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Taxes

The Shoreham power plant on North Country Road provides peak power to the community and payments in lieu of taxes to the Shoreham-Wading River school district. Photo from Jason White

A Brookhaven organization recently saved energy in the most literal sense, and a reliable revenue stream too.

The Town of Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency (IDA) announced Nov. 27 it prevented the shutdown of an electric-generating plant in Shoreham, which provides peak power to the community and is expected to contribute $852,000 in property taxes or payments in lieu of taxes, commonly known as PILOTs, to the Shoreham-Wading River school district this year.

Brookhaven’s business arm has entered into a new, 20-year PILOT agreement with owners of the 90 megawatt, jet-fueled facility located on 10 acres of land on North Country Road, leased by the Long Island Power Authority. The facility’s previous PILOT and power purchase agreement between LIPA and Brookhaven expired this past August after 15 years.

In the proposal for the PILOT, which became the adopted policy when it was approved by the IDA in January 2017, projected gradual benefits range from $1.2 million in its first year to $1.7 million in its 20th.

The partnership began in September 2016 when members of J-Power USA — owners of the facility since 2010 — realized the expired pact would bring about a 33 percent reduction in revenue and a 50 percent reduction in economic benefits. The members were also told by LIPA representatives that the nonprofit would not be involved in negotiating a new PILOT.

“We wanted to see if Brookhaven would be able to offer a new PILOT that would  allow us to remain financially viable and our agreement has removed that big uncertainty,” said Jason White, director of asset management at the J-Power Shoreham branch. “Our facility uses General Electric combustion
turbines and while it doesn’t operate a lot, it’s important to the electric grid for stability purposes. It’s maintained so that it can respond very quickly if it’s called upon.”

White said although there had to be consideration to disassemble the power plant and move off Long Island in the case an agreement couldn’t be reached, it wouldn’t be a simple process, and the facility’s six
employees live close by.

“Our preference all along was to continue to operate the plant site and to continue to be a contributor to the local community,” White said.

By securing the power plant’s place in Shoreham, revenue is boosted for the school district, which relies heavily on it as a source of both energy and property tax revenue.

“I am pleased that we have been able to close on this new agreement with J-Power,” said Frederick Braun, chairman of the IDA. “Had we been unable to keep this plant from moving off Long Island with this new agreement, the Shoreham School District and other taxing jurisdictions would receive no payments at all, resulting in an even larger loss to those taxing jurisdictions.

The school district, which included the finalization of $852,000 in PILOT revenue in its Revised and Lowered Expenditure Budget & Tax Levy in October, approved the agreement in a resolution during a board meeting last Jan. 10.

“Be it resolved that the Board of Education of the Shoreham-Wading River Central School District supports the proposed financial assistance contemplated by the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency in connection with the J-Power Peaker Plant,” the letter read.

Lisa Mulligan, the IDA’s chief executive officer, said she had been in contact with the district’s board of education since meetings began with J-Power “as they were the most impacted by this.”

“We didn’t want to pursue something if they were not interested in it,” Mulligan said. “But the board wrote to us and told us they were … I think it’s important to bring money into the school district and also provide this power to residents when it’s needed.”

Elwood Middle School will get a new roof with the passage of Proposition 1 by voters. File photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Elwood taxpayers are willing to pay for critical infrastructure repairs to their schools, but turned down athletic program and field upgrades.

Elwood School District residents approved Proposition 1 of a bond referendum by 718-371 votes to make health and safety upgrades to the district’s four buildings Nov. 28. A second proposition to spend $3.72 million in enhancements to the athletic fields and other amenities narrowly failed, by a 508-577 vote.

Dilapidated auditorium seating in Elwood Middle School, will be repaired as a result of the passage of a capital bond proposition. File photo by Kevin Redding

“My sincere appreciation to all residents who came out to vote,” Superintendent Kenneth Bossert said. “I think the voting results show the priority that Elwood residents place on education.”

The approved bond proposition contains $34.5 million in capital projects including the replacement of the roofs in each of the four buildings — Harley Avenue School, Boyd Intermediate School, Elwood Middle School, and John H. Glenn High School — which was included due to leaks and flooding issues; and fixing sidewalks and pavement cracks.

Large renovations are also slated for each of the individual buildings under Proposition 1. Three of the schools — Harley Avenue, Elwood Middle School and John Glenn — will undergo cafeteria renovations to install new ceilings, replace outdated lighting fixtures, replace damaged furniture and install new air conditioning systems. The intermediate school will have a new parking lot installed for approximately 60 vehicles as well as a newly designed parent drop-off loop for $260,000 to improve traffic flow. In both the middle school and high school, there will be renovations of art and family and consumer science classrooms.

The district will move forward with having construction plans drawn up by their architects and submit them to the New York State Education Department for approval, according to Bossert, which he said takes 12 to 18 months on average.

“We are trying to make the roofs a priority, as the roofs leak and cause flooding during inclement weather,” Bossert said. “It doesn’t make sense to do any of the interior work before the roofs are fixed.”

The superintendent said he hopes to have the plans submitted to the state as soon as possible, as the district will still need to go through the bidding process for contractors prior to starting construction. He estimated it may be five years before all of the bond work is completed.

A damaged ceiling tile resulting from a roof leak in Elwood Middle School, that will be repaired as part of a capital bond project passed by the community. File photo by Kevin Redding

“Having patience is important in this project,” Bossert said.

The average estimated cost to taxpayers for Proposition 1 is $221 per year, or $18.32 per month, for a home with median assessed value. A calculator that allows homeowners to plug in their tax information for an exact quote is available on the district’s website.

The failed Proposition 2 asked taxpayers for $3.72 million to make enhancements to the district’s athletic programs. It was separated from Proposition 1 by the board of education as it was expected to be a divisive issue.

“The reason it is separate is there was division among opinions in the community,” Bossert said at September presentation. “Some members of the community were strongly in support of this proposed $3.72 million as something they can afford to invest in, other factions said, ‘We don’t feel that way.’”

Proposition 2 would have permitted the district to build a new concession stand for the athletic fields with an outdoor bathroom, a synthetic turf field, sidewalks to make the fields ADA compliant and a new scoreboard for the varsity baseball field.

U.S. Reps. Peter King, Lee Zeldin and Tom Suozzi voice bipartisan opposition to the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Nov. 28. Photo by Alex Petroski

Components of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a federal tax reform bill passed by the House of Representatives in November and currently before the U.S. Senate, has achieved the seemingly impossible in finding common ground for Republicans and Democrats.

Members of Long Island’s congressional delegation from both political parties stood in front of the Internal Revenue Service building in Hauppauge Nov. 28 alongside business owners, representatives from local chambers of commerce, and town and county elected officials to deliver a clear and unified message: As currently constituted, both the House and Senate versions of the bill would harm Long Islanders.

“I view it as a geographic redistribution of wealth to propose eliminating [state and local tax deductions],” 1st Congressional District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said during the press conference, pointing to the elimination of the SALT deduction as a key sticking point in the bill. “You’re proposing to take more money from a place like New York in order to pay for deeper tax cuts elsewhere.”

“You’re proposing to take more money from a place like New York in order to pay for deeper tax cuts elsewhere.”

— Lee Zeldin

The SALT deduction, which was enacted 100 years ago, is a provision that in the past, through federal tax returns, gave a portion of tax dollars back to individuals in higher income and property tax states like New York, New Jersey and California to avoid double taxation. The deduction was eliminated in the House version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which the body passed Nov. 16, for individuals’ income taxes, and limited property tax deductions to $10,000. The Senate’s version of the bill, which has not been voted on yet, completely eliminates all SALT deductions. Both the House and Senate versions double the (married filing jointly) standard deduction from $12,000 to $24,000. The bill has been touted by President Donald Trump (R) and other members of Republican leadership as a massive tax cut for middle-class families.

The 2nd District U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) and 3rd District U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) also attended the press conference to rally support for changes to the bill. Zeldin and King were among 13 Republicans in the House to vote “no” on the bill, with 227 voting to pass it. None of the House Democrats voted in favor of the bill.

“There are some good aspects in both the House bill and the Senate bill,” Zeldin said. “Voters last November, when they went to the polls looking for that tax relief for them, for their families, for their community … this is not the tax relief that they had in mind. We may be upsetting a lot of people in our own party back in Washington right now, but we are not elected to be their congressmen.”

King echoed Zeldin’s position on both versions of the bill, calling the position between the three representatives a “united front.”

“I strongly favor tax cuts across the board,” King said. “I believe they are necessary, but this bill, both the House version and the Senate bill, I am opposed to.”

“We’re not asking for any special benefit, because we’ve gotten a raw deal over the years as far as federal distribution of revenues, but don’t add to that.”

— Peter King

King reiterated that his biggest issue with the bills is the elimination of the SALT deduction.

“This is inequitable, it’s unjust and it’s wrong,” King said. “Long Island is really the main victim of this tax bill. We’re not asking for any special benefit, because we’ve gotten a raw deal over the years as far as federal distribution of revenues, but don’t add to that. Don’t make it worse.”

King, who has been a supporter of Trump and his agenda, also took the opportunity to send a message to the White House.

“My district twice voted for Barack Obama by four points and by five points,” King said. “Donald Trump carried [New York’s 2nd Congressional District] by nine points. That was a 14-point turnaround. The people of Long Island didn’t make that turnaround so the Trump administration could raise their taxes so the rest of the country could get a tax break.”

