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Top Stories of 2011: Scarsdale Reacts to Tax Cap

SCARSDALE, N.Y. – The Village of Scarsdale and the Scarsdale Union Free School District shuddered at the June passage of New York State's 2 percent tax levy cap . The measure, designed to reign in what many state residents see as runaway property taxes, is largely perceived as an imperfect law by Westchester County, village and school officials in that it in most cases it does not allow for state-mandated expenses and union contracts negotiated prior to the bill's passage.

The Scarsdale Board of Trustees and the Board of Education have been vocal about their concerns about what the cap could do to Scarsdale's quality of life. Village Manager Alfred Gatta has warned of service cutbacks and layoffs if the village complies with the cap, and Schools Superintendent Michael McGill said that coming in at 2 percent could mean teacher and support staff layoffs as well as academic and extra-curricular program cuts.

The cap is subject to an override, though. The village trustees, by 60 percent majority, can choose to pass a budget that exceeds the cap. But for the schools, it is the voters who may be asked to make that decision. The village and the school district plan to begin budget workshops after Jan. 1. The workshops will be open to the public.

Here is how The Daily Scarsdale reported on the cap's passage:

A tax cap designed to limit increases to property taxes throughout the state was signed into law early Saturday morning.

"New York State taxes are 78 percent higher than any other state said Assembly member Sandra Galef (D – District 90) "We had to do something."

The first part of the legislation places a two percent cap on the amount of money a school district can raise property taxes but with some exceptions.

Galef said that the cap will not include pension payments districts are required to make for teachers. The cap will also not include costs for any capital projects, or existing debts.

Earlier in the week, Eastchester Schools Superintendent Dr. Marilyn Terranova said that the cap without some relief in state mandates would have had a very negative impact on a schools ability to operate.

There are only limited areas in school budgets where unmandated items can be cutsuch as class size, school programs, non-teaching staff and the budget to care for the buildings and grounds. The Eastchester School District eliminated five jobs at the Board of Education meeting last week, including that of a 23 year veteran, a mechanic/plumber whose position was abolished.

Galef explains that 60 percent of voters must support a higher tax levy in order for it to be allowed under the new law.

Property taxes provide the funds to pay for almost the entire budget for school district. Westchester County residents pay the highest property taxes in the nation, Galef said.Districts will not have to deal with the ramifications until the 2012/2013 budget season.Galef said the law has a second segment that places a two percent cap on how much any municipality can raise taxes,unless a 60 percent majority of the governing board votes in favor of the raise.

For example, In Westchester County where there are 17 county board members, 11 would have to be in favor of a tax hike of more than two percent in order for the raise to pass muster.

Galef said she supported the new laws which are set to expire in five years. "What we have been doing is not working, we had to address that," she said

In the interim, she said lawmakers plan to take a hard look at state mandates placed on school districts.

"In our next session we will start looking at mandate reform, something that has not been done before," she said.

State lawmakers stayed in Albany nearly a week longer then their scheduled departure. They are on vacation until September.

Tomorrow The Daily Scarsdale takes a look back at the school district's decision to explore starting an education foundation and the policy and fire departments' move back to the renovated and expanded public safety building.

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