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Budget

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) during the swearing-in of state Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport). Photo by Sara Meghan Walsh

By David Luces 

More than a week after New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) released his proposed budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year, many municipalities both big and small in Suffolk County may have to face the reality of losing state funding. 

This comes as a result of the governor’s decision to end state funding to Suffolk County towns and villages as part of a program called Aid and Incentives for Municipalities, which was originally established in the state’s 2005-06 fiscal year. 

If the budget passes, 41 towns and villages in Suffolk County stand to lose AIM funding. Those local governments that rely on AIM funding for more than 2 percent of their budgets would keep this aid.

“It’s as if the governor has decided to aim a dagger at the heart of every municipality on Long Island,” Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said. 

“It’s as if the governor has decided to aim a dagger at the heart of every municipality on Long Island.”

— Ed Romaine

The Town of Brookhaven stands to lose $1.8 million, which is the second highest loss in funding behind the Town of Hempstead which is set to lose $3.8 million. 

Romaine said the decision to cut aid for Brookhaven taxpayers is unconscionable and that it will have an immediate and serious impact on town services and could result in a tax increase. 

Other townships along the North Shore are also standing on the cliff’s edge of funding loss. Huntington Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said in a statement that he is disappointed to learn of what he called an unprecedented $59 million in total cuts Cuomo has proposed in his 2020 NYS budget, including little more than $1 million in AIM funds for Huntington. 

“[This is] effectively gutting the unrestricted state revenue sharing program and significantly affecting the Long Island region,” the town supervisor said. “I urge our state Legislature to reject the governor’s dangerous proposal, which could translate into service and program cuts and layoffs.”

The Huntington supervisor added the town should not be punished because of what he described as its conservative fiscal practices, which have resulted in a state funding stream that represents less than 2 percent of the town’s budget. 

“When you take over $1 million away from us, the money has to come from somewhere,” he said. 

Over in the Town of Smithtown, which stands to lose more than $650,000 in AIM funds, officials are staying wary of the timetables, especially considering that many municipalities calculate the AIM funds into their regular yearly budgets. 

“We’ve heard about it, though it’s not official yet — there’s a distinct possible that it could happen,” said Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R). 

“When you take over $1 million away from us, the money has to come from somewhere.”

—Chad Lupinacci

Town officials expressed that the governor should give them and other municipalities more time to prepare for the proposed budget cuts. 

Werheim said the town already has completed its budget and if the money is lost it would put a hole in their operating budget, forcing them to allocate funds from somewhere else. 

If the governor’s plan goes into effect, programs like Horizons Counseling & Education could lose funding, officials said. The program is funded to provide adolescent and adult treatment, prevention and education services for drug- and alcohol-related problems. 

“I’d ask [the governor] to reconsider other avenues,” Werheim said. “Many municipalities on Long Island depend and rely on federal funding.” 

Many incorporated villages along the North Shore are also looking at a funding loss, such as the Village of Northport which is expected to lose $50,000. Others villages like Poquott would lose $2,500, Belle Terre $4,100 and Old Field $3,500.

“I do not yet know how this is going to impact the village,” Old Field Mayor Michael Levine said.

The Village of Port Jefferson would lose $33,000 of AIM funding. 

“If that goes through it means losing another budget revenue line,” Mayor Margot Garant said. “As this stuff starts to pile up, it really starts to hurt.”

Garant mentioned that the lobbying group New York Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials, which represents mayors and small municipalities across New York, will be pushing back against this line in the budget come February. 

Other groups like Suffolk County Village Officials Association will also work with NYCOM and Suffolk legislators to lobby Suffolk’s representatives in Albany about the dire consequences of this aspect of the governor’s budget proposal. 

“As this stuff starts to pile up, it really starts to hurt.”

— Margot Garant

“The governor’s proposal hurts the village citizens the most in villages that have the largest budgetary needs,” said Richard Smith, president of SCVOA. “The governor continues to add to village responsibilities and costs, but simultaneously wants to force villages to increase their local property taxes to pay for the same village services as were provided last year.”

