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Few Schools to Seek Tax-Cap Override

6:00 PM, May 9, 2013   |    comments
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By Joseph Spector
Albany Bureau Chief

ALBANY, NY-- A mere 4 percent of school districts will try to get voter approval to override the state's property-tax cap, data released Thursday from the state Education Department showed.

Only 28 of the 669 school districts who filed their budget proposals with the state said they would seek the approval of 60 percent of voters to override the tax cap, the records showed.

Last year, in the first year of the cap, about 50 districts sought an override and nearly 20 failed to win approval from voters. If a budget fails twice, a district can't increase their tax levy at all.

"The cost of failing to get your budget approved is huge," said Robert Lowry, deputy director of state Council of School Superintendents.
The districts seeking an override are mainly from Long Island and Westchester County, including the wealthy districts of Scarsdale, Briarcliff Manor, Ardsley and Irvington.

Some upstate districts, which have suffered from declining tax bases, are also seeking an override, including Elmira Heights in Chemung County and Honeoye in Ontario County.

School budgets for the 2013-14 school year, which starts July 1, are up for voter approval on May 21.

The tax cap, championed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, limits the growth in property taxes to 2 percent a year or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. This year, the cap is 2 percent, but schools have several exemptions -- such as rising pension costs -- that can increase their tax-levy limit.

The data Thursday showed that the average tax-levy increase among school districts is about 3 percent. The spending increase is also about 3 percent.

School population is decreasing slightly, by about 12,500 students, to a total of 1.54 million.

In the 2013-14 state budget, which started April 1, districts are getting an average about a 4 percent increase in state aid -- which may blunt the need to seek a cap override, Lowry said. Total school aid from the state is $21 billion, up about $800 million from the previous fiscal year.

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