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Northport school district

The Northport power plant. File photo
Mediation meetings could begin in next 30 days in attempt to reach settlement in lawsuit before fall trial date

Town of Huntington and Northport school officials have agreed to sit down with Long Island Power Authority to see if an agreement can be reached, before the lawsuits go to trial. 

The town board voted July 17 to hire a neutral third party in an attempt to resolve its differences over the assessed property tax value of the Northport Power Station with LIPA and National Grid that have led to a lengthy, ongoing battle.

Councilman Gene Cook (R) put forth a late-starter resolution at Tuesday’s board meeting to hire Port Washington-based attorney Marty Scheinman, who he reports came “very highly recommended.” His
motion was approved 4-0. 

“The judge was very adamant about making sure we sat down and went through this,” Cook said. “Why don’t we put all the cards on the table and see what we find. I’m all for it.”

Scheinman has been a full-time arbitrator for more than 40 years and has helped parties reach an agreeable resolution in more than 20,000 private and public-sector disputes, according to his website. He has experience dealing with high-profile celebrities, elected officials and helped resolve the largest commercial dispute in the history of the New York state court system between the co-founders of AriZona Beverages, according to Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R). 

“This is just about getting everyone to the table,” Lupinacci said, who has consistently said the town remains open to negotiations.  

Now, Scheinman faces the daunting task of finding common ground between LIPA, which filed a tax certiorari lawsuit against the town assessor’s office in 2010 seeking a 90 percent reduction in the assessed property tax valuation of its Northport Power Station, and seeking repayment of all taxes it claims to have overpaid since 2010 — currently amounting to more than $550 million and growing — and the Huntington and Northport communities it would affect. 

“I’m glad to have been selected and hope I can help the parties resolve their dispute,” Scheinman said. 

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) voted against taking up Cook’s suggestion, before ultimately abstaining from voting on the contract to hire an arbitrator. Cuthbertson said while he commended a move toward mediating the dispute, but questioned Scheinman’s relatable experience. 

“This particular litigation is a specialized litigation involving complex tax certiorari formulas for assessing power plants,” he said. “As far as I can see this mediator’s experience is really with labor and employment relations, so I have concern with this mediator’s background and choice.”

Under the approved contract, the town has agreed to pay Scheinman $1,150 per hour in addition to covering all out-of-pocket expenses, such as transportation, plus a one-time $400 administrative fee. The overall bill will be evenly split between the town, LIPA, National Grid and Northport-East Northport school district, whose trustees unanimously agreed to move forward with mediation July 11. 

Huntington’s town board change in approach to its lawsuit with LIPA comes shortly after the court trial was originally slated to begin, June 11, which had been postponed. All parties were scheduled to appear July 18 in Suffolk County Supreme Court before Judge Elizabeth Emerson at 10 a.m. to present their arguments on motions already made on the case. The outcome was not available by this publication’s press time. 

In early June, Cook had asked his fellow board members to hire Manhattan-based law firm Boise Schiller & Flexner LLP as additional legal counsel in the town’s pending tax certiorari case with LIPA and National Grid to aid current outside legal counsel, Lewis & Greer P.C. The measure was shot down by a 3-2 vote with Lupinacci, Cuthbertson and Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D) standing against it. One of Cuthbertson’s key reasons for standing against it was the cost, as under the contract the town would have paid Boise Schiller & Flexner $1,650 an hour.  

Cook has also previously publicly spoken out about looking into the possibilities of using eminent domain for the town to take possession of the Northport power plant. He never brought the option before the board. 

Mediation meetings between all four parties would likely begin within the next 30 days, according to Cook. 

Both the Town of Brookhaven and Village of Port Jefferson announced they were nearing settlements over the tax-assessed value of the Port Jeff plant with LIPA in early April.

Judge rules to adjourn June 11 trial date for LIPA versus Town of Huntington

The Northport power plant. File photo

Northport school officials are inviting all district residents to a community meeting May 30 to address the potential impact of its lawsuit against Long Island Power Authority.

Northport school district will host a “call to action” community forum Wednesday at 8 p.m. in the auditorium of Northport High School. Superintendent Robert Banzer will provide residents with a brief update on the status of the district’s lawsuit against LIPA, legislation and what steps it can take to make sure resident’s concerns are being heard. The high school is located at 154 Laurel Hill Road in Northport.

