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School districts take on tax cap

Governor Andrew Cuomo's property tax cap proposal could mean trouble for many school districts.

In the coming weeks, the governor plans to enter into legislation a cap that would apply to all school districts, as well as local governments. Designed to protect property owners from skyrocketing property taxes, the cap prevents an increase in any district's tax levy (amount raised through property taxes) above 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. However, with a 60 percent majority, residents have the ability to override the cap during budget elections.

While this is good news to property owners, district administrators find the solution shortsighted.

"We understand the need for fiscal responsibility in the present economic climate. The proposal was not surprising," said Fayetteville-Manlius Superintendent Dr. Corliss Kaiser. "We continue to develop budgets which are both responsible and preserve the quality of education our students receive; however, with a cap, that will be very difficult to continue to achieve."

At F-M, wealth and income levels are higher compared to surrounding school districts. Since aid distribution is based on these factors, F-M receives less state aid resulting in more local taxpayer support. Adding to the challenge, Kaiser said, F-M's tax base is 94 percent residential, 4 percent commercial and 2 percent industrial. As a result, residential properties account for the majority of local taxpayer support, where in neighboring districts, more commercial and industrial properties help to support the tax base, which reduces the burden on homeowners.

Other factors driving up costs are mandates imposed onto school districts by the state.

"Unfunded mandates represent items such as AED's, grade three through eight test scoring, homeless student transportation and a variety of educational program mandates unique to New York state," Kaiser said. "Depending on how all of these are calculated, the mandates could cost the district in the hundreds of thousands of dollars."

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