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ALBANY — A report released this week by the Association of School Business Officials shows that 98 percent of school districts in New York are planning to stay within their tax cap in the 2019-20 budget, and that includes Indian River Central School and its minus 25.3 percent tax cap.
On the other hand, 13 school districts have indicated they planned on proposing budgets that would require overriding the tax cap. Among them are three north country schools.
Alexandria Central School District has a minus 1.3 percent tax cap and will ask voters to approve a 4 percent tax increase. Copenhagen Central School District has a minus 11.1 percent tax cap and will ask voters to approve a minus 1.0 percent tax change. Chateaugay Central School District in Franklin County has a minus 2.5 percent tax cap and plans to ask voters to approve a 0.0 percent tax increase.
The Belleville-Henderson Central School District has indicated in its filing that it may exceed its 1.4 percent tax cap by the time its budget is finalized. That district is among those that are close to their tax cap, and may have to override it. To override the tax cap, school districts must receive voter approval from a supermajority of 60 percent or more of voters.
Fifteen school districts face negative tax caps, which occur when the maximum allowable tax is lower than the previous year’s tax. Many factors can lead to negative tax caps, including changes in capital exclusions, the local property tax base or local payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs). Six of those school districts are tentatively proposing to override the tax cap.
“That’s a flaw in the tax cap. They allow for these negative levies to occur. They should be able to just go to zero and have a flat budget,” said Michael J. Borges, executive director of the Association of School Business Officials.
Indian River Central School has a minus 25.3 percent tax cap, which it does not plan to override, according to Superintendent Mary Anne Dobmeier.
“We are in a fortunate situation because we can absorb that. The district is highly dependent on both state aid and federal impact aid. We’ve made some very wise financial decisions and exercised astute financial planning over the past decades that have put us in a place where we can, fortunately, absorb this,” she said.
The Department of Defense Impact Aid Program provides additional funding to school districts that include large portions of federal land, such as military bases like Fort Drum.
Ms. Dobmeier said two elements played a role in the district’s tax cap calculation. In one case, the district completed payments on a bond this year, but will receive aid for half of that bond next year. It will also receive transportation aid for a fleet of buses that’s been reduced.
“We’re reducing our bus fleet, but we still receive aid on the larger fleet because we receive aid over the life of a bus,” she said.
She said the district will likely face the same tax cap situation again.
“Next year we’ll be impacted as well,” Ms. Dobmeier said.
The Association of School Business Officials analyzed March 1 tax cap filings from school districts to the state Comptroller’s Office in compiling its report.
The annual vote on the school district budget is scheduled for May 14, and school districts have until the end of April to finalize their budgets.
“These are tentative numbers and if the state fails to come through with sufficient state aid, you will see a change for the worst in school district budgets, with more districts proposing painful cuts that impact students,” Mr. Borges said.