Jul 29, 2014
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Lederer: Tax Cap Legislation is "Foolhardy and Costly"

Interim Three Village superintendent says new law will likely increase class sizes and sacrifice programs.

Lederer: Tax Cap Legislation is "Foolhardy and Costly"

The property tax cap legislation passed Friday by the New York State legislature is said to provide some relief for schools and taxpayers, but Three Village interim superintendent said the bill will likely make the budget process much, much harder for the district than it already is.

“It’s certainly going to inhibit us. We’ll be lucky to hold onto programs,” Lederer said of the cap. “If anything, it’s going to raise class sizes. … Things we were able to save this year may be in danger next year.”

The 2 percent cap on property tax increases may present specific challenges in Three Village, which just passed a 3.8 percent increase. Three Village hasn’t seen a tax levy increase of less than 2.33 percent in at least seven years. In 2005-2006, residents approved a 6.9 percent budget increase, but only after they voted down a 9.84 percent increase.

RELATED: of past school budget increases.

According to the legislation, if a district comes in with a tax levy increase under 2 percent, the difference may be added to their cap for the following year. A supermajority of 60 percent voting “yes” could override the 2 percent limit, which Three Village nearly had this year at 59 percent. Lederer said 85 of Long Island’s 124 school districts passed their budgets with 60 percent or more voting “yes.”

The new legislation allows districts to borrow money, but Lederer dismissed that possibility, saying he wasn't inclined to do that in Three Village because it would only accrue debt. But there are also allowances for increasing pension costs, and for districts where enrollment has been on the rise – although that is not the case in Three Village, where enrollment has declined slightly over the last few years.

The new legislation presents another challenge for the district in that it requires the school to submit its proposed budget to the state education commissioner and tax commissioner by March 1. That's a full month before the governor's proposed budget is presented, and more than a month before Three Village typically adopts a budget number to put to a vote.

"We’ll have to speed up our budget timelines," Lederer said. "We’ll have to start those workshops right after the holidays, early January. The earlier in the school year you do this, the less you know."

Lederer said Monday he had already begun having meetings to talk about next year's budget.

"I think down the road we’re going to see that what they did here was foolhardy and costly," he said. "If they make it up with increased state aid, that can soften the blow."

Both of Three Village’s state elected officials, Sen. John Flanagan and Assemb. Steve Englebright, voted “yes” for the tax cap bill, at which point, Lederer guessed, “They’re tired of hearing from me.”

Englebright said his vote came somewhat reluctantly, since the tax cap measure was packaged in with other pieces of legislation he feels should have been kept separate, such a rent control law aimed at assisting 2.5 million New York City residents.

“I respect Neil Lederer greatly. I think he is quite correct on most of the points that he's making,” Englebright said. “I have some skepticism myself which I share with him in terms of how this bill, now law, is going to play out going forward. I think there are going to be some adjustments and modifications that will need to be made.”

Flanagan said his "yes" vote for the tax cap came from the need to control the increase of taxes.

"People are choking on property taxes," he said. "This is a way to help mitigate the effect of property taxes, it is a very strong step forward in protecting our local taxpayers."

Some of those taxpayers spoke out earlier this week, sharing sentiments on both sides of the issue.

"I think the income lost will just come from another taxable or fee based source," resident Jim LaRosa said via Twitter.

Resident Tricia Sonsire said via the Three Village Patch Facebook page that the tax cap "will have a devastating impact on education."

Janet Basile disagreed, saying she wished the tax cap had been in place 10 years ago.

"Education will just have to sharpen their pencils like everyone else," she said, adding that her taxes have doubled in the last 10 years.

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