School officials asking public to fund district's 'unmet needs'

By Lynn R. Parks

In order to pay for nearly $1 million in "unmet needs," the Seaford School District is asking its residents to approve a tax hike. If the Feb. 28 current expense referendum is approved, the average taxpayer in the district will see a $60 a year increase in taxes. "This is a basics list," said financial director Lynn Lester in a presentation about the unmet needs to the board Monday. "There is not a lot of fluff here." The list, which totals nearly $963,000, includes such items as band and athletic uniforms, salary increases, bleachers, textbooks and computer technology. It also includes money to pay for energy, something that, with rising costs of fuel and static state contributions, all school districts are struggling with. Lester said that she started out with a list totaling $4 million, and pared it down to the "basics" list that she presented to the board. The district last held a successful current expenses referendum in 1987. It held two current expense referendums in 1994-1995, both of which failed.

Lester told the board that if approved, this tax hike should be satisfactory for some time. "We certainly should not need to go back to the taxpayers again in the very near future," she said. Lester added that, with Seaford poised to more than double in number of houses, this is a good time for a tax hike. The hike will be able to take advantage of the district's increasing assessment value, she said. The referendum will ask voters to approve a 65-cent increase in the current rate of $2.58 per $100 of assessed value. That means that the average school property tax bill, based on an assessment of about $15,000, would go up $84.83. At the same time, the district proposes eliminating its $21.10 capitation tax, a tax that Lester said schools are increasingly doing away with. The tax is levied on each adult living in a household; residents are identified through Department of Motor Vehicle records and school registration records. "The capitation tax is a flat stream of revenue," Lester said. The district collects less than 80 percent of the amount that is owed and "there is no collection mechanism for those who don't pay," she added. The board approved the referendum by a unanimous vote. If approved, the new tax rate will go into effect July 1. The Seaford Education Association is supporting the tax increase.

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