While schools are gearing up to present next year’s budgets, some districts on Long Island would also see less state aid if the governor’s proposed budget passes. Shoreham-Wading River School District would see an incremental increase in foundation aid of $16,000 but a fall in expense-driven aids resulting in a net decrease of $77,000 in state aid. Superintendent Gerard Poole said the district expects to advocate for more funds.

“Last year, as a result of our advocacy and the support of our local legislators, our final foundation aid allocation was about $100,000 higher than what the executive budget originally proposed,” Poole said. “It is also important to note that an additional aid category, building aid, which was not included in recent media reports is in fact projected to increase for our district next year due to the completion of capital projects.” 

The New York State Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees must review the proposed budget before the state Legislature acts on the appropriation bills. Town officials and others said they will continue to advocate for more aid for their districts.

A look inside the St. James General Store. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

The St. James General Store is one of the longest continuously operating stores in the country, selling homemade goods and treats to visitors since 1857. Now, there is uncertainty and fear that its future is in danger.

Suffolk County, which operates the shop as a historic site under the Parks Department, has reduced its funding of the landmark by nearly 80 percent under the county’s adopted 2019 operating budget. St. James residents and supporters of the general store are concerned about its ability to keep its shelves stocked and continue operations.

“It’s a landmark that was the original post office of St. James. It’s such a huge part of our town that people come from all over to come to this place.”

— Kerry Maher-Weisse

“This is something that is near and dear to all of our hearts,” said Kerry Maher-Weisse, president of the Community Association of Greater St. James. “It’s a landmark that was the original post office of St. James. It’s such a huge part of our town that people come from all over to come to this place.”

Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone (D) only set aside $29,129 for the general store to purchase items for resale, down from a 2018 budget of $125,000. These funds are expected to stock the shelves of both the store and the Big Duck gift shop in Flanders, which is overseen by the same county staff.

“In 2018, the county had extra money left over from prior years and was able to appropriate additional funds to parks [including the stores],” Eric Naughton, the county’s budget director, said.

Despite the slashing of the stores budget, Suffolk’s lawmakers generally agree the St. James and Big Duck shops are moneymakers for the county. The stores turned over a profit of approximately $400,000 in 2018, which was returned to Suffolk’s general fund.

“As it does make money, it is in our best interest to increase its funding,” Naughton said.

As it does make money, it is in our best interest to increase its funding.”

— Eric Naughton

St. James resident Scott Posner, president of neighboring Deepwells Farm Historical Society, is familiar firsthand with the county’s fiscal issues. Roughly 14 years ago, the county walked away from running Deepwells for “budgetary reasons,” and he was part of a group there to continue to ensure the site’s operations. Posner said he’s ready to advocate for the general store.

“What we’re doing right now is making sure the county corrects its funding,” he said. “What we really need to do is lean on the county.”

Funding for the St. James General Store is taken from the proceeds of Suffolk’s hotel/motel tax, according to Naughton, which places a 3 percent occupancy tax on individuals renting rooms or lodging within the county. The budget director said once the tax is collected from businesses for last year and he’s able to reconcile the 2018 proceeds, there should be additional funding available to allocate to St. James General Store, Big Duck gift shop and the parks.

“I think we will be able to return it to the same level of funding,” Naughton said.

It is a living part of the past. It would be a shame to see it defunded.”

— Bev Tyler

Any additional funding recommended by the Suffolk executive’s office would need to go before the county Legislature for a vote and its approval before being appropriated. In the meanwhile, the county and the general store’s supporters agree the store’s limited budget will be enough to get it through the spring.

“The St. James General Store is one of the treasures of Suffolk County,” Bev Tyler, Three Village Historical Society historian said. “It is a living part of the past. It would be a shame to see it defunded.”

County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), whose district covers St. James, said he will advocate for the store: “The oldest store in the country has survived the hurricanes, suburban sprawl, the Civil War and the Great Depression,” but not the county’s mismanagement.

Editor’s Note: The last name of Bev Tyler, Three Village Historical Society historian, was changed to its proper spelling. 

