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Prelim School Tax Hike Under 2 Percent

The Garden City school board has proposed a budget that would increase taxes by 1.67 percent (with STAR) for the 2014-2015 year.

The board presented its first recommendations for the proposed budget, which is $109,329,898, an increase of $1,727,532 from last year. While this is good news on the surface, superintendent Dr. Robert Feirsen made his annual cautionary warning about the preliminary nature of this stage of the budget proposal.

“This is the first step in a very thorough review in this district in a number of budget meetings that go through the spring and it comes time for the budget vote,”  Feirsen explained. “It truly is a working document. It is my recommendation but it is not a finished product. Last year, it was not a finished product until almost the budget adoption date in April. That was because the community had input, the board had some suggested recommendations and the board went back several times that revised the original proposal. The same thing is going to happen this year and I think that’s important.”

New York State requires the district to stay under a 2 percent tax levy. This year’s cap is down 2.24 percent from last year’s cap of 3.91 percent due to a number of factors including the completion of borrowing for the 2009 School Investment Bond, a cost-of-living adjustment factor of just 1.48 percent and little increase in real property within the school district. Finally, the contribution rate for the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) increased significantly in dollars, but did not rise above the 2 percent contribution rate increase threshold that would raise the tax levy cap.

As always, the Garden City School District continues to rely on more than 90 percent of its budget to come from property taxes. Among the reasons why this is the case has to do with the community being eligible for little federal aid despite these grants varying from year to year, little revenue being generated from interest on deposits and fees and a continued reduction in state aid.

The amount of state aid that Garden City Public Schools receives has fallen significantly. Since 2008, state aid has fallen approximately 13.5 percent. According to the night’s presentation, Governor Cuomo’s Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), takes money that should be going to school districts and puts it in the state’s own budget. The overall state aid Garden City received from New York State has been reduced by $3,141,513 during the three years that the GEA has been operating.

Governor Cuomo has a property tax rebate proposal in place designed to make it even harder for communities to exceed the tax cap levy, even if a majority of voters agree to it. A rebate or credit would go to property owners for 2014-15, but only if the school district’s tax levy increase is below the property tax cap. Estimated rebates would range from $100 to $250 per household. There are also a number of programs the state proposes to fund as an additional reward, most of which Dr. Feirsen pointed out would do little to aid the Garden City School District with its budgetary woes.

“I want to point out that the governor’s proposal also includes a number of things that are additionally funded. For example, there is an additional million dollars for funding of pre-K. The share that we get of that is minuscule and the need for that in this community is probably equally as small,” he explained. “The governor’s proposal includes money for a technology bond, which is a somewhat suspect way of funding technology by bonding something that is going to be outdated [rather quickly]. How many people still have a computer for 10 years that their kids can work on? So that’s a really dubious proposal. There is extra money and what I would say is instead of funding this tax rebate, just give us the money. We’d save a lot of property taxes.”

A vote on the budget by residents is scheduled for May 20. The next board of education work session is on Tuesday, Feb. 25.