With school budget votes being held this month, Assemblywoman Annie Rabbitt (R,C,I-Greenwood Lake) wants to ensure that taxpayers in Orange and Rockland counties do not get hit with steep property tax hikes in the fall.
“On May 17, when schools across the state will be holding their budget votes, every taxpayer has a stake,” said Rabbitt. “During this stressful economic time, even the slightest increase in taxes is felt. Most schools received steep cuts in state educational aid, totaling $1.2 billion statewide. Participating in the school budget process this year has never been more important, as the outcomes will affect our children’s education and the tax rates in 2011 and beyond.”
As a result of the 2011-12 state budget, school-aid cuts will be felt by schools across the state. In Rockland County school districts, funding cuts range from 9.8 to 12.9 percent; in Orange County, the reductions are 5.4 to 12.3 percent. With these significant cuts in funding, and a lack of serious mandate relief, some school districts have indicated that they may raise tax levies to cover mandatory costs.
Said Rabbitt, “Albany originally argued that cuts in school funding would be offset by comprehensive mandate relief. However, the cuts were ultimately enacted without mandate relief. Now schools are in a bind to afford Albany-imposed unfunded mandates, and operating with considerably less money to work with. This could mean tax hikes or cuts in services.”
“We need to enact mandate relief in Albany immediately to help protect taxpayers and our children’s education,” said Rabbitt, who has been an advocate of mandate reforms, including more flexible contract negotiations for educators as well as more flexible curriculums to allow schools to balance the needs of their students with the new fiscal realities experienced at the local level.
Earlier this week, the New York State School Boards Association released a report on possible solutions to unfunded mandates, naming seven top culprits that would create the most savings for districts if eliminated. At the top of this list are health care costs and public pensions. Without removing these costly mandates, we may continue to see annual hikes in the size of school budgets.
Rabbitt said, “I have been discussing this issue at great length with my colleagues in Albany and local officials here in Orange and Rockland. Although we want to protect taxpayers, voting against increased school budgets may not be the answer as contingency budgets may, in fact, raise property taxes higher than the budgets originally proposed by the school boards. That’s why it is important for voters to be aware of the details of their school budget and participate in this voting process.”
When school budgets are defeated by voters, school boards have the authority to implement contingency budgets without the consent of the community or offering a second vote. If a contingency budget is placed into effect, it could cause an increase of spending by roughly 2 percent, not including exclusions, which could effectively boost the increase further. Ultimately, these costs will be passed along to taxpayers to foot the bill. Furthermore, contingency budgets may not cover all expenditures and could result in layoffs and/or programs cuts on top of increased taxes.
In addition, local voters are able to vote by absentee ballot for school budgets. However, the process for obtaining an absentee ballot for school budget votes differs from the process for regular elections. To obtain an absentee ballot, residents must contact their district office and ask for the ballot to be mailed to your home. Online applications also may be obtained depending on the school district. Each district may have different rules in place, so make sure to call ahead. Completed ballots must be sent to the District Clerk’s office seven days before the vote, May 10, or the ballot will not be counted.
Assemblywoman Rabbitt said, “Residents also may contact my office with any help or questions about obtaining absentee ballots. The process is unbelievably complicated and an issue that I am going to work to reform. Allowing every eligible resident to have their vote be counted is the cornerstone of our democracy, and this process is yet another example of how desperately we need to reform how New York State does business.”
For information about polling places and times, residents are encouraged to visit their local school district’s website. Most websites will have the necessary information along with more details about each school district’s proposed budget. For any further questions or concerns, please e-mail Assemblywoman Rabbitt at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call her office in Goshen at (845) 291-3631.