Suozzi, the lone congressional Democrat at the event, also preached unity on tax reform as it pertains to Long Islanders.

“This would be a punch in the gut to everybody on Long Island if this bill were to pass either in the House form or the Senate form,” he said. Suozzi added that he thought it took guts for Zeldin and King to be among the 13 “no” votes among Republicans in the House. “We’re united 100 percent in recognizing eliminating the state and local tax deduction would be devastating to our constituents.”

New York’s income tax rate is among the highest in America, with members of the top tax bracket paying 8.82 percent in 2017. On average, the state income tax deduction for New Yorkers making between $50,000 and $200,000 in annual income for the 2015 tax year was between $4,049 and $9,330. The same group of earners deducted on average between $5,869 and $8,158 over the same time period in state and local real estate taxes. The 2015 tax year is latest year with available data according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, an organization that provides independent analysis of tax policy.

Participants of a protest against the federal tax bill outside of Renaissance Technologies in Setauket Nov. 29. Photo by Kevin Redding

Representatives from local organizations stood outside Renaissance Technologies in East Setauket Nov. 29 to voice their opposition to the bill. Until recently, Robert Mercer was the chief executive officer of the hedge fund, though he is known nationally for his contributions to conservative and right-wing political campaigns.

“It’s clear that there are a lot of changes that are coming and for middle-class folks like us, they’re not going to be good changes,” said Peter Verdon a Suffolk County resident who was present at the protest. “The system is clearly out of whack, tilted towards the extremely wealthy and it’s continuing in that direction and enough’s enough. We can’t allow that to continue to happen.”

Bill Crump, a Lindenhurst resident and member of the Long Island Progressive Coalition political activist group also attended.

“We’re going to have a $1.5 trillion deficit and they’re going to cut our Medicare and our benefits,” he said. “It’s coming out of our pockets. Trump claims he’s going to give a tax cut. Maybe he’s going to give you a quarter while he reaches in and takes your wallet.”

This post was updated Nov. 29 to correct the income tax and mortgage tax deduction amounts under the two bills, and to include information about a Nov. 29 protest in Setauket. Additional reporting contributed by Kevin Redding.

Dilapidated auditorium seating in Elwood Middle School, will be repaired as a result of the passage of a capital bond proposition. File photo by Kevin Redding

The Elwood school district opened its doors to residents last week for a night of building tours in anticipation of the Nov. 28 bond referendum vote to spend $38.2 million on infrastructure repairs and upgrades.

School administrators guided parents through the district’s four buildings Nov. 8 — Harley Avenue Primary School, James H. Boyd Intermediate School, Elwood Middle School and John H. Glenn High School — to provide firsthand glimpses of the proposed numerous critical repairs and renovations within each school. The projects are addressed in two propositions community members will be able to vote on Nov. 28.

The tours were considered effective by the small — yet invested — group of parents who walked through each school.

“You can tell me all you want that there are cracked tiles but seeing it actually brings it to life and makes you see the real needs here,” said Michael Ryan, whose daughter is a graduate of the district. “We have a responsibility to make sure students have an environment that’s conducive to education.”

Marianne Craven, an Elwood resident for 40 years, thought it was a good idea for the school to host the tour.

“We’ve had all sorts of bond issues over the years, but I think this is the first time we’ve ever had a tour,” Craven said. “Those that didn’t come lost the visual. A picture is not worth a thousand words, and actually seeing it makes all the difference.”

A damaged ceiling tile resulting from a roof leak in Elwood Middle School, that would be repaired or renovated if Proposition 1 is approved by residents Nov. 28. Photo by Kevin Redding

The first proposition of the bond totals $34.5 million and will cover major projects like the installation of new roofs on each school which currently leak and cause flooding whenever heavy rain occurs.

In observing the leaky ceilings throughout the middle and high school, Jill Mancini, a former district clerk at Elwood, said, “I moved here in 1975 and the roofs have been leaking since then. All of them.”

Also included under Proposition 1 are repairs to cracked sidewalks and curbing and the refurbishment of auditorium spaces and cafeterias, which need air conditioning as well as furniture replacements. In the middle and high school, the consumer science labs would be upgraded, along with the art rooms, locker rooms and a guidance suite.

“We need to bring them up to 21st century learning environments,” said Superintendent Kenneth Bossert, who led the tour of the middle school. “Some folks who visit our facilities feel like they’ve stepped back in time when they enter [some] classrooms and it’s just not the right environment to teach our students the new skill sets they need to be successful.”

Karen Tyll, the mother of an Elwood seventh-grader, said seeing all the infrastructure problems was eye opening.