This is the second meeting the school district will hold this month to address concerns over the LIPA lawsuit. School officials held a May 1 meeting where attorney John Gross presented his argument on why the utility company should be forced to uphold a 1997 promise not to attempt to lower the taxes on the Northport power plant.

LIPA has filed a lawsuit that is currently pending against the Town of Huntington to lower the Northport Power Station’s assessed tax valuation by 90 percent along with a reimbursement of all overpaid taxes since 2010. The Town of Huntington and LIPA appeared in court May 29 after which the judge adjourned the previously scheduled June 11 trial date, according to town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo at 1:10 p.m. Tuesday.

No additional information was immediately available on why the June 11 court date was adjourned.

Northport-East Northport school district. File photo

Northport voters have approved the district’s 2018-19 school budget and elected a new face to serve their community May 15.

2018-19 school budget 

Northport and East Northport residents approved the district’s $166,810,381 budget for the upcoming 2018-19 school year, 2,287 votes to 754 votes. The budget contains a 2.15 percent year-to-year increase, or $3.5 million more than the current year.

The district’s approved spending plan will allow starting a new alternative high school program for students struggling with the traditional model and expand the district’s coteaching model across all grade levels. It will also be able to move forward with its one-to-one Chromebook initiative by providing personal laptops with Google applications to students entering ninth grade as well as purchasing a new piano for its music department. There are also funds set aside in the 2018-19 budget to purchase new athletic
equipment for student-athletes including lacrosse helmets, treadmills, ellipticals and additional automated external defibrillators.


Northport budget results
$166.8M budget: 2,287 Yes votes to 754 No votes
Proposition 2: 2,524 Yes votes to 555 No votes
Proposition 3: 2,403 Yes votes to 696 No votes

Board of education results
Victorria Buscareno: 2,195 votes
David Stein: 2,173 votes
David Badanes: 1,915 votes
Thomas Loughran:  1,612 votes

The average Northport homeowner will see their annual school taxes increase by an estimated $159 per year. This is based on the average home having an assessed value of $3,800, in which an assessed value is a dollar value placed on the property by the Town of Huntington solely for the purposes of calculating taxes based on comparable home sales and other factors.

Proposition 2

District voters cast their ballots in favor of Proposition 2, by 2,524 votes to 555 votes, Tuesday night. The measure will allow the district to take $900,000 out of the district’s capital reserve funds for infrastructure upgrades and repair. The list of districtwide projects includes fencing and gate replacement, door replacements, window replacement and heating and air conditioning unit upgrades and enhancements.

Proposition 3

Taxpayers also gave their stamp of approval to Proposition 3, by 2,403 votes to 696 votes. The district will be able to establish a new Capital Reserve III Fund. The board members said that the fund is necessary for several critical infrastructural improvements including roof replacements of its buildings, window replacement, bathroom replacement, masonry and concrete work, floor replacement, wall replacement, classroom renovations, library and multimedia center renovations and gym reconstruction among other projects. The district has put forth that a maximum of $20 million will be placed into this fund along with any investment income the account earns for a term of 10 years. Under the terms of Proposition 2, the district would move no more than $1 million from the remaining 2017-18 budget into the fund to get it started and invest no more than $2 million in each of the following school years.

Northport board of education

Northport residents will have one new community voice on their board of education for the 2018-19 school year.

Newcomer Victoria Buscareno received 2,195 votes, the highest of any of the candidates, and will take the place left open by current trustee Tammie Topel who did not run.

Buscareno is a Northport resident for the past 43 years and currently works as a seventh-grade special education teacher at South Woods Middle School in the Syosset school district. She has four children, one who graduated in 2017 and three who are currently students in the district.

Current board Vice President David Stein was re-elected with 2,173 votes was trustee David Badanes with 1,915 votes. Challenger Thomas Loughran trailed receiving only 1,612 votes. Buscareno and Stein were elected to serve for three years, and Badanes was elected to a two-year term.

Northport school district attorney John Gross explains the LIPA lawsuit to residents at a May 1 presentation. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Northport residents are gearing up for a David-versus-Goliath showdown as school district officials will call on Long Island Power Authority to uphold its promise in Suffolk Supreme Court next week.

Northport-East Northport school district attorney John Gross will present his argument May 9 on why the utility company should be forced to uphold a 1997 promise not to attempt to lower the taxes on the Northport power plant.

As both the district and LIPA’s attorneys have asked for summary judgments, or immediate decision in their favor, Gross explained at a May 1 presentation at Northport High School to the public there could be a decision made that significantly impacts district taxpayers days before the 2018-19 budget vote.