Smithtown Town Hall. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

A change of leadership at Smithtown Town Hall has resulted in a proposed 2019 budget that could increase homeowners town taxes for the first time in three years.

Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) presented his $109 million tentative budget for 2019 to the town council in a short meeting Oct. 5, on deadline under New York State Law. The proposed budget represents an increase of $4 million more than this year’s budget, with $1.5 million additional in the taxes levied among Smithtown’s homeowners. The supervisor promised it will be used to the benefit of its residents.

“We’ve committed in this administration to invest in Smithtown,” Wehrheim said. “We are going to do just that. I looked at the operating budget and we’ve stayed within the 2 percent mandated state tax cap.”

If approved, the 2019 tentative operating budget will be a total $66.60 annual increase for the average Smithtown homeowner, according to Wehrheim, with $28 of that increase attributable to a rise in solid waste district fees.

This graph shows the Town of Smithtown’s 2018 salaries for three positions — town supervisor, town council member and supervisor of highways — with their proposed 2019 salary increases and how that relates to similar positions’ pay in the neighboring townships of Brookhaven and Huntington. Graphic by David Ackerman

The town’s singular largest driving cost behind the proposed budget was a $1.1 million increase to health care insurance contributions for its full-time union employees, according to the supervisor. He also expects operational expenses such as fuel and utility costs to continue to grow over the year ahead.

The tentative budget sets aside $5.5 million for road, curb and sidewalk improvements, which Wehrheim said he decided in conjunction with Superintendent of Highways Robert Murphy (R).

The town supervisor has also proposed an approximately 40 percent increase to the Community Development Fund, which he said is used to help fund a list of neighborhood projects to improve local look and character of the neighborhoods. Most of the town’s funds will be used to kick-start projects, according to the supervisor, before hopefully being reimbursed through a combination of state aid or other grants.

Wehrheim is looking to increase the salary of each town council member by more than $9,000; from $65,818 up to $75,000. This represents a year-to-year increase of about 14 percent.

“I feel that it is in line with surrounding neighboring municipalities,” he said. “I feel the council position deserves that salary. It’s a different administration and they have far more responsibilities than they did previously.”

By comparison, each Town of Brookhaven council member is poised to make $72,316 in 2019 while to the west, the proposed annual salary for Huntington town council members is $76,841 next year.

In Smithtown, Wehrheim has proposed $30,000 for a new government liaison position, which if approved, will become an additional title and responsibilities for one of the town board members. The supervisor said the individual appointed will take on responsibilities similar to a deputy supervisor or chief of staff.

“It’s a more economical way as opposed to additional full-time staff in the supervisor’s office,” he said.

Murphy also stands to get an additional $20,000 a year, increasing the highway supervisor’s salary from $110,000 up to $130,000 per year, if the proposed budget is approved. Wehrheim said the 18 percent hike is warranted and has been talked about for several years.

“[Highway] is the town’s largest department,” Wehrheim said.

In perspective, Murphy’s new salary would be more than Brookhaven’s highway superintendent, poised to earn $119,132 in 2019 but less than Huntington’s $140,000 salary per year.

Wehrheim said that while he has added a few new positions to his administration in 2018, including a public information officer, he is hoping to hire two additional laborers each for the Highway Department and Parks, Buildings & Grounds Department next year. The exact salary for these positions has yet to be determined, according to the supervisor, as the town is in the midst of negotiating new contracts with both the Civil Service Employees Union, representing the municipality’s employees, and the Smithtown Administrators Guild, which represents its departmental directors. The previous contracts expired Dec. 31, 2017.

“Any increase would be result of union negotiations,” Wehrheim said.

The supervisor has also put forth a proposed $10 million capital budget for 2019, presented at the same time as the operating budget. He said $8 million of that budget will be borrowed by the town, and allocated toward large projects such as $2.3 million for new water mains along St. James Lake Avenue business district and $2 million in 2019 toward renovation of Flynn Memorial Park.

Mount Sinai High School. File photo by Barbara Donlon

Most people would be ecstatic to have millions of dollars put aside for a rainy day, but for school districts it’s not such a benefit, at least according to state law.

