increase.

Cap praised

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has praised the cap for limiting the growth in property taxes, which in New York is among the highest in the nation.

"Property tax cap said if a locality goes to raise the property taxes by more than 2 percent, they have to get super majority," Cuomo said in a speech Jan. 10 at SUNY Purchase in Westchester County.

Before the cap, he said, "Property taxes were going up 8 and 10 percent a year."

Districts are required by March 1 to report their initial plans on whether they may seek a tax-cap override.
But their fiscal picture is still uncertain.

Cuomo is proposing a $1 billion increase in school aid for the fiscal year that starts April 1, a 4 percent hike.

Capitol battle

Schools are hoping the state Legislature will add more aid during budget negotiations this month, and lawmakers usually get more money added in the final spending plan.

More state aid would lower the burden on taxpayers, education groups said.

"Because districts are basing their local budgets on the executive budget proposal, many have needs that exceed their limited proposed state aid increases," said Al Marlin, a spokesman for the state School Boards Association.

Education groups have been pressing for changes to the cap, such as keeping it at 2 percent a year rather than it being impacted by inflation. But Cuomo and Republicans who control the Senate haven't indicated support for major changes.

Also, some districts end up with a negative property-tax cap because of the state's formula. School groups want reforms so that can't happen.

"We hope sensible adjustments are finally made to the tax cap this year," Marlin said.


 

Gannett


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