Taxes in the Hamburg Central School District could go down slightly for the second year in a row.
It's all about the tax cap.
The district's tax cap is less than zero, like last year. If the tax levy is above the tax cap, 60 percent of voters must vote in favor of the budget in May, which many districts have discovered is a difficult lift. But if it is within the cap, a simple majority is enough to pass the budget.
School Board members held their first budget session of the new year Tuesday and learned that the tax cap for the district is negative 0.8 percent, or about $300,000 less than the current levy. The tax cap last year was negative 4.46 percent.
While the state set the tax cap at 1.26 percent for school districts this year, each district calculates its own cap, taking various exclusions and exemptions into account. The tax cap was instituted by New York State in 2011, and Tuesday the state Senate passed a bill making it permanent. The bill goes to the Assembly, but a similar bill failed to succeed in the Assembly last year.
The tax levy under Hamburg's cap would be $35.02 million, said Barbara S. Sporyz, assistant superintendent of administrative services and finance. If the School Board adopted a budget rolling over all the current programming and staffing, it would total $68.17 million, an increase in spending of 3.29 percent, she said.
The gap between expected revenues, including the levy within the tax cap, and the rollover budget is $1.12 million, she said.
"It's actually pretty good, compared to what we've seen," she said. "We probably can reduce some of the expenses in the budget. Overall, I don't think we're starting out in a terrible place."
It's still early in the budget process, and there are several unknowns, such as the cost of BOCES programs and state aid.
"We know it will be different 45 days from now," Superintendent Michael Cornell said.
And while School Board members are considering options in the budget, they might keep in mind comments made Tuesday night by one of the district budget ambassadors, a group of citizens who give input on budget and finances to the district.
"The message from the people I talk to is, they're being crushed by the tax burden," said Steve Sprada.