The New York State comptroller, who serves as a financial watchdog on public institutions, issued a report June 1 that said the Mount Sinai School District had amassed millions of dollars in its fund budget higher
than the legal max of 4 percent of the districts overall budget. Mount Sinai has said it intends to comply with the suggestions of the report, but some trustees said the restrictions on rainy-day funds only hamper the
district’s ability to handle its finances.

“We knew we couldn’t wait — those projects needed to be done now. I think that according to the [budget] vote the residents agreed with us.”

— Gordon Brosdal

“If you spent all the money you got every year, and then had nothing left, how fiscally responsible is that?” incoming board trustee Steve Koepper said.

The report said officials overestimated expenditures by more than $7.5 million and had underestimated revenues by $1.7 million from the 2014-15 through the 2016-17 school years. In the three years examined in the report, the district operated at a surplus and did not use any of its appropriated fund balance. This led to Mount Sinai’s unrestricted fund balance to be equal to 19.8 percent of the overall 2016-17 budget, way above the 4 percent limit.

The unassigned fund balance is developed from a school district having leftover, unspent funds by the end of each school year, and these funds accumulate. There are three levels to a districts total fund balance, including the restricted fund balance, which can only be spent for specific purposes like retirements; the appropriated balance, which is what the district sets up every year that can be spent from the overall funds; and the unassigned fund balance, or the unused portion. As of the 2016-17 school year, the district had $1.61 million appropriated and $9.9 million unassigned, according to the report.

Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said at the June 12 board of education meeting that talks with auditors have been congenial, and that they already have plans in motion to resolve the issue by using the funds in the already established capital project.

In the district’s 2018-19 adopted budget Mount Sinai residents voted 787-176 in favor of using $5 million of the unassigned fund balance to make repairs to the high school roof, upgrade the turf field and replace the campus’ perimeter fences, as well as other school security improvements. 

Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal speaks to community members about the state comptroller’s audit findings during a June 12 board of education meeting. Photo by Kyle Barr

“We hope that they will listen to our plan to spend down the fund balance, rather than just say, ‘No, your fund balance is too high,’” Brosdal said.

Brian Butry, a spokesperson for the comptroller’s office, said Mount Sinai is not the only district in the state that has been caught with a surplus of unassigned fund balance.

“We have districts in the state showing that they are using fund balance, but that money is not being spent,” Butry said. “You have districts planning for one thing that doesn’t materialize, or you have districts overestimating their expenditures and then just continually have this surplus that rolls over into the next year.”

According to Butry, the penalty for not complying with the comptroller’s report could be a withholding of state funds up to the amount that district’s fund balance is over the 4 percent limit.

Koepper works as the superintendent of buildings and grounds at Sayville school district, and he said that so many districts do not operate within the limit because it does not make financial sense to do so.

“To be imposed upon by the state ties our hands, because if emergencies occur what do you do?” Koepper said. “Especially because you’re not allowed to overspend your budget.”

“To be imposed upon by the state ties our hands, because if emergencies occur what do you do? Especially because you’re not allowed to overspend your budget.”

— Steve Koepper

Butry said the law is in place to keep school districts from having too much money on hand that’s not being put toward productive use. He added the comptroller’s office often recommends putting the surplus into a one-time expenditure or to use it in subsequent school years for reducing the tax levy.

Brosdal said the district had already planned to use the unrestricted fund balance for the capital projects months before the district received any news on the comptroller’s findings.

“We knew we couldn’t wait — those projects needed to be done now,” Brosdal said. “I think that according to the [budget] vote the residents agreed with us.”

In the letter to the state comptroller the district also said it would be establishing a capital reserve of $750,000 in an effort to reduce the unassigned fund balance. The district letter said there’s five-year-plan
effects that should reduce the overage by more than half, below the 4 percent limit, within two years. This will include tightening the amounts the district uses in fund balance appropriations for future school years.

Butry said that the comptroller’s office was largely satisfied with the district’s response so far.

