Written by Chris Boyle Wednesday, 07 May 2014 00:00
The Levittown School District has put forth a $198.7 million spending plan, which, if approved by voters on May 20, will increase taxes by 4.01 percent next year for residents who did not file grievances this year.
On April 28, members of the Levittown Community Council, a civic group, invited Levittown Schools Superintendent Dr. James Grossane to speak about the budget and how it could affect both student welfare and parents’ wallets.
“We understand that taxes are very high; I live in North Merrick myself, and my property taxes have tripled in the last 10 years,” Grossane said. “The administration has worked very diligently to craft this budget for next year. We’re not cutting any programs, and we’re staying within our maximum tax cap.”
Spending in the proposed $198.7 million budget represents a 1.62 percent increase—or $3,168,560—over the previous year’s plan.
The district’s proposed levy increase is set at 1.62 percent. This equates to an estimated tax rate increase of $1,136.27 per $100 of assessed property value, if the adjusted base proportions remain at their current level. The tax rate estimate of $1,136.27 per $100 is a increase from last year’s adopted budget, which came with a tax rate increase of $1,092.50.
However, according to Assistant Superintendent of Business and Finance Bill Pastore, the 4.01 percent figure only applies to those who did not grieve their taxes this year. He said those who grieve their taxes will see their overall school tax bill go up about the same as the 1.62 percent levy figure.
This budget cycle, the school district is scheduled to receive $49,163,299 in State aid—which amounts to a $690,049 more than last year when the district received $47,520,220.
The bills not covered by state aid must be paid for out of district revenues, financial reserves and/or taxes from Levittown residents. Grossane pointed a finger at diminished funding and rising mandates — like the tax cap — coming from Albany, as putting the squeeze on budgets in Levittown and elsewhere.
“The people in Albany think that everyone on Long Island is wealthy, and we need to send a message that this is not the case,” the superintendent said. “They’re driving people off Long Island because they’re sending school aid money elsewhere and not here.”
As Grossane explained, although the spending increase and levy increase are the same percentage this year, that does not represent the same amount of money in each case.
“Basically, we’ve kept the budget-to-budget increase significantly below what it’s been in the past. All the items that we can control, we have controlled, and those that we can’t, we can’t,” he said. “We’ve done as much belt-tightening as we can, and we’re still delivering the same programs.”
Grossane explained why the board chose not to try to match that feat, but instead seek more from taxpayers.
“If we don’t ask for an increase, that money is gone forever. It never comes back. If we go forward with a zero percent increase, we will eventually exhaust our reserve funds and will find ourselves at the cliff that many New York schools are heading towards.”
Even so, Grossane said a proposition will be on the ballot this May to allow the school district to tap into its Capital Reserve Fund to pay for the upkeep of several buildings and facilities. He noted that the funds already exist and that their use would in no way increase or affect the taxes of Levittown residents.
“Last year we asked residents for permission to establish a Capital Reserve Fund,” Grossane said. “We have to ask your permission to use that money … it’s a way of supporting our buildings without having to tax you for it.”
According to Grossane, because the school district had money in its reserves, it asked voters last year whether to put it in a capital reserve for major projects. He concluded that since the reserve funds don’t come out of the actual budget, it is not going to impact school taxes.