Suffolk schools seek change in NY tax cap law

Several Suffolk County school officials are asking state lawmakers for an amendment on New York's tax cap law to make each year’s levy more predictable.

Ron Masera, superintendent of Remsenberg-Speonk schools, says 76 percent of his district's budget goes to salary and benefits to support instruction for students.

Ron Masera, superintendent of Remsenberg-Speonk schools, says 76 percent of his district's budget goes to salary and benefits to support instruction for students. (1/13/17)

REMSENBURG - Several Suffolk County school officials are asking state lawmakers for an amendment on New York's tax cap law to make each year’s levy more predictable.

School districts have complained for years of difficulties they face meeting the tax cap requirements. 

The law caps property tax increases at either 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. Because last year's inflation was so low, schools had to keep their tax increases maxed at .1 percent. The officials want the law to be amended to give them a flat 2 percent increase year after year.

Officials say it’s virtually impossible to operate with increases that amount to just a fraction of a percent when inflation is low. The consumer price index measures consumer goods, officials argue, which are not primary expenses schools must meet.

Ron Masera, superintendent of Remsenburg-Speonk schools, says 76 percent of his district's budget goes to salary and benefits to support instruction for students.

"That doesn't correlate with CPI measures," Masera says. "If the levy came in at 1 percent this year, I would be left with about $30,000. The rest would be eaten up by increases in health insurance costs that are projected to rise 9.5 to 10.5 percent."

Eastport Superintendent Charles Russo also wants to sever the tie between the tax cap and inflation.

"One of the things that superintendents believe would be helpful is predictability, just knowing year to year what we can expect." he says.

But many residents say their taxes are already a heavy burden.

"I have low income and am disabled," says Sharon Fowler, of Eastport, who says she supports the current tax cap rules.

And Fowler isn't alone.

"I'm happy to look at anything, but the property tax cap is still very, very strongly supported by the public," says state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan. "They seem to be functioning fairly well, because the budgets keep passing."

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