“If there is a substantial reduction in taxes, the impact shifts to the individual taxpayers,” Gross said at the May 1 presentation. “That is the threat. That is the concern of which the school district has spent a lot of time and effort combating.”

If there is a substantial reduction in taxes, the impact shifts to the individual taxpayers.”
– John Gross

LIPA currently pays more than $81 million annually in taxes on the Northport power plant, according to a statement from the utility company. The school district receives approximately $53 million per year in tax revenue from the power plant’s taxes, which would pay for less than 40 percent of the district’s proposed $146 million tax levy for the 2018-19 school year.

“The $81 million tax burden on the Northport plant is not sustainable, especially as the output of the Northport plan is forecast to continue to decline, as more solar and wind energy is added to the electric grid,” LIPA said in a press release.

In 2010, LIPA filed a tax certiorari lawsuit against the Town of Huntington’s Assessor’s Office seeking a 90 percent reduction in the power plant’s taxes. The trial is scheduled to begin June 11.

Gross explained to residents in his May 1 presentation that Northport school district doesn’t have any standing in that lawsuit, but is a mere bystander because the Huntington Town assessor determines the assessed value of the plant, which is currently set at $30,255,550.

“The plant we believe is worth well over $3 billion,” Gross said, speaking to its fair market value.

In 2011, the district’s attorney filed a lawsuit against LIPA claiming it is the third-party beneficiary of a “promise” made in the 1997 Power Supply Agreement between LIPA and National Grid.

Gross pointed to Article 21.16 of the contract that reads the utility company, “may challenge any property tax assessment on its generating facilities or generating facility sites only if the assessment on any such challenged facility is increased not in an appropriate proportion to the increase in value related to taxable capital additions.”

The district’s attorney said he believes LIPA illegally broke contract when it filed the lawsuit against the Town of Huntington to lower taxes on the plant in 2010.

“From 1997 to today, [their taxes] have not been moved one dollar,” Gross said. “It has not been increased.”


Tax Impact of LIPA lawsuit
Assuming 2 percent school tax increase per year and average home assessed value of $3,700

If LIPA wins 90 percent reduction:
– 57.86 percent increase after 2 years
– 67.53 percent increase after 5 years
-81.33 percent increase after 9 years

LIPA settlement offer of 60 percent reduction over 9 years:
– 9.57 percent increase after 2 years
– 26.37 percent increase after 5 years
– 54.66 percent increase after 9 years

LIPA settlement offer of 9-year reduction to $28 million in taxes:
– 12.46 percent increase after 2 years
– 32.11 percent increase after 5 years
– 60.18 percent increase after 9 years

LIPA has refuted this claim for the last seven years. It stated that, “The alleged promises to the school district are not enshrined in the Power Supply Agreement between LIPA and National Grid or any other contract documents.”

Gross said his legal team has deposed 17 individuals on the 1997 Power Supply Agreement and what it contains, and filed more than 60,000 pages of documents with the courts. These documents point to the several 1997 events where former LIPA chairman Richard Kessel spoke with Northport school administrators and Huntington Town officials. Among them is correspondence sent between LIPA, federal agencies and elected officials including documents submitted to the Internal Revenue Service.

“They put the promise in black and white in submissions to the IRS that taxes would not be affected for the host communities — us,” Gross said.

The utility company’s defense is that the original PSA expired May 28, 2013, which was replaced by a new agreement that runs through April 2028. Therefore, the promise claimed by the school district expired nearly five years ago.

Gross claimed LIPA and National Grid said they renewed their original contract in 2013 through 2028, which should extend their promise to the school district for another 15 years.

The alleged promise contained in the 1997 Power Supply Agreement will take front and center stage in the court arguments May 9.

Gross warned residents they’re facing three potential outcomes next week. First, that the judge agrees with Northport’s position, keeping tax rates steady and LIPA will likely appeal. Second, the judge finds for LIPA that there was never a promise made to the schools.

“If it’s decided for LIPA, we are in deep trouble,” Gross said.

Third, if the judge decides both parties have raised significant issues then she can schedule the case to go to trial.

“I feel like we’re on our own in this,” said Michael Marcantonio, of Eaton’s Neck. “If we lose this case it will devastate our community.”

