Budget Wins the Day

Bridgehampton voters approve increase by 62 percent

On Tuesday night, by a vote of 240 to 145, Bridgehampton voters finally  pierced the state-imposed tax cap on a $12.3 million budget for the 2014-15 school year. The budget was before voters for the second time, and it passed by a supermajority of 62 percent, just over the 60 percent required. The same budget had been put before voters in May, when only 54 percent of voters were willing to pierce the cap.

Laura Spillane, the district treasurer, announced the results in the school’s gymnasium shortly after the polls closed at 8 p.m. The mood quickly turned celebratory, with relief audible. About a dozen residents of different ages had filtered into the gym to cast their ballots before the polls closed. Lois Favre, the district superintendent, stood watching, saying she remained “hopeful” in the minutes leading up the count. All told, 385 voters turned out.

On May 20, when only 247 turned out for the first vote, the result was 134 to 113. Had the budget gone down a second time, Bridgehampton would have been forced to adopt a budget based on this year’s figures — with cuts amounting to nearly $800,000 according to Ron White, the school board president. He blamed complacency and low voter turnout for the initial defeat.

Douglas DeGroot, who has served on the school board for the past four years, said Tuesday’s revote left him feeling vindicated. “A lot of people thought we were arrogant to go out with the same budget, but we cut as much as we could,” said Mr. DeGroot. “It’s great to finally get this community support.”

“I’m very happy,” said Tamara George, whose son is in the first grade. Since relocating from Virginia, she said her son has received unparalleled individual attention, helping him catch up to his peers. “This is a wonderful school.”

Dorothy White, who has worked as a custodian for the past 20 years, cheered. “This is awesome,” she said. A graduate of the school, Ms. White’s four children also are graduates and her son is school board president. In addition, she has two grandchildren who are enrolled now. “As a hard worker, I just didn’t want to see anyone lose their job.” 

The Bridgehampton School enrolls around 170 students. It asked voters to okay a $1.1 million, or 9.93-percent, increase over the current year’s $11.2 million spending plan. The 2014-15 budget translates to a $10.6 million tax levy — or an increase of 8.8 percent. Under a state law that went into effect in 2012, the cap on property tax increases is either 2 percent or the Consumer Price Index — whichever is lower. This year, school districts faced caps of 1.46 percent. 

Bridgehampton was among four districts across Long Island that put forth cap-busting budgets. Only East Hampton, with 73 percent of voter support, was successful during last month’s vote. Budgets in West Babylon and Sayville were similarly struck down, and these districts put forth reduced budgets on Tuesday. They were approved by 73 percent and 76 percent of voters, respectively. The Bridgehampton School Board had unanimously  agreed to resubmit the $12.3 million budget.  As a result, Bridgehampton will see the biggest tax increase across Nassau and Suffolk Counties for the coming school year.