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Mar 6, 2012 6:19 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Hampton Bays School District Looks To Stay Under Tax Cap

Mar 7, 2012 2:15 PM

Hampton Bays School District officials said they have no intention of piercing the state’s new tax cap as part of their 2012-13 budget, thanks largely to concessions made by school employees that were negotiated last year.

Though they are not yet ready to share actual figures for next year’s spending plan, Hampton Bays Superintendent of Schools Lars Clemensen and Business Administrator Larry Luce both said recently that prior concessions made by all of the district’s employees will allow officials to come in just under the new limit on the district’s tax levy, or the amount it raises each year in property taxes. The concessions, they said, included salary cuts and early retirement incentives.

“These concessions set us up to be in a good place for this year,” Mr. Clemensen said.

As a result, he said that Hampton Bays, unlike some other local school districts, will have some breathing room when piecing together next year’s spending plan. Some districts, Mr. Clemensen noted, will be over the tax cap by simply rolling over their current budgets—a move that only funds existing programming without adding any new expenditures.

Even with some wiggle room, Mr. Clemensen said the district is being as frugal as possible when it comes to this year’s budget, which is also being reviewed by members of the district’s Budget Advisory Committee. The spending plan is expected to be adopted during the Board of Education meeting set for April 17, though it is not written in stone. A preliminary presentation on the budget is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, March 13, during the School Board’s next meeting.

“We are literally looking at dollars and cents here—that is how carefully Larry is drafting the budget,” Mr. Clemensen said. “The door is closed and nobody goes near him until May 15,” he added, referring to the date that all school budgets in New York State are put up for public vote.

“Many districts talk about cutting the fat, but when we do that, we’re cutting bone,” Mr. Clemensen added. “You cut up a little bit of bone each time and we are not cutting with a cleaver—we are cutting with a scalpel.”

Last year, the Board of Education adopted a $44.9 million budget that increased overall spending by $1.1 million, or 2.59 percent, and that plan included no teacher layoffs or major course adjustments. Also, the increase marked the lowest budget-to-budget spending increase in the district in the last decade.

This year’s budget looks to do the same, according to Mr. Clemensen and Mr. Luce. Both added that any programs that end up getting cut next year will be eliminated only if there is not enough interest among students to justify the expenditure.

For the current school year, district officials had to raise $40.9 million through the tax levy, a 5.9 percent increase from the prior year. The tax rate for the current year is $11.51 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. It is still unclear how next year’s spending plan will affect the tax rate.

In order to keep its finances as transparent as possible, the district chose to create a budget advisory committee this year. The group, which has been utilized over the past few years, includes a mix of school officials and taxpayers who are reviewing the draft budget line by line.

“I think it is an interesting approach to bring in these various stakeholders in the community,” said budget advisory committee member Andy Godfrey, who heads the Hampton Bays Civic Association’s Education Committee. “Everyone can know what is going on and, hopefully, everyone will be more educated when they go to the polls for the budget.”

The advisory group is next set to meet on Thursday, March 22, at 7 p.m., in the middle school library. The meetings are open to the public.

“I like this process a lot, I find it extremely interesting,” Mr. Godfrey added. “I like knowing where it is going and seeing the concerns of the different departments in the district.”

“Anyone who wants to listen to the budget advisory committee will have a pretty good idea of how the school is thinking,” Mr. Luce said. “That will culminate in the next couple of meetings as we really get down to the nitty-gritty of what the budget is going to be.”

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I would like to note that it was not just the teachers' union that gave concessions last Spring to set us up as noted in the article. Every employee in the Hampton Bays School District - from the Superintendent's Office through each of the three buildings participated in a concessions package to prepare for the Property Tax Cap. ~LC
By LarsClemensen (34), Hampton Bays on Mar 7, 12 1:12 PM
1 member liked this comment
Thank you Mr. Clemensen, the article has been corrected to reflect that.
By Bill Sutton, Managing Editor (117), Westhampton Beach on Mar 7, 12 2:08 PM
Ha, Ha, still no comment about the East Quogue School District piercing the tax cap. Are they, or are the employees going to give something back to the district like they did in Bridgehampton and Hampton Bays?
By crusader (391), East Quogue on Mar 10, 12 4:06 PM