Tonawanda News

May 5, 2013

Average school tax cap rises

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — In the second year of New York state’s property tax cap, proposed school district budgets for 2013-14 will be subject to an average tax levy increase limit of 4.6 percent. That’s more than double the publicly perceived cap of 2 percent, according to data from the state comptroller’s office.

And that’s well above the 3 percent average limit for budgets in the current 2012-13 school year.

A report by the Empire Center for New York State Policy released Tuesday found the increases are driven by a series of exclusions. Among those exclusions are a portion of increased employee pension costs, without which the state average would drop to 2.7 percent, the center’s E.J. McMahon said in the report.

“The pension provision — added at the insistence of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver — diminishes the protection the law was supposed to provide for some of the state’s poorest taxpayers,” McMahon said in the report.

This year, because school districts have been hit with a particularly large contribution rate increase for the state Teachers Retirement System and Employee Retirement System, the allowable tax levy increase in many districts has gone up, the report said.

The Empire Center’s report broke down tax levy increase limits for 2013-14 by county. The highest average increase in New York was Niagara County with an average increase of 13.7 percent, although that is driven by Barker’s legal cap of 92.7 percent.

To arrive at its legal tax levy increase limit, a district has to follow a state formula, then add in the exclusions. To exceed the tax cap, a district would need 60 percent of voters to approve the proposed budget. Thirty-five districts in New York will attempt that.

Voters will decide on their school budgets May 21.

All six eastern Niagara County districts have proposed budgets that raises tax levies, but by less than the legal limit.

Barker’s $19 million budget would raise its $3.8 million levy by $132,000 or 3.5 percent, well below the 92.7 percent limit allowed by law. Lockport City Schools has proposed an $83 million budget that will need $36 million from the levy, an increase of $692,000 or 2 percent. That’s below Lockport’s legal cap of 5.04 percent.

Like Lockport, Newfane district officials decided to keep their levy increase at 2 percent, or $250,000, at a total of $12.7 million. Newfane’s legal limit is 4.4 percent.

Officials in both districts said public perception of the cap is partially the reason for keeping the increase at 2 percent.

Royalton-Hartland’s $22 million budget would need $9.3 million from the tax levy, an increase of 3 percent of $272,000 from the current school year. Roy-Hart’s cap is 6.09 percent.

Starpoint’s $46.5 million budget would require about $25.8 million from taxes, a tax levy rise of 3.18 percent or $800,000. That is below the district’s tax levy cap of 4.86 percent.

Wilson’s $24.3 million budget would see the tax levy increase by 4 percent or $435,987, which is below Wilson’s tax cap of 5 percent.

Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241 or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick.