A handful of Capital Region school districts are considering asking local voters to override tax caps when school budgets go up for approval in May.
At least three area school districts — Johnstown, Fonda-Fultonville and Scotia-Glenville — indicated an intent to go above their local tax cap in an annual March filing with the state Comptroller’s Office. Also, Niskayuna school board members at a recent meeting expressed support for going above their limit if needed to spare layoffs.
The districts all face a different budget situation, and divergent local tax caps, but if they decide to propose budgets that raise levies about those limits, they will need the support of 60 percent of district voters.
Fonda-Fultonville and Scotia-Glenville districts both have low tax caps — 0.3 percent and 0.13 percent, respectively — and in recent weeks have signaled that virtually any increase to the local tax levy will require a supermajority.
“Our tax cap is extremely low, it’s almost flat at zero, so it’s important to know that any tax increase we are looking at as a district would probably require a supermajority,” Fonda-Fultonville Superintendent Thomas Ciaccio said at a Feb. 22 board meeting.
Ciaccio said more details with the state budget need to sort out before district officials could offer a more precise tax levy proposal.
“What we are looking at from a tax increase perspective: There is a lot of conversation and a lot of things we have to see play out in this year’s budget,” he said.”
A lot of questions about the state budget and what it will mean for school districts still remain unanswered, but the recently approved federal relief package will help ease the state’s overall budget issues and potentially spare districts from the state aid cuts Gov. Andrew Cuomo had originally proposed. Districts will also see a large infusion of direct federal aid over the next couple of years thanks to the latest federal relief bill.
Scotia-Glenville district leaders also indicated last month they were likely headed to an override vote due to the small tax levy. The school board in recent weeks have started to weigh potential budget cuts, and Superintendent Susan Swartz plans to offer more details about cuts at Monday’s board meeting, Scotia-Glenville spokesperson Bob Hanlon said Friday. Hanlon said Swartz aimed to keep the levy increase with 1.5 percent.
In Niskayuna, where the district’s tax cap is estimated at around 1.1 percent, school board members on Tuesday said they would support asking voters to go above that in order to minimize staff reductions.
“Personally, I would feel more comfortable going above that,” board member Jennifer Zhao said during Tuesday’s meeting.
Niskayuna Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra earlier in the meeting said district leaders were considering eliminating about 13 staff positions, about half of which would be layoffs of employees, as opposed closing positions after someone leaves. Board members asked for more information about the proposed cuts and appeared willing to lift the tax levy to prevent staff layoffs. Board member Brian Backus said it would be reasonable for the board to seek a levy increase in line with other increases in recent years, even if it required supermajority support from district voters.
“If we can stay at or below the highest [tax levy increase] in the last six years, I would be OK with that if it gets us to where we need to be,” Backus said. “But I can’t see us going out any higher than that.”
In Johnstown, district officials reported plans to increase the tax levy 8 percent in information provided to the comptroller, which represents a preliminary estimate of tax levy proposals. The district’s tax levy limit this year sits at 3.8 percent, but Johnstown has in recent years sought tax levy increases that exceed the limit as the district works to claw its way out of a deep financial hole.