By Christine Sampson
An early presentation of the Bridgehampton School District’s 2018-19 budget last week showed the district aiming to stay within the state-mandated cap on tax levy increases.
Administrators have outlined a preliminary budget of $16,297,465, which is a $1,941,003 increase, or 13.52 percent, over the current year’s budget. It includes increases in spending on health and retirement benefits, contractual salary increases for staff, money to hire an elementary school guidance counselor and more special education and technology education teachers, and funds for out-of-district tuition for students with special needs. It also includes the first payment on the district’s $24.7 million bond for expansion and renovation, in the amount of $988,965.
“It appears we can stay within the tax cap limits using some of our reserves,” said incoming superintendent Robert Hauser, who is currently the assistant superintendent for finance and facilities, during the district’s first budget presentation on January 24.
“Is what you’re presenting us a roll-over budget? We don’t have to sit here and make rough decisions?” board vice president Lillian Tyree-Johnson asked Mr. Hauser during the presentation.
“I think we’re in very good shape,” Mr. Hauser replied.
The tax cap, for Bridgehampton, amounts to a limit higher than the “2 percent tax cap” phrase that many people are used to hearing. The 2018-19 school year will mark the first time since the tax levy legislation was introduced that the state’s “tax levy growth factor” is actually 2 percent, and combined with factors that reflect commercial and real estate growth within the hamlet, Bridgehampton will have the ability to increase its tax levy by at least 5 percent and still need just a simple majority vote to pass its budget. The bond payment, however, is excluded from the tax levy.
But if recent trends continue, the tax levy could increase while average school taxes actually decrease slightly, as it did this year for Bridgehampton. Further complicating the financial picture for residents is the recent package of federal tax legislation, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which caps state and local tax deductions at $10,000.
“We are always looking for ways to minimize the annual budget increases, and the corresponding school tax levy, while preserving and improving programs and facilities for our students,” Mr. Hauser said Tuesday. “These efforts, along with significant increases in the assessed property valuations, have led to minimal school tax rate increases and most recently a tax rate decrease. As I understand, the new federal tax legislation SALT limitation could impact each resident differently. School taxes are only one of the local taxes.”
Bridgehampton will hold a community budget forum on Wednesday, March 7. The budget vote and school board trustee election is Tuesday, May 15.