May 24, 2006
School Budgets Go Down, Reassessments To Blame
District voters, some with reassessment notices in tow, shot down five school budgets in Southampton Town last week and superintendents are holding the town responsible.
Budgets and propositions in Southampton, Hampton Bays, Tuckahoe, East Quogue, and Bridgehampton were rejected. The Sag Harbor School District's budget passed narrowly by a scant eight votes.
Superintendents from the Southampton, Tuckahoe and Bridgehampton school districts held a press conference at Southampton High School last Wednesday declaring that voters acted out of fear of escalating taxes after receiving reassessment notices from the town.
Watching property values increase led homeowners to assume their taxes would go up accordingly. Since Super Tuesday and Grievance Day were held on the same day, hundreds of residents stood for hours in the rain waiting their turn to challenge their reassessments — then they went to vote.
"Our voters, when they came to the voting booth, had their reassessment notices with them," said Southampton Superintendent Dr. Linda Bruno. "They were very upset. Some of them, their assessments had doubled and they were voting no against the budget. Many of them had never voted against the school budget before but they were so frightened by the notices and so worried about how much their taxes were going to go up that they voted down all the propositions, which has never happened here before."
The town has acknowledged its role in the widespread panic, noting its failure to properly explain the reassessments to the public. Also, many of the reassessment notices were not sent out on time. Southampton Town Board members, however, fault an independent mailing company for the delay, adding that the town had been told the notices were mailed earlier than they had been. Ten percent of the neighborhoods in the town received late notices.
Phone calls made to Southampton Town Hall were not returned by press time.
The superintendents of the five affected school districts are meeting with the Southampton Town Board and the assessor's office today at town hall to make sure that school officials have the appropriate information to answer taxpayers' questions.
"What we're asking the town to do is to clarify for the residents pretty much 100% what the tax reassessment means to them in some standard terms that they can work with, some baseline that the residents [can] have so that they can make an accurate comparison to what the reassessment means to them," said Hampton Bays School Business Administrator Larry Loose.
The town has agreed to help the districts in disseminating this informing.
Also, "We're working with legislators on not having Super Tuesday and Grievance Day be the same day," which are state-mandated, said Dr. Bruno. "That caused a lot of problems."
Meanwhile, school boards are regrouping and will decide whether or not to amend their budgets before reintroducing them to the public on June 20.
"We'll have to look at it," said Southampton School Board President Reverend Marvin Dozier. "We have a 3.4% budget [increase] and the only thing different that we could probably do is to take a look at the proposition and see how we'll want to deal with that proposition." The school was hoping to get a $5 million capital improvement for the school approved.
Should the budgets go down again, the districts will adopt a contingency budget, a 4% increase in funds above last year, as authorized by the state. "So for us, it's more than what we're asking. For Bridgehampton, it's an increase for them," said Rev. Dozier.
Bridgehampton's budget of $9.8 million reflected no spending increase over last year. Tuckahoe's budget of $13.9 million represented an 11% increase over last year. Hampton Bays offered up a $32.7 million budget, up 11.95%. And in East Quogue, a budget of $18.4 million represented a 9.7% increase. These budgets may change before the next vote.