With a $20.66 million budget proposal for the 2021-22 school year, the Bridgehampton School District is seeking voter approval to override the state-imposed cap on tax-levy increases for the third time since the tax cap law was established 10 years ago. For it to pass on May 18, the district will need at least 60 percent of voters to say "yes" to the budget plan.
"Our finances over the last decade have always been very strong, and if we do not have to ask the taxpayers for unnecessary funds, we don't," Robert Hauser, the district superintendent, said in an interview last week. "Since September, we've been going through line by line, revisiting the budget time and time again, to make sure there's nothing in there that is unnecessary. . . . It's unfortunate that we're in the situation for the third time, having to pierce the cap. I think it's inevitable for a small district."
Notable in the district's spending plan, which carries an 8.97-percent tax levy increase and year-over-year total increase of 8.81 percent, is a reduced reliance on year-to-year budget surpluses, known as the "unassigned fund balance," to support spending. Bridgehampton will apply $400,000 from that account to next year's budget, instead of the $600,000 to $800,000 in years past — which makes the budget more sustainable and self-contained.
"If you're going to subsidize your budget on your fund balance . . . you better have that same amount next year," Mr. Hauser said. "We're working toward making the district financially even stronger."
According to Jennifer Coggin, the district's business administrator, taxes on a house with a fair market value of $750,000 would increase by $107 per year. Taxes on a house valued at $2.5 million would increase by about $357 for the year.
Rising costs for electricity are partly to blame for the budget increases, notably a jump of $170,000 — more than a 240-percent increase. "Due to the new construction, the geothermal system, and charging stations, our electricity bill . . . has really risen quite a bit," Ms. Coggin said.
Spending on student programs, which includes salaries for teachers and aides, materials, supplies, and money for extracurricular activities, will see the largest increase — up $927,574, or 5.9 percent. The program budget makes up more than 80 percent of the district's entire budget. Spending on capital costs, including debt payments on the money the district borrowed for the major construction project it is just wrapping up, will rise by $623,734, up to $1.86 million. Capital spending makes up 9 percent of the budget, and administrative costs round out the remaining 10.5 percent.
Public school busing costs will decrease by about 25 percent, down to $332,599, largely due to the district's elimination of busing to and from its alternative high school program, which starts and ends later in the day as compared to the regular school day. Private school busing will decrease by about 24 percent, down to $77,964, because of changing enrollment needs.
An in-person budget hearing will be held Wednesday, May 5, at 6 p.m. in the Bridgehampton School gym. The vote is Tuesday, May 18, from 2 to 8 p.m.