Nassau County’s school system began opening earlier this month, which is good news for weary parents and wound-up children eager to resume a semblance of normality in their lives. Operating under new guidelines promulgated by New York State, schools will be required to provide daily updates on the number of new positive COVID-19 cases to the Department of Health; this data is available at the State’s COVID-19 Dashboard page, which you can view at: https://schoolcovidreportcard.health.ny.gov/#/home
Getting schools open again is a key part of New York State’s recovery plan, and it’s also a critical task for Nassau County’s school system, which each school day services about 200,000 K-12 students. While everyone hopes things go smoothly, it’s clear — even this early on — that keeping schools free from COVID-19 isn’t going to be easy. Just this past week, five Nassau County schools in two districts were forced to retreat to distance learning due to COVID-19 infections. Only time will tell whether this troublesome trend abates or accelerates in the remaining months of 2020.
Here Comes the School Budget Crunch
At the same time that teachers and administrators are wrestling with critical health and safety issues imposed by the pandemic, financial uncertainty is stalking Nassau County’s schools, which — at the time of this writing — have had their share of NY State Legislature-authorized aid reduced by 20 percent due to the Governor’s emergency order. Barring further help from Washington — by no means guaranteed in the current political environment — the near-term financial picture for schools will remain dire at a time when schools will be forced to spend more to keep students and staff safe.
Let us hope that more funding can be obtained from Federal sources, but let’s also be realistic about what will happen if this does not come to pass. Local legislators facing serious budget crunches face two traditionally negative choices: either cut services or raise taxes. While the County Executive has — so far — not announced any reductions in public services, nor have budget cuts been proposed for the school system, the gap between expenditures and revenues won’t go away by itself, and it’s by no means clear where the money will come from or when it will show up.
What the NYS Legislature Giveth May Also Be Taketh Away
Schools rely heavily on property tax revenues to balance their budgets. For example, the Great Neck Public School district relies on Real Property Tax for more than 88% of its annual school budget. But property taxes can’t simply be raised to a level sufficient to plug any present or future school budget gaps due to the New York State Property Tax Cap, which limits the annual growth of property taxes levied by local governments and school districts to two percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less.
Even in pre-pandemic days, Nassau County homeowners were bearing a high burden compared to other New York State homeowners. According to the NYS comptroller’s office, the median real property tax bill in Nassau County is currently $14,872 — almost double what folks pay in the rest of the State (NYS has a median property tax bill of $8,081.)
At the same time, what the New York State legislature may giveth, it may also taketh away. In recent history, the cap on property tax increases has been preserved, but again, let’s be realistic. The financial crisis affecting New York State and Nassau County is unprecedented. New York State currently faces a $15.5 billion budget deficit, Nassau County’s deficit is projected to hit $749 million over the next 18 months, and no clear plans to plug these gaps have yet been proposed. Let us stay vigilant — with eyes on Albany — in case any ill-considered proposals to remove or modify this cap surface in the future.
In the meantime — whatever comes down the pike from Albany, Washington, or Mineola — it’s clear that individual homeowners need to take necessary steps to ensure that the assessed values assigned to their properties establishing their property tax liabilities are accurate.
That’s where Maidenbaum can help; for more than 30 years we’ve helped homeowners pay their fair share — and not one penny more — of the property tax burden. We pledge to you that we’ll treat your tax grievance with the same seriousness and laser-sharp focus as if it were filed by someone in our own family.
If you have any further questions about how Maidenbaum can help you with your property tax matters, please contact us.