By Christine Sampson
Bridgehampton School officials in January predicted the district would not attempt to override the state-imposed cap on tax levy increases again this year, and at a community forum on March 8, they reiterated their message while pitching a budget figure that is slightly larger than the first draft they had unveiled in January.
Robert Hauser, the district’s assistant superintendent for finance and facilities, reported the latest budget proposal is $14,356,463, which would carry a spending increase of 4.2 percent, or $578,024, over the current year. That’s an increase from the initial figure of $14,219,802 proposed in January, which would have represented a 3.2-percent increase in spending.
When it comes to the actual tax levy – that’s the total sum of taxes the school district collects from its residents – the district has the ability to increase this up to about 5.5 percent, or $666,226. That differs from the “2 percent” language many people are familiar with through the state law because of one main reason: Real estate development in the hamlet of Bridgehampton. Increased property values and rising town assessments have the impact of boosting the potential amount of taxes the school district can collect from its residents. The impact of any tax levy increases, however, is then spread out among a larger tax base, which means tax increases may then be smaller than originally anticipated.
“I would expect that trend to continue, knowing the values have been increasing recently,” Mr. Hauser said last Wednesday at the forum.
However, he said, it’s too early to tell exactly how much the district will attempt to increase the tax levy next year because the New York State Legislature has yet to finish the state budget. That will determine just how much financial support the district will receive from the state, but it won’t be finalized until late March or early April. An early projection from the state had Bridgehampton’s state aid increasing by 6 percent up to $733,355, Mr. Hauser said. He said it’s even possible the district could receive more, and said once the state budget and aid totals are set in stone, the Bridgehampton School District can then determine how much revenue will need to come from taxes.
Few contents within the district’s updated $14.35 million spending plan were released during the March 8 forum, and after specific components of the budget were requested from the district, they were not available by press time. Dr. Lois Favre, the district’s superintendent, said only that costs were being driven up, in part, by transportation, the hiring of co-teachers specially certified to teach non-native English speaking students, and the increased need for academic intervention services for students who may be falling behind. Those, she said, are constants in schools statewide.
“Even though we’re a small school community, we’re no different,” she said on March 8. “The same things driving up our budget are driving up all of the budgets.”
As he said in January, Mr. Hauser reiterated Bridgehampton would not have to tap into its reserve funds next year for the first time in recent memory — a good sign, he said. He said the plan also includes allocating $400,000 from its fund balance, or the pot of money it expects to have left over from the current year’s school budget, to off-set next year’s budget.
Of the $14.35 million budget proposal for next year, he said, “Sometimes this is like playing darts. We do the best we can, get as detailed as we can, to estimate what those expenditures are going to be.”