By Kathryn G. Menu
A palpable sense of relief flooded the Bridgehampton School gymnasium Tuesday night as it was announced district voters had not only approved the 2016-17 budget but by a high enough margin to allow the district to pierce a state mandated tax levy cap.
A total of 161 residents, or 67.4 percent, voted to support the $13.78 million spending plan, with 78 voting against the budget. The district needed a supermajority of voters — 60 percent or more — to approve the spending plan, which raises the levy, or the amount of money the school is seeking from taxpayers, by 8.7 percent. Under the state tax levy cap, the district could only increase that amount by 3.04 percent.
A total of 239 voters turned out to vote on the budget, an increase over last year when just 155 residents weighed in at the polls. The district has just over 1,200 registered voters.
“I am always nervous because it is hard to tell what people are thinking when they come in,” said Superintendent Dr. Lois Favre after the results were read. “We just hope we got the information out and they understand all the pressures we face, and I think the community told us they did tonight, which is great.”
This is the second time Bridgehampton has pierced the state tax cap in three years. After failing to gain approval during the May vote, in June 2014 the district approved a $12.3 million budget for the 2014-15 school year that also pierced the cap, raising the levy 8.8 percent.
Facing a rise in health insurance costs that would force the district to pierce the levy cap on its own, a host of programs and extra-curricular activities, as well as staff and teaching positions, were at risk this year if voters did not agree to pierce the cap.
“We can breathe a little bit,” said school board president Ronald White after the vote. “I am not particularly excited about the ‘no’ votes — we had 78, although we did have 67.4 percent support us, which is relatively good. I think the community spoke and now we can move forward another year continuing the good things we are doing. I think the board, the administration, the faculty and staff, are doing an exceptional job being as transparent as we can and spending our money wisely. I think our voters showed they understand that.”
In other news, Michael Gomberg and incumbent school board member Jennifer Vinski were elected to the board in an uncontested race. Mr. Gomberg received 189 votes; Ms. Vinski received 215 votes.
Mr. Gomberg will join the board at its reorganizational meeting on July 6. He takes the seat of Larry LaPointe, who choose not to seek another term, but said Tuesday night the board could still expect to see him at meetings as a resident.