School Budget Estimated at 8.0% Increase

Last Fall, the Tarrytowns District School Board and the School Superintendent made the decision to form a financial analysis committee for closely examining each item in the school budget to possibly cut back on what now seem to be regular and substantial increases.

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School Administration Building

Howard Smith, Superintendent, Andy Labella, District Business Manager, Marc Kirshner, VP of the Board, and Joe Lillis, Board Member, formed the foundation of the committee. Added to this initial group were local citizens, Myles Birritella, Matthew Brennan, Steve Byelick, Dennis Gaylin, David Glickhouse, Sadie McKeown, Dean Mead, Norm Parton, Dennis Rudofsky, Rebecca Schroedel and Anthony Scarpati. Each were assigned to one of six fundamental groups: Transportation, Operations and Maintenance, Administration, Instruction, Debt Service and Revenue.

The committee performed its analyses in each of these categories in October and November with their conclusions being presented to the public in a December 15 Board meeting. Scores of critical questions were posed. What happens when class sizes increase? What happens if a teacher is eliminated? Can grants and aid be moved from project to project? Should we continue to own and operate our own buses? When will Ferry Landings and Lighthouse Landing come on stream? Major committee findings were that the current estimated budget projection of $50,500,000, was up from the 2005 figure of $46,746,387 but was well in line with other neighboring districts. The hard reality in this line-by-line examination was that the four major budget component increases were due to long term or contractual requirements at 3.2% for salaries, a 2.5% increase in benefits, inflation at 0.5% and debt service at 1.8%.

One continuing legal hassle that hardly helps the budgeting process, are the certioraris that result in returning tax funds to those properties that have been overtaxed due to a complex, even archaic, system of valuing individual properties in both Villages. Once a property has been revalued downward in a certiorari proceeding, it obviously results in even less taxation than it did in the past. These two “hits” put even more pressure on the current property tax infrastructure. The necessary monies are borrowed and go into the annual budget as “debt service” expense. Further, according to the last Census, Sleepy Hollow is made up of 60% rental households, and Tarrytown is ranked at 46%. Here again, those paying rent do not contribute to property taxes in full measure the way an independent homeowner does. Given these shortfall situations, it now looks like the necessary tax levy to cover the new school budget would be approximately an 8.7% increase for each household.

The committee also made a proposal to look at longer-term contract and mandate-driven expenses that the school system faces each year. The committee will provide information about possible legislative initiatives that could provide additional and new revenue streams. Superintendent Smith indicated that a meeting on these subjects with State, Westchester and local Village authorities might occur as early as this winter. While the Board at this juncture has not gotten into long-term detail, there is now ample evidence that alternatives must be developed. An increasing number of older citizens are facing tough financial decisions as to staying or moving. Tax differentials continue to exist between condo owners and homeowners and there is already activity in Albany that would consider raising condo taxes to that of the single family home ownership level. Suggestions have already been made in many communities that school property tax collection switch over to an income tax, which would automatically bring all citizens proportionately into the revenue stream. Still other communities have recommended a value-added sales tax to resolve the situation.

The calendar for the 2006 Budget will be as follows:
This month, the budget will be submitted to the Board of Education. During the February-March period, the Board will review the budget and receive public feedback. April 6 will be Board adoption and on May 16 the public will vote on the 2006 budget.

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About the Author: Arnold Thiesfeldt