Schools: Tax levy increases a matter of reality

By Matt Porter

May 8, 2014 Updated May 8, 2014 at 7:20 PM EDT

Chenango, NY (WBNG Binghamton) When Chenango Forks superintendent Joe Peck announced a higher tax levy this year, he said the board did it to preserve jobs.

"We need to go out with with a 5.72 percent tax levy to maintain programs we have, bring back some of the programs we lost," Peck said, "And maybe bring back some of the staff as well."

Across New York State, school budgets are being announced with many districts like Chenango Forks taking the maximum tax increase they can without requiring a 60 percent super majority.

Peck said the district's revenue is still $1 million less than what it was in 2009-2010 before Governor Andrew Cuomo enacted strict cuts in state aid including a freeze in foundation aid.

"We're actually below the rate of state aid that we were in '08-09," he said.

As foundation aid is rebounding slowly, schools are still pressed to find funding for their entire budgets.

Chenango Forks withdrew $1.6 million, or 30 percent, from their reserve fund balance.

After the merger vote with Chenango Valley failed last year, Chenango Forks said it needed to increase it's tax levy in order to survive.

"The consolidation study with an 87 percent vote for no consolidation was really a strong message from the taxpayers that they want the Chenango Forks school to thrive again," Peck said.

Broome-Tioga BOCES District Superintendent Al Buyck said many people think schools can't raise taxes above two percent because of what Governor Andrew Cuomo says each year.

But the governor's 'two percent tax cap' is actually part of a complex equation that can make schools tax levy limits range from zero to well above five percent.

"It is not in fact a 2 percent tax cap," Buyck said. "It is a tax levy cap based on a set of calculations."

At Chenango Forks, their tax levy is high because the school is responsible for more debt from capital projects which plays into the equation for the school's maximum tax levy.

Buyck said recent funding limits from the state have made schools choose between keeping non-academic programs like music and sports, or staying under the cap.

With funding slowly returning, he hopes New York will revisit restrictions on school budgets.

"I'd like to hope we can have conversations in Albany about a long-term strategy, a multi-year strategy," Buyck said. "Not just what we're going to do just filling in the gaps."

Voters in school districts will decide whether their district's budgets will be approved on Tuesday May 20.

Any increase in taxes that doesn't cross the limit set by Governor Cuomo's tax levy cap will be refunded in the fall as part of the governor's tax freeze rebate.

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