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Mar 16, 2016 1:46 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

East Quogue Unveils Tentative School Budget; Officials Warn They Might Pierce Tax Cap

Joseph Sanicola, of East Quogue, raises his concerns about the proposed budget at Tuesday night's board of education meeting. AMANDA BERNOCCO
Mar 16, 2016 1:46 PM

East Quogue Elementary School Superintendent Robert Long’s proposed $24 million budget for 2016-17 highlights the unique challenges posed by a cap on the tax levy.

His tentative plan, unveiled during Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting, proposes to increase overall spending by nearly $1 million. But in order to remain under the state-mandated cap on tax levy increases, Board of Education members must now trim $1.1 million in spending—a daunting task, and one that could possibly force them to instead attempt to pierce the cap, with voter approval.

As a result, Mr. Long told the approximately 60 taxpayers in attendance at Tuesday’s budget hearing that board members have not yet ruled out piercing the cap, a move that would require the district secure 60 percent approval for next year’s budget if they want it to pass.

Mr. Long noted that, for the next several weeks, board members will be trying to figure out how to reduce spending without cutting programs or eliminating positions. He noted that they have spent the past few months trying to figure out ways to avoid piercing the cap.

“We took this budget apart and put it back together time and time again,” Mr. Long told attendees.

His $24 million proposal, if adopted as-is, would increase overall spending by 3.49 percent over the current year’s $23.05 million budget. But in order to avoid piercing the cap, the board must cut $1.1 million in spending.

The district tax levy for the current school year is $20.6 million; Mr. Long did not release a projected tax levy for his budget proposal.

The cap on tax levy increases stands at 0.12 percent, though that figure does not include various exemptions. When those are factored in, East Quogue’s tax levy cap increases to 0.61 percent, according to Mr. Long.

In order to trim costs, Mr. Long said he and the board will consider getting rid of some “non-mandated” programs, such as half-day kindergarten, music programs and late bus service to Westhampton Beach, as well as cutting some positions, including a physical education teacher, a special education teacher, and several teaching assistants and aides. Other school programs and activities could also find their way on the cutting board, he said.

Several parents shared their concerns about the district’s dire financial position at the meeting.

Joseph Sanicola of East Quogue told board members that, as a parent, he does not mind paying more in school taxes if it means a better education for his children. “We’re not voting for a school budget here, we’re voting for East Quogue,” Mr. Sanicola said. “We need to either stick together and support the community we love or there is no future.”

He continued: “I left my house—I have two daughters and a son—and my daughter, who is coming here next year, asked ‘Where are you going?’ and I said, ‘I am going to your school.’ And she said, ‘Why, why are you going to my school?’ And I said, ‘So you can go next year.’ And she looked at me in a way that I thought I could never be affected. And I was. So all I can ask from the community is that you think of the long-term implications of what we are doing here.”

Fellow parent and hamlet resident Don Bouchard also urged board members to pierce the cap instead of cutting positions and programming.

“All piercing the tax cap means is another $50 out of your pocket,” Mr. Bouchard said from the podium. “That’s all we’re talking about here. We’re not talking about a thousand dollars … We as a community need to come together and speak to others about the district and what we are trying to achieve here. It’s so often that people just don’t go out and vote.”

The current year's tax rate stands $11.05 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, meaning that those with properties valued at $500,000 are now paying approximately $5,500 in school taxes. Mr. Long has not yet released a projected tax rate for his 2016-17 spending plan.

All five Board of Education members shared that they are struggling with the budget because they also do not want to have to eliminate teachers or programming.

“We wanted to share with you what we’re struggling with,” Board of Education President Patricia Tuzzolo said.

“I just want to reiterate that none of us up here wants to see those cuts happen,” added Carrie Bender, another board member.

“It’s not what’s best for the school and community,” added Christopher Hudson, another board member.

The next budget meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 29, at 7:15 p.m. at the East Quogue Elementary School on Central Avenue. The board plans to adopt the budget on April 19, and will host a budget forum on May 10. The budget vote will be held on May 17.

Mr. Long urges everyone in the community to make sure they are registered to vote on the budget, adding that the deadline to do so is May 12. If anyone has questions about registering to vote, or how to get an absentee ballot, he said they should contact District Clerk Leonre Rezza.

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Just to be clear- if EQ has to cut $1.1 million in order to meet the 0.12% tax cap the BOE will not be considering cutting "some" non-mandated programs. All of those things listed will be lost. That means without a 60% majority vote we will have 1/2 day kindergarten, there will be no after school busing from WHB middle and high school, no instrumental music program, we will lose one Phys Ed teacher, one special ed teacher, .5 of a speech position, 2-5 teaching assistants, 2 teacher aides. There ...more
By eqmomof3 (22), EAST QUOGUE on Mar 16, 16 5:00 PM