“To their credit,” he said, “they did say they were putting this money to use.”

Miller Place residents listen to the board of education discuss the proposal of hiring armed guards and including it in the 2018-19 budget. File photo by Kevin Redding

Miller Place residents passed this year’s $72,685,864 school budget with 616 yes votes and 209 no. The second proposition, the library budget, passed 722-101.

“The budget increase at 2.1 percent maintains all current academic programs, clubs and athletics, as well as maintaining our capital project planning,” Superintendent Marianne Cartisano said in the weeks before the budget vote.

The budget saw a 2.8 percent increase to the tax levy. The increase stayed within the tax levy cap, so the budget only required a simple majority to pass.

The budget includes a $530,000 transfer to capital funds for initiatives such as new high school courses for honor chemistry, virtual enterprise — a course on learning about global business and enterprise — and Engineering Design using VEX Robotics, which includes design kits used to design automated devices and robots.

Incumbent trustee Keith Frank ran unopposed for his second three-year term and received 688 votes.

Frank ran on a platform of trying to offer programs for all students with different interests, especially including Science, Technology, Engineering and Math classes.

“We’re trying to balance the needs and the wishes of everyone, whether it’s arts, athletics or music — whatever the kids want to do,” Frank said before the election. “Kids should be able to go out and properly tackle the world.”

Board president Johanna Testa said she was happy to see Frank back for another term.

“We’re looking forward to the next couple of years with him here,” she said. “[Keith Frank] is an attorney and he’s had experience dealing with contract negotiations and things of that nature. That’s been a benefit to us.”

Rocky Point board of ed Trustees Joseph Coniglione and Ed Casswell and President Susan Sullivan discuss the vote results May 15. Photo by Kyle Barr

Despite a storm that plowed through Long Island at the same time that many residents were to head out to vote May 15, Rocky Point residents passed the school districts $86,128,785 budget with 499 yes votes to 226 no.

“The most important thing for us was to put forward a budget that is fiscally responsible while we continually try to grow options for students at our schools,” Superintendent Michael Ring said.

The largest increases came from teacher benefits and new general education initiatives, like science, technology, engineering and math initiatives, new Advanced Placement courses and special education services.

Ring said he was disappointed with the voter turnout compared to last year, which saw 909 residents come out to vote. Ring partially blamed Tuesday’s storm that came around when the district usually sees most come out to vote.

“Most come out to vote after 5 p.m.,” Ring said. “Thankfully enough came out.”

Two trustee seats were opened on the board. Incumbent Ed Casswell was voted to his second term with 551 votes and newcomer Gregory Amendola was elected to the board with 571 votes. The race was uncontested, with current board Vice President Scott Reh stepping down.

“We have a great board of education — its going to be a loss that Reh is leaving, but Greg Amendola is going to be a great addition to the team,” said Casswell, a 26-year resident who was elected alongside Reh in 2015.

The vice president, who is Mount Sinai’s athletic director, said he felt it was time to step down after nine years on the board.

“I did it for three terms, but it was very time consuming,” Reh said. “I think the board’s doing a great job. I think I’m leaving it in very good hands. I was honored and privileged to serve on it. I wish everyone the best of luck.”

Casswell has been a member of the North Shore Little League for 10 years and is currently the principal of Center Moriches High School.

“I feel it is important to be an active member of a community,” he said. “High levels of altruism and service among citizens help create vibrant communities. This has always been my driving force and calling. I believe in these notions and love serving.”

Amendola, a 13-year resident who is looking to get the community more involved, echoed Casswell’s comments about losing Reh, but said he looks forward to being on the board.

“It’s an exciting time,” Amendola said. “I’m excited to be part of the team and make a difference. As of now I really just want to get in and get my feet wet and help any way I can.”

The board members will assume their trustee positions at the July organizational meeting. There the board will also elect a president and vice president for next year.

Trustee Mike Riggio, above on right, is congratulated by current board of ed president Lynn Capobianco after it was announced he won his second term this year. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Instead of three, there’s four cheers for Mount Sinai School District, as all four of the board of education’s propositions passed with flying colors.

Residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of the $60,203,745 budget, with 769 voting yes and 193 no. The library budget received even more support on an 849-116 landslide. Receiving the second-highest voter approval was Proposition III, which will transfer $5 million from an unassigned fund balance to the capital fund to start immediate critical facility improvements, with 787 voting in favor and 176 against. The capital projects that will immediately be tackled are repairs to the high school roof, replacement of the turf field and the hardening of campus security, mainly through fencing in the entire campus.

Proposition I [Budget]: 769-193

Proposition II [Library]: 849-116

Proposition III [Capital Project]: 787-176

Proposition IV [Reserve Fund]: 761-199

“I’m ecstatic, especially to see the community support,” Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said. “I was concerned about Proposition III — these are things we absolutely need and couldn’t wait for a bond to do. Even if it were approved tomorrow it would take two years, and our one turf field could be condemned tomorrow.”

He said replacing the roof is of the utmost importance though, noting the issues seen each time it rains, like it did on the day of the budget vote May 15, with wind and heavy rain ravaging the North Shore as a storm rapidly passed.

“I’d hate to see the picture of what it looks like tomorrow,” the superintendent said. “It’s a disaster every time it rains.”

Other security improvements in addition to the fencing, included paying for armed guards and adding security vestibules at the entrances to the campus and adding more patrol routes for security personnel near the new fencing along the perimeter of the schools, among others.

“Ever since that tragedy Feb. 14 we’ve taken measurements necessary to keep our students safe,” Brosdal said, referring to the shooting in Parkland, Florida. “When these schools were first built alongside each other we never thought this would happen, so we will take the appropriate steps so that come the fall this will look like a different campus. There’s no fluff — this is all needed.”

Proposition IV was given the green light 761-199, which transfers money from fund balances to establish a $10 million capital reserve fund.

“If we have emergency repairs that are needed, now we can plan to pay for them,” trustee Mike Riggio said. “It’s a home run. And the best thing is it’s not costing our taxpayers any more money.”

Votes are counted in Mount Sinai. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Riggio, who was re-elected to the board with 747 votes, said he’s looking forward to serving another term.

“I understand much better what my role is in everything that we have to do and I’m ready,” he said. “I ran focused on security three years ago and I’m still focused on that and the fiscal stability of the district. People are losing their jobs, programs are being cut elsewhere, and we don’t want that to happen here. You have to budget right and be fiscally sound into the future.”

Board President Lynn Capobianco, who chose not to seek re-election to focus on family, was sad to see the voter turnout.

“It’s so light — under 1,000 and we usually have 1,400 or 1,500,” she said. “Perhaps it was the weather, the uncontested board or the budget being under the tax cap, but I am disappointed in the low voter turnout.”

The president said she’s proud of some of her accomplishments during her tenure — like seeing through the establishment of a full-day kindergarten program and the Columbia Reading and Columbia Writing programs, and said she’d like to see the creation of a science research or robotics program.

Steve Koepper, who ran unopposed for her seat on the board of education, received 651 votes.

“I felt now was a good time to offer more of my volunteer time in service to educational process to help shape the future of Mount Sinai schools,” said Koepper, an 18-year resident, in a previous interview. The father of two previously volunteered on the district’s bond committee. “There are problems like declining enrollment that need to be looked at, and I’m here so that we can work together and move forward.”

Incumbent Tracy Zamek; newcomers René Tidwell, Ryan Walker win PJ BOE seats after heated campaign

Port Jefferson Superintendent Paul Casciano and Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella. File photos

By Alex Petroski

Voters in the greater Port Jefferson area went to the polls in a giving mood May 15.

Port Jefferson School District residents approved the $44.9 million budget with 774 voting in favor and 362 against, while also passing a second proposition permitting the release of capital funds for a long-planned partial roof repair project at the high school.

“I’m really happy that the community came out and endorsed our spending plan for next year,” Superintendent Paul Casciano said after the results were announced. “It’s really important. They showed a lot of support for public education in Port Jefferson School District, so we’re really, very happy about that.”

