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Bedford School Officials Propose Tax-Cap Override To Close $8.8M Budget Gap

John Chambers
John Chambers Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie

BEDFORD, N.Y. -- Voters in the Bedford Central School District could be asked whether to override the state-mandated property tax levy cap as part of the proposed 2016-17 budget.

District administrators recently unveiled a budget that includes an increase in the tax levy, which is the aggregate amount of tax revenue to be collected, of 3.82 percent, or by $4,345,410. Legally, the most that the district could seek while remaining under the cap is an increase of $1,498,575, or 1.32 percent.

The coming year's budget is the first in which a cap override is being sought since state officials enacted the limit in 2011. The cap, which varies from year to year, is the lesser of two percent or the rate of inflation.

The request comes as the district faces an estimated funding gap of more than $8.8 million. The gap is being driven by a large cost increases in health insurance; special-education staff increases that include two teachers and 11 support staff; and salary and benefits for employees.

A tax-cap override will be harder to get from the voters, as it requires a supermajority of 60 percent in favor. A regular budget only requires a simple majority above 50 percent.

“We are very conscious that this is our recommendation and the board has a difficult task of deciding what to do with every item in this recommended list," said Interim Superintendent John Chambers. "One of the most difficult parts of the list is deciding whether to ask the voters of the school district to approve this tax levy cap override.”

Even with an override, the budget will come with deep cuts. A total of $2,555,538 in personnel-based reductions is proposed. The cuts include elimination of all modified-level sports; a reduction of seven elementary school teachers; a cut in three high school teachers; the loss of 2.9 library jobs; the elimination of the pre-kindergarten program at Mount Kisco Elementary School; and elimination of two safety monitor positions at the middle and high schools. Additionally, the budget includes a cut of $230,000 from a professional-development program for teachers.

A possible increase in state aid has been mentioned, although it would only bring in about $360,000 to the district. The increase could come if Gov. Andrew Cuomo and both houses of the state legislature agree to completely abolish a recession-era program by which portions of school districts' promised aid were withheld to help balance the state's budgets.

Total estimated expenditures thus far total $133,475,369, while estimated revenue is just $124,626,040.

Neither the cap override nor the proposed cuts would completely fill the gap, as about $1.04 million remains to be closed.

Meanwhile, employee expenses could still change, although the timelines are imperfect for doing so, Chambers acknowledged. The district is currently in negotiations with the teachers' union, the Bedford Teachers Association (BTA) for a new contract to replace the one that will expire on June 30.

District officials are also exploring whether the current self-funded insurance plan, which has proven to be a fiscal albatross, can be replaced. Switching insurance plans would require approval from all three of the district's employee unions.

A consultant will attend the board's March 30 meeting and discuss possibilities for insurance-plan switches, according to Chambers. The consultant is looking into whether national plans would be suitable, Chambers added. Assistant Superintendent for Business Mark Betz is looking into plans that are state-based, he added.

The effects of the proposed levy override would differ among the district's five component towns, as the tax rates, which measure what people actually owe, would fluctuate.

Bedford residents are projected to get a 2.64-percent hike, or by $3.61 per $1,000 of assessed value (AV); Mount Kisco residents are projected to get a 4.18-percent hike, or $3.28 of $1,000 of AV; Pound Ridge residents are projected to get a 3.28-percent rate hike, or $2.57 per $1,000 of AV; New Castle residents are projected to get an 8.13-percent hike, or $5.58 per $1,000 of AV; and North Castle residents are estimated to get a 6.56-percent increase, or $39.29 per $1,000 of AV.

Tax rates, unlike the tax levy, are not subject to a state cap. The rates are determined by an equation called the equalization rate, which is used to apportion the levy among the district's towns. The apportionment is used because the five towns assess properties at different rates of their full market values.

The proposed budget continues to be a work in progress; the school board will not decide on what to send to the voters until April 20. A public vote on the budget is set for May 17.

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