NY's real tax cap is 3 percent, maybe more

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli in

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli in the Newsday offices. (March 14, 2012) (Credit: Newsday/Audrey C. Tiernan)

Though Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state legislators touted the tax cap as a 2 percent limit, school districts across the state are allowed to raise more under the law.

On average tax levies can rise 3 percent statewide, according to data released by the state comptroller's office Monday.

Further, exemptions in the law mean seven Hudson Valley districts could choose to raise levies more than 4 percent and still be within the legal limit.

The tax cap law passed last year allows school districts exemptions for building projects, and a percentage of pension increases, among other items.

"The tax cap is designed to provide the greatest protections to taxpayers fairly and it is doing just that by taking into account all revenues local districts collect to so they don't unnecessarily increase taxes," governor's office spokesman Matthew Wing said.

The vast majority of school districts in the state will stay below the allowed limits, even those allowed higher limits. About 75 percent of districts reported to the state estimates of what levies will be put before voters, which showed an average increase of 2.5 percent statewide, according to a Newsday analysis.

All school districts in the state were required to report tax cap calculations by March 1. But reporting proposed levies was optional, comptroller's office spokeswoman Kate Gurnett said.

More details on school budget and levy propositions will be released in the state education department property tax report card before the May 15 budget vote.

The comptroller's data revealed just how exemptions play out in the individual districts. Some large anomalies in the formula, which has school business officials calling for changes to the law.

Barker Central School District in Niagara County had a 32 percent cap, while Oswego School District's cap was -43 percent. Eleven school districts in the state had negative caps, including Spackenkill in Dutchess County.

The anomalies are mostly due to the way capital projects and payments in lieu of taxes are factored into the formula, said Michael Borges, executive director of The New York State Association of School Business Officials.

"This is a complicated piece of legislation and they didn't think through all the ramifications," Borges said.

The association polled members for suggestions and will meet with the legislature in coming weeks to request adjustments to the law.

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