Across town in Comsewogue School District, the $91.9 million budget was also passed by an easy margin; 829 to 263. The district’s approximately $32 million capital bond proposition received 768 votes in support to just 315 against. The 15-year borrowing plan includes about $3 million in interest and will provide funds for upgrades in each of the district’s six buildings. The projects selected were the byproduct of extensive planning on the part of the facilities committee, a group of about 20 professionals from across the community.

Port Jeff’s new board of education members Ryan Walker and René Tidwell with re-elected incumbent Tracy Zamek. Photo by Alex Petroski

“We are grateful to our community for its continued support of our schools and our students,” Superintendent Joe Rella said in a statement. “Their approval of the bond and 2018-19 budget will enable us to enhance and enrich health and safety, infrastructure and the three A’s – academics, arts and athletics.”

Port Jeff’s approved budget includes a roughly 2.3 percent tax levy increase compared to the current year, while Comsewogue’s increase will be 2.1 percent.

Tracy Zamek, an incumbent on Port Jeff’s school board, secured one of the three seats up for grabs in a six-way race, securing 604 votes. She’ll be joined on the board by newcomers Ryan Walker, who received 660 votes, and René Tidwell, who got 649. Tidwell and Walker campaigned on a joint ticket, as Zamek did with candidates Jason Kronberg (369 votes) and Ryan Biedenkapp (481 votes).

“I’m honored to be re-elected again,” Zamek said. “I look forward to standing up for the kids in Port Jefferson School District. I look forward to the challenges ahead of being fiscally responsible with the LIPA challenge, as well as keeping Port Jefferson School District intact.”

The discussion surrounding the board of education vote in Port Jeff became contentious at times, especially on social media. Much of the angst can be traced to the possibility of decreasing revenue from property taxes as the district — along with Brookhaven Town and Port Jeff Village — work toward a likely settlement in a legal battle with the Long Island Power Authority over the utility’s assessed property tax value on its Port Jeff power plant, which LIPA contends is over-assessed. The district gets a large chunk of its operating budget revenue as a result of housing the plant.

“I’m thrilled at the turnout,” Tidwell said. “I’m thrilled that the budget was passed, and I’m ready to move forward. Right now, I just want to heal the division in our community and I’ll work together to figure out how we move forward.”

“We’re pleased at the results obviously, and we feel that it’s a time for all of us to come together and to work as a team.”

— Ryan Walker

Walker expressed a similar sentiment.

“We’re pleased at the results obviously, and we feel that it’s a time for all of us to come together and to work as a team,” he said. “I think we’re going to have an amazing board this time and we’re going to accomplish amazing things. So, I’m looking forward to the opportunity to serve the people of the Port Jefferson School District.”

Biedenkapp, Farina and Kronberg did not respond to requests for comment sent via email by press time.

Comsewogue’s board of education vote was a foregone conclusion. Board President John Swenning, incumbent Rick Rennard and first-time candidate Corey Prinz ran an uncontested race for three open seats.

“I’m really excited about the opportunity to serve another three years on the board,” Rennard said, adding he was pleased to hear of the budget and bond approvals.

Swenning, a mainstay on the Comsewogue board since 2005, called the district an incredible place to live in a statement.

“As a board trustee I am honored to work with fantastic administrators, teachers and staff and to represent a very involved and appreciative community,” he said.

Prinz, a district resident since 2004 and a commercial banker at Bank United, said he was thrilled to see the support for the budget and bond and is looking forward to working with the district.

The Miller Place board of education incumbent Keith Frank is running unopposed to maintain the position he’s held for the last three years.

The trustee has been a Miller Place resident since 2003, and currently works as a labor and employment attorney for the Silverman Acampora law firm based in Jericho. He moved to Miller Place to raise his kids in what he saw as a good school district and kid-friendly area.

Keith Frank is running for his second term. File photo

Two of his three kids are currently enrolled in the district. His oldest child graduated from last year. While his kids matured he coached North Shore Little League soccer, softball and baseball.

