Bridgehampton School Budget Fails First Round

    In Bridgehampton, one of the two districts on the South Fork seeking to pierce the tax cap, voters said no to a $12.3 million spending plan that carried an 8.8-percent increase in the tax levy for the 2014-15 school year.

    Under a state law that went into effect in 2012, the cap on property tax levy increases is either 2 percent or the Consumer Price Index — whichever is lower. This year’s cap was 1.46 percent. Districts trying to pierce that cap needed the support of 60 percent of voters. East Hampton got it, but Bridgehampton, West Babylon, and Sayville, the other three proposing cap-busting budgets, all failed.

    Only 54.25 percent of voters approved Bridgehampton’s spending plan, with 134 voting for it and 113 against it.

    Ron White, the school board president, said Wednesday that he is convinced the support from the community is there. “Because there is no active push to close the school, I think some of the folks who are pro the school kind of let their guard down,” he said, referring to unsuccessful attempts in recent years to send children from the small school to other districts.

    “There’s always a sector of people who want to close the school. The second that those people go quiet, we go quiet,” he said, adding that it is part of a trend he’s seen before, so he was not exactly surprised by Tuesday’s result. “Over all, the complacency is one of the main reasons that we get in challenging places. For us as a community, the pro-school community, we’ve been getting complacent.”

    Asked if the board could have done anything differently, Mr. White said he felt the board communicated its proposal well. “We got out. We’ve had forums. We’ve had budget hearings. I think the people are informed about it. One thing that everyone has to understand is appreciation is appreciation.”

    The $1.1 million, or 9.93-percent, increase over the current year’s $11.2 million budget was said to be primarily due to contractual increases and to allow the district to keep up with other required state mandates. Had the board decided not to pierce the cap, it said the district would have to lay off at least four teachers.

    The district proposed a $10.6 million tax levy, $855,819 over the current year’s $9.8 million levy.

    Lois Favre, the district superintendent and principal, said the board and the district worked hard to make the community understand the need to pierce the cap. She also was not surprised by the outcome. “It disappointed me. We’ve been out in front of this since March,” she said. “We’ll see what the board wants to do now.”

    The board will have a second opportunity to bring a budget to voters on June 17. It could propose the same budget or amend it before the vote. If the budget fails a second time, Bridgehampton will be forced to operate on budget with no increase in the tax levy. The austerity budget would bring huge cuts.

    While the school budget went down, voters did approve the $160,000 Bridgehampton Childcare and Recreation Center budget, 157 to 89.

    The voters in Bridgehampton also elected two new school board members; Jeffrey Mansfield received 187 votes and Kathleen McCleland took in 172. Along with Michael Gomberg, who ended up with 72 of the votes, they ran for two seats vacated by Elizabeth Kotz and Gabriela Braia, incumbents who decided not to seek re-election. The terms are for three years.

    Ms. McCleland, who was in the gymnasium on Tuesday for the results, said she was very disappointed. “I’m disappointed that it really means that our community really doesn’t understand what our board put out.”