The board debated the merits of exceeding the cap with a levy increase of 5, 7 or 9 percent. Those percentages, explained Ed Cullen, assistant superintendent for business, were based on the Nassau County Department of Assessment’s valuation of the average Baldwin home at $350,326. Asked if a devaluation of properties following Hurricane Sandy had been factored into the calculations, Cullen said those numbers were not yet available.
He presented the board with several ways to imagine the impact of each proposal on the average home (see chart, at right). A 9 percent tax increase, for example, would allow the schools to make almost no reductions, and would cost homeowners about $2 per day. Cullen was careful to note that his projections would change depending on whether voters approve a transportation referendum on Feb. 26.
After listening to Cullen, board trustees debated the risk/reward scenarios of the various levy increases. “A 5 percent increase would result in draconian cuts,” said Mary Jo O’Hagan, the board’s longest-serving member and a former president. “I’m very concerned about our ability to pass a 7 percent increase, but I think that’s our best choice. I think that would leave us with a Baldwin that we recognize, while showing the community that we’re making sacrifices.”
Kim Taylor, the current board president, also liked the 7 percent increase. “Seven gives us a place to go,” she said. “If 7 doesn’t pass, we can go to 5.”
O’Hagan agreed with Taylor, and described her vision of the budget-building process. “Budget votes are a dialogue with the community,” she said, lamenting that the two votes state law allows are too few. “We have to see how far we can go. If it’s an overwhelming no at 7, we’ll have to scale it back a lot. If 59 percent of the community votes yes, we could go to 6 percent or stay at 7.”