Mineola tax levy to increase, but not by 2 percent

James Galloway

Mineola School District’s total tax levy for the next fiscal year is projected to be about $80 million, a 1.37 percent increase from 2014-15, Mineola’s superintendent said at the district’s Board of Education meeting Thursday.

The evening’s theme: The 2 percent property tax cap is not, in fact, as simple as 2 percent.

The 1.37 percent will make 2015-16 the eighth-straight fiscal year that the district’s tax levy increase will be at or below 2.5 percent, according to Mineola Superintendent Michael Nagler. Last year’s increase was 1.46 percent.

Despite this, the district should be able to maintain its current services and “have program enhancements” for others, in part due to the retirements of some high-paid teachers, Nagler said.

The district’s budget proposals will be unveiled at the next board meetings.

The district will not look to exceed the tax cap, Nagler said, which would require a 60 percent popular vote on the budget in May.

The presentation said the district’s total tax levy for 2015-16 will be $80,124,763, a roughly $1 million increase over the previous year’s levy of $79,045,241.

Had last year’s levy simply been multiplied by 2 percent, the levy increase would have been $1,580,905.

Several factors impact the tax cap, including certain tax exemptions, capital expense exemptions and payment in lieu of taxes. The largest factor, however, is that the multiplier is set at 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. For this year, inflation was at 1.62 percent.

A district’s growth, as assessed by the State Taxation and Finance Department, also plays a large part by adjusting the prior year’s tax levy based on significant new developments in the district, resulting in a higher overall tax levy.

For example, in Mineola, the state assessed a growth factor of 1.0027 percent, meaning that the prior year’s tax levy of about $79 million is multiplied by this number to create a slightly higher baseline for the district to calculate its next year cap on.

The assessed growth rate for Mineola has been controversial, as Board of Education President Artie Barnett has charged that the number is artificially deflated due to tax exemptions for large developments in the village.

The growth factor is a one-time assessment based on growth that year, he said, so projects granted exemptions, like a 315-unit apartment complex at 250 Country Road, represent significant additions to the district without any impact on the tax levy.

Barnett said during the meeting that based on an assessment he received from the town, a proposed nine-story mixed-use building for East Second Street would, if granted the same exemptions as previous developments, result in a $400,000 lower tax levy for the district the first year by bypassing the growth factor.

That $400,000, he said, compounded over the next 10 years totals about $9 million over the next 20 years.

“It makes a big difference,” Barnett added.

The district’s assistant superintendent for business did not respond to phone calls asking for a copy of the assessment.

At a packed public hearing on the proposal last week, most residents spoke up against the Second Street proposal, including for tax exemptions it could be granted.

The Mineola Union Free School District is comprised of five schools: Hampton Street School, Meadow Drive School, Jackson Avenue School, Mineola Middle School and Mineola High School.

The Board of Education’s next workshop meeting is scheduled for March 5.

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