• Equalization rates: Not every town or city assesses properties in the same way as its neighbors, and since assessments are labor-intensive and costly they aren’t done every year. Since different places in the same school district may be out of whack, the state hands down equalization rates every year in an effort to make the tax burden equitable, which is why different towns pay different tax rates.
All this gets you to what’s on the tax bill, at least before...
• STAR: Or the New York State School Tax Relief Program. An awful lot of people would be totally taxed out of their homes if not for STAR. The program exempts certain taxpayers from a portion of or all of their school tax bill, though the latter’s not going to happen in hardly any instances. Submit your application by March 1.
• Tax cap: Under the state’s new tax cap law, municipalities can only raise the tax levy year-to-year by a certain amount. Though that’s usually advertised as 2 percent, in reality that’s a starting point and there’s a fairly complex series of equations that results in the real number. This year, most school districts will find their levy limit to be a bit above 2 percent. If they want to raise it more, at least 60 percent of voters will have to agree.
• Fund balance: This figure will probably be coming up a lot this year, especially when talk turns to layoffs and tax hikes. There are two types of fund balance though, reserved and unreserved. Reserved savings are earmarked for specific expenses and can’t otherwise be touched. Unreserved fund balance is what matters for budgeting—these monies can be used to overcome a budget gap.