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State Tax Cap to Affect North Fork Schools, Property Owners

North Fork school district superintendents say they've been planning to budget around Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 2 percent tax cap starting in 2012; one business owner says the cap is not enough.

The passage of a 2 percent cap on annual property taxes might have been overshadowed this past Friday night by the legalization of gay marriage in Albany. But its fiscal impact beginning in 2012 will trickle down to local government, schools and property owners.

According to the legislation, school districts cannot raise annual property tax levies by more than 2 percent under the cap unless 60 percent of voters decide to allow the district to propose a budget to exceed the tax cap.

For the 2011-12 school year, — some with higher tax increases than others.  

Superintendent Michael Comanda said that he’s worried about meeting the tax cap in the next school year.

“We knew this was coming so we’re trying to take steps to build up some reserve,” he said. “There were a couple of years that we ran some very tight budgets — we just don’t have much in reserve.”

Comanda also said he doesn’t know what the increasing costs of health care will be nor the contribution the district will have to put into teachers’ retirement systems.

“Those are the wild cards,” he said. “But the unknown is state aid — how much are we going to get in that first year of the tax cap?"

was adopted in April and passed in May with a 5.6 tax increase from 2010-11. To keep 2012-13 on par with the 2 percent tax cap will be a struggle, Commanda said.

“I can’t say I’m not worried,” he said.

In, District Superintendent David Gamberg said that he and his board members have also been preparing for the tax cap since he started the job three years ago — and the modest tax levy increases of the past few years in the district shows that the district can make adjustments.

This year, Southold’s Board of Education adopted awith 1.42 percent tax levy increase and a 2.08 tax rate increase, which passed in May.

“I think the tax cap applies more to districts where spending is out of control,” he said. “We’re planning as best as we can, but again, there are things such as pensions out of our control.”

But to at least one property and business owner, the tax cap is not enough. Mattituck Motel owner Kerry Navarra said that until state lawmakers get serious about rolling back school taxes 20 to 30 percent, anything like a tax cap is “a bunch of nonsense.”

“These laws are a waste of time and money,” he said. “And it’s not just schools that need to roll back — it’s any civil service job. They make four times the amount of the average person on the North Fork and it's pushing businesses and families away."

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