Bridgehampton School District Voters Approve Budget By Single Vote Margin

Bridgehampton District Clerk Tammy Cavanaugh and poll worker Elizabeth Kotz count ballots. Stephen J. Kotz

The Bridgehampton School District has been living close to the edge. A month after its proposed $20.66 million budget fell by a handful of votes, it was approved by a one-vote margin in a revote on Tuesday.

Because the budget pierced the New York State tax cap in both cases, a super majority of 60 percent of voters was needed. The district achieved that threshold with a 181-120 tally. That works out to a 60.16 percent margin.

A small crowd of supporters cheered the result with more relief than jubilation Tuesday night as the votes were counted.

One of those was School Board President Ron White, who said, “It’s clear we have more work to do” in convincing residents to support the school.

“We got the approval for the expansion and we are trying to battle through some unforeseen things in the world,” he said of unreimbursed costs related to the coronavirus pandemic that devoured surplus funds that would normally be used to reduce the tax levy. “We are doing the best we can.”

He said he believed that if those who voted against the budget were to take the time to attend board meetings or visit the school to get to know the school and what it is attempting to do, they would become supporters.

“I’m very grateful for all the people who came out,” he said.

The initial budget called for an 8.9 percent tax levy increase. It fell short of passage by a 150-103 margin. District officials pointed out that if only five more people had voted yes or if two voters had changed their no votes, the budget would have passed. So confident was the School Board that the budget would pass, it did not make any cuts to the spending plan before putting it up for a second, and final, vote.

While the total budget remained the same, the district learned that it would be able to bill $400,000 for educating homeless students this fiscal year and the board applied that amount to reducing the tax levy increase to about 6.5 percent.

The district is still awaiting word if it will qualify for $150,000 in state building aid, which would further reduce the tax levy increase.

Although spending will rise by $1,672,490, $740,000 of that is earmarked for anticipated special education costs for severely disabled students and another $650,000 is for increased maintenance and operations related to the district’s recently opened addition, including increased custodial staff, maintenance of a geothermal climate control system, and basics like increased electricity costs.

If the budget had failed, the district would have been required to slash spending by nearly $1.5 million and operate under a contingency budget, which would have required the cancellation of the district’s popular prekindergarten program, after-school academic support, summer enrichment camp, sports, and field trips.

Although there are few houses valued at only $1 million in Bridgehampton these days, their owners can expect their taxes to rise by about $102, from $1,836 this year to $1,938 in the coming year. Taxes for a house valued at $5 million would rise about $509 to $9,691 from $9,182.

The rising value of real estate has cushioned the impact of rising spending on the tax rate in Bridgehampton and other East End communities, but a final tax rate will not be known until the town does its final assessment rolls later this year.