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Tax Cap Frustrates Croton-Harmon School District

CROTON-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. – Croton-Harmon School District predicts it will have to slash $1.2 million from its projected budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year to stay within the limits of the 2 percent tax cap levy. Property taxes in the district would likely still rise despite deep cuts, the district projects.

“We will be discussing the budget on a pretty regular basis because of the complexity,” said Superintendent Dr. Edward Fuhrman. The board’s regular budget process was turned on its head after tax levy cap legislation went into effect.

Normally, the board said, it looks at a five year budget projection before discussing viable budget options, including if they would like to include new programs or continue existing ones.

For this budget process, Croton-Harmon will have to sort out what it is legally able to do under tax levy cap legislation, before considering any other variable. Diane Chaissan, assistant superintendent of finance at Croton-Harmon, called the new process “demoralizing.”

The board of education developed a preliminary estimate of the tax impact of a smaller budget, abiding by the 2 percent tax levy cap increase. If a budget of $43,770,345 were passed, which would be $90,483 less than fiscal year 2011-2012, property taxes would still increase by 0.42 percent in the Town of Cortlandt. This smaller budget could be approved by a simple majority, an alternative over a budget that exceeds the 2 percent tax levy cap and must be passed by a 60 percent supermajority.

A “roll over” budget, where the only additional expenditures are contractual salary and benefits increases, was projected to increase the tax levy by 4.3 percent tax, or by $1.5 million. The board will have to cut $1.2 million to stay within legal limits, and is estimating it will have to decrease the year-to-year numbers by $90,000 to pass a budget by simple majority.

The tax levy and tax rates could continue to rise because several different sources of revenue make up the school district's budget. Lowered assessments, less money in state aid and less sales tax revenue are all redistributed as cost to taxpayers. In other words, the size of the pie remains the same, and taxpayers’ chunk increases as other revenue sources shrink.

"We have cut into staff development, we have cut technology, we reorganized transportation, we cut 1.5 teacher positions," said Fuhrman about last year's cuts. From 2009 to 2011, the district has increased the tax levy 0.56 percent, negative 0.99 percent and 1.51 percent, respectively.

Rising costs are also cutting into the district's controllable expenditures. The district estimates that pension contributions will increase 18 percent in the coming fiscal year, an expense controlled by New York State.

“We know under the tax cap we’re not going to have unexpended funds,” said Chaissan. “We’re going to be budgeting tighter, and tighter and tighter.” The school district anticipates depleting reserve funds over the next several years to keep the levy under 2 percent.

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