When Frank ran in 2015 he said he wanted to meet the needs of his own children as well as the rest of the students in the district.

“I got a lot of fulfillment and satisfaction working on the board,” Frank said. “I want to continue that with the great team we have here.”

He said he believes that the main focus of the board should be offering programs for all students with different interests.

“We’re trying to balance the needs and the wishes of everyone, whether it’s arts, athletics or music — whatever the kids want to do,” Frank said. “Not all kids have the same interests. For example, with my kids, one’s athletic, one is interested in the arts. It’s about making sure we can properly fund those and support any of those activities.”

Frank said that technology, science and math focused courses should be a staple in the school’s curriculum to deal with a developing world.

“Kids should be able to go out and properly tackle the world,” he said.

Board president Johanna Testa said she was happy to see Frank put in an application for a second term.

“We’re looking forward to the next couple of years with him here,” she said. “What I find with our current board is we may not all agree with each other all the time, but we work well together and we work toward the common good of the district. [Keith Frank] is an attorney and he’s had experience dealing with contract negotiations and things of that nature. That’s been a benefit to us and the district.”

Last March Miller Place School District hired one armed security guard for each of the four school buildings in the district.

Frank would not go into detail on continuing those services or putting more effort and funds in new security upgrades, but he said options will be reviewed again going into the next school year.

“We’re taking it one step at a time,” Frank said. “We have approved [the security guards] through the end of this year, then we will take up that issue and review it again.”

Board elections will take place with the budget vote Tuesday, May 15 from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the North Country Road Middle School gym, at 191 North Country Rd. in Miller Place.

This version was updated to correctly identify at what time and where the budget and trustee vote will take place.

Port Jeff Superintendent Paul Casciano and board President Kathleen Brennan. File photos by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

The Port Jefferson board of education voted unanimously to adopt the district’s nearly $45 million 2018-19 budget April 18. This comes eight days after the board decided to table the resolution as it sought more specifics on an announced “agreement in principle” between Town of Brookhaven and the Long Island Power Authority over the utility’s property tax assessment on its Port Jefferson power plant.

Ongoing litigation has loomed over the district and Port Jefferson Village, which each receive substantial amounts of property tax revenue as a result of housing the plant. Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) announced April 3 the town had an agreement in principle to settle the case with LIPA, though specifics of the agreement have yet to be made public. Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant has also publicly said the village is nearing a settlement in its version of the dispute with LIPA.

“The board of education and district administration have been working tirelessly on creating a budget that addresses our responsibility to provide an excellent education for our students in a physically and emotionally safe and secure environment that is balanced with sensitivity to the fiscal impact on our residents,” Superintendent Paul Casciano said April 18. “The proposed budget assumes that a finalized agreement between the Town of Brookhaven and LIPA does not materialize in time to impact the 2018-19 school budget.”

Casciano said during the April 10 meeting taxpayers should prepare for the possibility of program cuts and/or property tax increases in the coming years.

A letter from Romaine to Casciano and BOE President Kathleen Brennan dated April 11 said the town attorney and assessor’s offices have been in touch with district officials to make the district aware of how a settlement would impact the 2018-19 town assessment rolls, which directly impact school tax rates.

The adopted budget carries a 2.27 percent tax levy increase and a 2.23 percent increase to state aid. The 2018-19 budget rolls over all programs from the current year, with contractual raises and higher health
insurance costs for faculty and staff driving the 3.65 percent overall budget increase.

The district also presented a backup plan should an official settlement be reached between the town and LIPA prior to June 30, which would impact the current year assessments. PJSD is prepared to make $130,000 in reductions to help mitigate a possible 5.67 percent drop in assessed value of the plant, or a 50 percent reduction in the assessment spread out evenly over a nine-year span.

On April 20, state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) introduced legislation co-sponsored by Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) that would authorize municipalities to obtain “tax certiorari stabilization reserve funds” via the Urban Development Corporation Act in the event agreed-upon settlements result in loss of tax revenues or increased tax levies of more than 20 percent. The bill is before the state Senate finance committee.

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