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Most area school budgets stay within tax cap

Katie Keier

Residents of school districts across the state go to the polls today to vote on budgets. These spending plans were created in the shadow of the state’s property tax cap program.

Most of the schools in New York state are offering budgets that keep tax increases below the state’s suggested two percent tax cap. These budgets are also increasing spending at an average rate of 2.6 percent.

To make up the difference, Tim Kremer, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association says most districts are dipping into savings.

"They’re using a significant amount of their fund balance. The rainy day fund they have for savings. One point two billion dollars across the state will be used by school districts from their fund balance to keep those levies down,” said Kremer.

Kremer expects most budgets will pass if they are within the two percent tax cap. An added bonus this year is a rebate from Albany for residents in districts that do that. The rebate is added incentive for voters to say yes, but added pressure for those districts to stay within the cap.

"If you’re in a school district that passes its budget, stays at or below the cap, you’re not going to see a tax increase, because you’re going to get it rebated you from the state in the form of a rebate check that comes out later this year. If you try to exceed the property tax cap, you will not be eligible for that rebate.”    

Only three percent of all districts are trying to override the limit including Ithaca, Brookfield in Madison County and General Brown in Jefferson County.  Those 23 budgets across the state need a majority of 60 percent to be approved, and last year only a third of the districts who tried were able to reach that benchmark.  

“Many of these are highly dependent on state aid. They didn’t get the amount of state aid they expected or needed to make ends meet,” said Kremer. “So they have to rely on the local taxpayers to kick in what the calculation for a tax cap would be.”  

The tax cap legislation was approved three years ago as a way to rein in some of the highest property taxes in the country.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.