State Sens. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) introduced legislation April 20 that could help mitigate any potential impact of the lawsuit on Northport taxpayers, and the other
municipalities and school districts battling similar disputes with the utility. The bill seeks to lengthen the time frame over which LIPA’s taxes would be gradually reduced from nine years to a proposed 15 years. In addition, it would grant the municipal governments and school districts who lose a tax assessment challenge to LIPA after April 1, 2018, access to the state’s electric generating facility cessation mitigation program. This way, town government and schools could create reserve funds to mitigate the burden on their taxpayers.

They put the promise in black and white in submissions to the IRS that taxes would not be affected for the host communities — us.”
– John Gross

Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer encouraged residents to reach out to their state
assemblyman and encourage them to push the legislation forward before this year’s session ends June 30.

“We are strenuously working on this from multiple arenas in both the court of law but also the legislation that’s been proposed,” Banzer said. “I want to thank those of you that are advocating for this legislation, as again, we want to cover this on as many fronts as possible.”

A spokesperson for state Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R-East Northport) said Raia had reached out to his fellow Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) to see if he would review the legislation and introduce it as a member of the house’s majority party. If not, Raia would sponsor it.

If LIPA were to win its lawsuit for a 90 percent reduction of taxes against the Town of Huntington, Gross said Northport homeowners whose homes have an assessed value of $3,700 could see their school taxes jump by as much as 81 percent over the next nine years.

Banzer said the district still remains open to negotiation of a settlement.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) announced April 3 that the town government had reached a settlement with LIPA on its assessment lawsuit over the Port Jefferson power plant. Port Jefferson School District officials called this news “deeply troubling.”

District to hold May 1 community forum to discuss status of lawsuit over power plant’s tax assessment

Northport High School. File photo

Northport school officials are calling for Long Island Power Authority to uphold a decades-old promise over taxes on its power plant as a June trial date looms.

Superintendent Robert Banzer has called for LIPA to stand by a 1997 agreement made between the district, the utility company and former New York State Gov. George Pataki (R) in an April 16 letter to community residents. Banzer alleged the power company had agreed not to seek to lower the assessed tax value of the Northport power plant as long as local authorities did not abusively increase it over time.

“While it is a very complex issue that goes back to the 1990s, it boils down to one simple premise: LIPA made a promise to our school district and we are fighting hard to make sure they, and others, continue to fulfill their promise,” Banzer wrote in the letter.

LIPA made a promise to our school district and we are fighting hard to make sure they, and others, continue to fulfill their promise.”
– Robert Banzer

In 2010, LIPA and National Grid filed a lawsuit against the district challenging the assessment of the power plant and demanding a 90 percent reduction in taxes, also seeking the difference in tax refunds retroactively.

“Obviously, a 90 percent reduction to the power plant’s assessment would be devastating to the school district, its residents and most importantly, our students,” Banzer wrote.

The district currently receives about 38 percent of its overall revenue from the taxes paid on the Northport power plant, or the equivalent of nearly $53 million per year.

The superintendent said the district has been involved in settlement discussions with LIPA “which at this point, has not yielded a reasonable resolution.” The utility company’s latest proposed settlement would be a 50 percent reduction in taxes over a nine-year period, according to the
superintendent, which would increase the tax burden on district residents by millions per year. Banzer said if this proposal took effect, the schools would be forced to “make additional modifications, including cutting programs and staff significantly.”

In his letter to residents the superintendent stated that the district remains open to negotiating a settlement with LIPA. He did not respond to requests for further interviews.

The two parties have limited time to reach an agreement as a state supreme court trial is slated to begin in June.

Obviously, a 90 percent reduction to the power plant’s assessment would be devastating to the school district… ”
– Robert Banzer

State senators John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) introduced legislation April 20 that could help mitigate any potential impact of the lawsuit on Northport taxpayers. The bill seeks to lengthen the time frame over which LIPA’s taxes would be gradually reduced from nine years to a proposed 15 years. In addition, it would grant the municipal governments and school districts who lose a tax assessment challenge to LIPA after April 1, 2018, access to the state’s electric generating facility cessation mitigation program. This way, town government and schools could create reserve funds to mitigate the burden on their taxpayers.

Other municipalities, villages and school districts have had better success in bargaining with the utility company to varying degrees. Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) announced April 3 that the town government had reached a settlement with LIPA on its assessment lawsuit over the Port Jefferson power plant. Port Jefferson School District officials called this news “deeply troubling.”

“This decision will … place the school district in harm’s way,” the district’s statement said.

