An estimated 80 percent of property owners within the Westhampton Beach School District will see their school taxes increase about 6 percent next year, or more than double the 3 percent originally estimated by district officials prior to the adoption of the $51.8 million budget for the 2012-13 school year last May, due to an overall drop in land values.
According to Southampton Town Tax Assessor Lisa Goree, the taxable value of land in the Westhampton Beach School District has decreased by more than $134 million, or just under 3 percent, over the past year, from $4,542,135,078 to $4,407,932,929. Because of this decrease, the school’s district’s tax rate, which was $5.53 per 1,000 last year, had to increase by 33 cents, to $5.86, to cover the district’s $26.3 million tax levy.
In May, district officials, using preliminary estimates provided by the town in April, had estimated that the tax rate would climb by only 16 cents, or about 3 percent. Ms. Goree said that, at the time, districts were warned that the assessments would most likely drop, causing tax rates to increase.
“As of that date in April, we are still doing analysis for the school districts and that is subject to change either up or down,” Ms. Goree said this week. “We emphasized that, most likely, they would be seeing decreases from the original number.”
She also estimated that the average assessed value of a home in the district is about $950,000. Therefore, taxpayers whose homes are assessed at that value, and who did not see an increase or decrease in their assessments, can expect to pay approximately $5,567 in school taxes this year, or $314 more than last year.
According to Ms. Goree, 3,780 of the 5,260 taxable properties in the district—or 71.9 percent of all taxable properties—will see no change in their assessments, meaning they will have to absorb the full 6-percent increase. At the same time, 431 property owners, or 8.2 percent of the total, will see their assessments increase this year, meaning they will actually see more than a 6 percent increase in their school taxes. A total of 1,059 properties, or 20.1 percent, will see their assessment decrease and, therefore, they will see their taxes increase less than 6 percent. There are 6,921 properties within the district, but 1,661 of them are tax-exempt, according to Ms. Goree.
She also said it is not unusual to see a drop in a district’s taxable value, explaining that whether that figure changes depends on the real estate market.
“I wouldn’t consider it to be a drastic change,” Ms. Goree said when asked about Westhampton Beach. “We have to look at what is going on in the market. If these were due to market changes, which most of them probably were, it represents what the market was doing in 2011.”
On Tuesday, Westhampton Beach Schools Superintendent Michael Radday said there was no way for officials in his district to predict such a drastic change in assessments. He added that even though the tax rate is 17 cents higher than projected in May, both the $26.3 million tax levy—which is the total amount of revenue collected by property taxes—and $51.8 million budget that were approved by taxpayers last spring will remain the same.
“I think the key point is that the overall tax levy is the same dollar figure that we presented throughout the budget development process last year and that the taxpayers voted on,” Mr. Radday said. “It would have been impossible to predict such a decrease in overall assessed valuation.”
Kathleen O’Hara, the assistant superintendent for business at Westhampton Beach, said district officials will start the preparation process for the 2013-14 budget earlier this year than last year with the goal of addressing the needs of taxpayers.
“We are hoping that the economy starts picking up so that it won’t be as significant,” she said. “But we don’t have the ability to predict assessed value.”