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Few Long Island schools aim to pierce tax cap

AP/Mike Groll

Long Island schools put their budgets up for vote Tuesday. Most school districts hope to increase their tax levies at or just below the 2% cap on property tax increases that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law in 2011.

Four Suffolk schools are attempting to exceed that cap: West Babylon, Sayville, East Hampton, and Bridgehampton. Officials say the districts received less state school aid than they were hoping and so piercing the cap is necessary.

But doing so requires a two-thirds majority of voters. This was made extra difficult this year because of a new law passed as part of the state budget. Cuomo terms it a "tax-freeze" because the state will send rebate checks to tax payers who approve a budget increase smaller than two percent. But in districts where the tax cap is exceeded, voters will have to pay for the entire tax hike.

"It had a sense of almost piling on," says Tim Kremer, executive director for the New York State School Boards Association.

Kremer complained the state was overreaching. 

"And that's been a little bit offensive. But we abided by the rules and accommodated it and the realities of our economic conditions."

Taxpayer advocates counter that Cuomo's cap and "tax freeze" help keep property taxes down.

Fred Gorman heads Long Islander's for Educational Reform. He says the new laws address only half the problem. Gorman wants Albany lawmakers to take up a bill that aims keep the cost of running a school to a minimum. He says a bill drafted by Assemblyman Michael Fitztpatrick (R-St. James) would switch teachers to a less costly retirement plan. The bill would also change union negotiating laws that would encourage teachers unions to settle contract disputes.   

Charles is senior reporter focusing on special projects. He has won numerous awards including an IRE award, three SPJ Public Service Awards, and a National Murrow. He was also a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists and Third Coast Director’s Choice Award.