A community forum will be held May 1 at 7 p.m. in Northport High School’s auditorium where district taxpayers can learn about the potential impacts of the LIPA lawsuit on their school taxes and their children’s education as it moves forward.

 

Northport-East Northport school district. File photo

Northport-East Northport school district parents packed the cafeteria of William J. Brosnan School to standing-room only Thursday night to make sure their desire for increased security presence in the wake of the Florida shootings was heard loud and clear.

“The elephant in the room is armed security,” said Anthony Raganella, a 23-year veteran of New York Police Department from East Northport. “I 100 percent, no, I 1,000 percent applaud Miller Place Superintendent Dr. Marianne Cartisano and the Miller Place school board for hiring four armed retired police officers for their security.”

“Our children’s lives are worth more than anything, spend the money and get the security guards and give them the weapons.”

— Joseph Sabia

While Miller Place parents were divided and conflicted about their district’s decision to place retired NYPD officers armed with pistols outside their school buildings as of Feb. 26, Northport-East Northport parents gave the concept a standing round of applause. Many urged the board of education trustees to urgently take similar actions on March 1.

“Our children’s lives are worth more than anything, spend the money and get the security guards and give them the weapons,” said Joseph Sabia, a former board trustee. “Arm them and get them out in the field.”

Sabia pointed out that the district’s security consultant, Leonard Devlin, a retired NYPD detective, said that 26 of the district’s 31 security personnel are former law enforcement officers with backgrounds with the NYPD and FBI. As such, many of Northport’s school guards are already trained to use firearms.

“If you go back 20 years ago on the eve of Columbine … in some ways, we’ve come a long ways,” said Superintendent Robert Banzer. “We also know there is significant work to be done.”

The superintendent and Devlin gave a presentation on the upcoming measures the district is taking to improve its nine buildings’ security and student safety.

Devlin, who was hired by the district about a year ago, said the number of security cameras districtwide has increased from 351 to nearly 400 in the last year, along with the installation of a new burglary system. He admitted his security staff would still like to see more installed.

Michele Pettignano Coggins voices her feelings on armed security guards. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

A fast pass visitor management system has been put in place at both East Northport and Northport middle schools, according to Devlin, in which guests entering the building must show his or her driver’s’ license. The license is scanned and run through a background check to ensure they are not sexual predators, according to the consultant, and has been successful twice. Upon questions from parents, Devlin admitted that the district does not currently pay to check visitors against a criminal record database even though the system can do so. The fast pass system is expected to be put into place at the high school within the next week, and at all six elementary schools within the next three months.

There is approximately $10,000 in the administration’s draft 2018-19 budget to purchase new uniforms for the district’s security guards to make them more visible by incorporating a bright, reflective gold color.

“It’s good for the staff to know where there is help, have someone on premises who is visible,” Devlin said. “It’s a deterrent.”

The superintendent said the district is ready to begin construction of security vestibules at each of its buildings, a measure that was approved by voters in February 2017. The first building will be Bellerose Avenue Elementary School and plans for two other buildings are currently in Albany awaiting state approval. Banzer said the goal is to have all complete by 2019.

Inside the buildings, the superintendent said the district is 95 percent complete replacing all door locks so they can be locked from inside the classroom by a staff member with a key.

“It’s good for the staff to know where there is help, have someone on premises who is visible.”

— Leonard Devlin

“These are two of the major initiatives that are underway in our district right now,” Banzer said.

Parents came forward armed with suggestions on how they would like to see security improved for students, staff and the buildings. Kathy Affrunti, of Northport, asked if there was serious discussion of installing metal detectors while Northport resident Michele Gloeckner asked why the district’s proposed plans for the security vestibules didn’t include bulletproof glass.

“When we conceived of this idea there is thicker glass, we didn’t necessarily think of bulletproof glass,” he said. “It is it something we can go back and reconsider.”

Other residents spoke of replacing ground-level windows with ballistic-proof glass, improved training for teachers and staff members, implementation of better mental health programs and creation of a task force to address school safety concerns.

“There should be a master wish list of what a guy like you would like to see in a perfect place, what we should do, where we are and what we need to get,” said David Stein, vice president of the board, to a security consultant. “We can’t execute on everything in a year, but we should prioritize it.”

Northport board trustees have asked Delvin to provide a full list of ideal security items and personnel in the upcoming weeks and have agreed to revisit the issue during the upcoming March budget presentations.

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