The following Op-Ed was submitted by by Jim Leahy, Vice-Chairman, Orange Board of Finance (OBOF)
Avoid Unnecessary Tax Increases; End Inflated Budgets
The annual budget surplus situation at Amity is historic, habitual, and causes over-taxation of the residents in Bethany, Orange & Woodbridge every year. For example, if Amity had sent budgets over the past 4 years that accurately requested their needs, taxes in Orange would not have had to been raised much at all.
POINT 1: AMITY HAS INFLATED BUDGETS. Over the last 4 years Amity has over-budgeted by an average of $2.9 million per year, see chart. As a result, we have consistently had to increase your taxes each year to cover these inflated Amity budgets.
Whether we believe that Amity budget is accurate or not, once the Amity budget is approved by voters, the Boards of Finance in Bethany, Orange & Woodbridge must—by law—cover that request by increasing taxes. Or cutting funds to our local elementary schools. Or cutting funds to town services. Or both. We have no choice.
“The most important point is that Amity has highly excessive surpluses which lead to tax increases that we shouldn’t have to impose.” stated OBOF Chairman Kevin Houlihan. “We are expecting Amity to budget for what they need and not continually over budget.”
We should support the Amity Schools with the resources that they need to provide the excellent educational opportunity that our students deserve. But it is imperative during these times that are difficult for both individual taxpayers and businesses, that Amity submits a budget request that accurately reflects their needs. The habitual over-budgeting that forces unnecessary tax increases on ALL Taxpayers in our community needs to stop.
Point 2: AMITY ACTUAL-to-BUDGET INCREASES ARE SHOCKINGLY HIGH. Somewhat quizzically, these surpluses exist even as Amity has had low percentage budget increases recently. You might be thinking out loud, “How can that be?”
Permit me to explain: in FY 21-22, Amity’s budget increase was 1.8%, a seemingly modest increase. However, with a surplus of $2,991,592 in the prior year, the budget increase from ACTUAL SPENT to the new budget was 8.2%, over 4 TIMES HIGHER than the requested amount. This trend has been consistent for over a decade but has become particularly excessive over the past 5 years.
Point 3: $$ SURPLUSES ARE SIGNIFICANTLY HIGHER THAN $$ BUDGET INCREASES. I place this statement in the unique category of “beyond counter-intuitive” and wrote about it in an article last year (“Amity Overbudgeting Significantly Increases Taxes: Surpluses Reflect Overcharging” Orange Town News, 02-12-21). See the data below.
Permit me to explain. The BLUE bar is the actual amount of the Amity budget increase. The ORANGE bar is the SURPLUS in the SAME budget year. This chart should jump off the paper to the brain of each Orange TAXPAPER.
Let’s think about this. What this means is two-fold: (1) that Amity – in EVERY YEAR – has had more surplus, FAR more Surplus, in its budget than even the amount of the requested budget increase; and (2) therefore, that Amity – in EACH YEAR – did its job, could have had a 0% budget increase and still have a significant Surplus! (the difference between the Blue and Orange bars)
“These surpluses are not a ‘one-time deal’ but consistent over time,” emphasized long-time OBOF member Kevin Moffett. “We have many things to fund in budgeting for the TOWN, not just Amity. And with inflation & high home heating costs hitting taxpayers, we need to ensure that all budgeted amounts truly reflect actual planned expenditures.”