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Two Cap-Busting Budgets Pass, One Fails

Thu, 05/18/2023 - 12:14

Montauk, Springs budgets pass; Wainscott fails

At the Springs School on Tuesday night, election workers and school officials tallied up the votes after the polls closed at 9 p.m. The tax-cap-piercing budget needed 60-percent approval to pass; it got 64.6 percent.
Carissa Katz

From Bridgehampton to Montauk on Tuesday, school district voters supported most ballot propositions and all but one 2023-24 spending plan. The two key exceptions were in Sag Harbor, where the budget passed but the controversial Marsden Street land buy was rejected, and in Wainscott, where a tax-cap-busting budget failed by three votes.

The big winners on Tuesday were the Springs and Montauk School Districts, where voters turned out in favor of over-the-cap spending plans by comfortable margins. State law caps tax-levy increases at a certain percentage for each district and mandates a supermajority of voter approval for districts that choose to “pierce” the limit, as it’s commonly called. In Montauk, the approval rate was 67.6 percent, and it was 64.6 percent in Springs.

Wainscott School officials now have a choice ahead of them after the budget tally came in at 91 yes and 65 no. State law provides for a revote in June, at which time the district could either put the same $6.16 million spending plan on the ballot or modify it to be more appealing to voters. The district could also choose to adopt a contingency budget, which likely means millions of dollars in spending cuts. A second failed budget automatically enacts that contingency budget.

Wainscott voters — who turned out in record numbers on Tuesday — did approve a separate proposition giving the school district another $1 million in tax money for the current year to cover a budget shortfall tied to an unexpected increase in enrollment.

In one of only two contested school board races east of Southampton, voters supported David Eagan, a land-use attorney and incumbent who has served on the board 19 years so far. He defeated Melanie Hayward, a newcomer who had been endorsed by the housing advocacy group East End YIMBY, 98 votes to 58 votes. It was the first contested board race in 12 years for Wainscott.

Sag Harbor’s results are covered separately in today’s Star.

Piercing the cap was a tough ask of Springs taxpayers, who already face some of the highest taxes in town, but district officials apparently stated their case successfully enough leading up to Tuesday’s vote. By a tally of 355 to 194, residents approved the district’s first tax-cap-busting budget, a $35.4 million spending plan that carries a 5.15-percent tax-levy increase. A failed budget would have meant slashing more than $1.8 million from the budget, dramatically impacting programs and activities for students.

Barbara Dayton, the Springs School Board president, said after the vote that she was “delighted” and “very relieved” over the outcome. “It would have been crushing for the school to have to cut anything out of this budget right now.”

The outcome was buoyed by higher-than-usual voter turnout, with 550 ballots cast in person and by mail — many by parents new to the district. “I’m thrilled that the community came out,” said Debra Winter, the district superintendent. “When you have a large number of people coming out, then it really speaks to what people want to support. . . . It was a good budget. It was good for the kids.”

Springs voters also approved a proposition authorizing the board to buy a bus at a cost of no more than $90,000. Katie Sarris, new to the school board, and Pat Brabant, an incumbent candidate, were elected to three-year terms in an uncontested race. They received 426 and 401 votes, respectively.

Montauk found itself in the cap-piercing position after tapping into its reserve account during the Covid-19 pandemic, when districts were spending huge sums on cleaning supplies and social-distancing equipment, and students and their families needed extra support.

It was Montauk’s first time attempting to pass an over-the-tax-cap budget plan, which voters supported by a margin of 167 yes to 80 no votes. The budget is for $22.73 million, with a tax-levy increase of 18.56 percent.

“Thank you to the Montauk community for your support,” Jack Perna, the district superintendent, wrote in an email after the results were announced. “It’s been a tough year in many ways for many of us. It takes a village — a village like Montauk!”

Running unopposed to retain his school board seat, Lee White was re-elected with 224 votes.

East Hampton voters, in addition to passing the school district’s $79.1 million spending plan with 85.6-percent voter approval, also said yes to a $3.925 million capital-improvement plan covering upgrades and renovations across its three campuses. The budget vote tally was 287 yes to 48 no, while the capital plan received 296 yes and 36 no votes.

In an email to The Star, Adam Fine, the East Hampton superintendent, thanked residents “for supporting our budget and capital reserve proposition. This community has shown once again its support” for the district and its programs.

In the second contested local school board race, East Hampton voters re-elected John Ryan Sr. with 243 votes and supported Emily Keogh-Agnello with 257 votes. Their terms are for three years. In third place, George Aman, a former board member seeking to return, received 92 votes.

Residents of Amagansett approved the district’s 2023-24 budget of $13.16 million on Tuesday. The final vote was 84 yes and 9 no. The spending plan stays within New York State’s tax-levy rules with a 2.29-percent increase.

The school district got a green light, 85 to 7, to buy a new bus for $148,611, which is not expected to impact taxes because the money has already been set aside in a reserve account. By 83 to 8, voters approved Proposition 3, a 15-year, $1.8 million bond to pay for new ventilation units for classrooms as well as sidewalk repairs.

Both running unopposed, two school board candidates were elected in Amagansett: Kevin Warren, an incumbent, and Addie Slater-Davison, a newcomer, with 70 and 81 votes, respectively. Their terms are for three years.

Voters also approved the Amagansett Library’s budget of $1.36 million, 89 to 4.

Bridgehampton’s budget plan, a tax-cap-compliant $21.74 million, was easily approved by a margin of 92 to 29, for a 76-percent voter approval rate. There were no additional propositions on the ballot this year.

Voters re-elected Markanthony Verzosa and Kathleen McCleland, two incumbent school board members who were running unopposed. They received 100 votes and 107 votes, respectively.

In a budget year that saw a total proposed spending increase of less than $18,000 in the Sagaponack School District, voters there approved the budget plan of $1.89 million. The tally was 13 to 0. Thomas Schultz, an incumbent school board candidate, was re-elected to another three-year term. He received 13 votes in an uncontested race.

With Reporting by Carissa Katz and Jane Bimson



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