“They haven’t done enough throughout the years to maintain the schools and replace the things that are required replacements,” Tyll said, pointing out the importance of stable roofs. “We’re reaching a point where everything is sort of coming to a head, and we need to make the schools better in terms of health and safety for the kids.”

Although she said it’s unfortunate the district needs such an expensive bond, Tyll hopes it will be worthwhile in the end.

“Some of the items are unnecessary because they’re more wants rather than needs,” said one mother on the tour who asked not to be named. “A roof is definitely needed, but the new guidance suite is a want. Our taxes are going to go up and they should’ve separated some of these.”

The superintendent said he felt the Nov. 8 tours were productive in helping residents understand the scope of the proposed bond. 

“It’s difficult to get a true sense of the needs of the facilities solely from the use of pictures and videos,” Bossert said. “I believe residents left with a greater understanding of the priorities the district has brought forward.”

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Do we need tax cuts?

Lots of people agree that our current tax rules are outdated, cumbersome and unfair. On the other hand, there will never be total unanimity on how the tax code should read because one person’s tax cut is another’s tax increase, and for sure no one wants to lose whatever benefits they already have. So the prospect of changes is only palatable as a campaign promise if there would be an overall greater good that everyone recognizes. Such a benefit was proposed during the 2016 campaign as a way to recharge the slow economy. And the conversation has continued from there.

But hold on. The circumstances have changed. Our economy is no longer sluggish. In fact, it seems to have taken off. And, unusually, the economies around the globe appear to have also done so, almost in unison. This rare good news bodes well for the United States and others around the world.

So, back to my original question: Why do we need a tax cut?

If the answer is, for political reasons, that stinks. Just because politicians promised to cut taxes, a regular pledge to get votes, is not good enough to shake the ground on which we live. If the answer is to reallocate wealth, that has never been the role of our capitalist democracy. If the answer is to make more equal the lives of the haves and the have-nots going forward, then simply raise the taxes on the haves in proportion to how much they have benefited from our same capitalist society. And finally, if the answer is to raise revenue in order to reduce our unprecedented national debt, then raise taxes across the board proportionately on everyone who enjoys the services provided by life in these United States.

Sometimes one can get too close to a problem and not see the bigger picture. There is a saying that goes: Are we doing things right—or are we doing the right things? To check on whether we are doing things right, we have to engage in the details, the nitty-gritty of the process. In the case of tax reform, we have to hammer out every line to the greater satisfaction of all concerned. But to decide if we are on the right track, that is, if we are doing the right things, we have to stand back and examine the whole picture. Has the situation changed, perhaps rectified itself, or do we still have to help matters along?

I suggest the latter and I’ll explain why.

Businesses, which will reap three-quarters of the tax proposals over the next 10 years as currently presented, are already, for the most part, doing just fine. That is why the stock market keeps hitting new highs. The prices of the stocks are earnings driven, and the companies we can publicly track via the markets are showing record profits. Why do they need more stimulus? To expand and create more jobs, which is a political mantra? More likely companies will reinvest the additional profits in job-saving equipment, which is the way trends are already leaning. If the government wants to create more jobs, it should help create more businesses, which it could do by offering tax breaks to start-up companies. But that doesn’t require broad tax overhaul. That would just take one change. Mr. President, pick up the pen. Furthermore, to encourage companies to add more workers, offer incentives specifically pegged toward those additional salaries, not tax breaks that can simply result in higher profits in the misguided hope of higher tax revenues.

The initial tax proposals include eliminating deductions for large medical expenses; student loan interest; alimony; tax preparation costs; moving to a new job expenses; casualty, disaster and theft losses; and qualified adoption fees, according to CNBC. Are those the changes we want for our society?

What ultimate goal can we all get behind, and do we get there with tax cuts?

Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio presented the town's 2018 tentative operating budget this week. File photo by Susan Risoli

Smithtown homeowners may find themselves in an enviable position as Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) looks to cut taxes for the second straight year.

Vecchio presented his $105 million 2018 proposed Smithtown Town budget at a brief 46-second special town board meeting Oct. 3. There was no public discussion of the budget, as town board members were seeing the nearly 200-page document for the first time.

“Ostensibly, the proposed budget is now theirs; the [town board] can change it or do anything with it they would like,” Vecchio said. “My experience is that they’ve never changed it.”

Overall, the proposed budget contains an increase of $2 million over the 2017 budget, but will reduce the town taxes for the average homeowner by $1.05, down from $1,269.88 per year to $1,268.83 per year for a home with an assessed value of $5,500. It falls well under the state tax cap of 1.84 percent.

Vecchio said he prepared a structurally balanced budget in which incoming revenues match the recurring expenditures, a measure he achieved by implementing cost cutting initiatives and long-range planning.

First and foremost, the supervisor pointed to careful control of town employees’ salaries.

“We have not replaced employees who have retired,” the supervisor said. “When we do rehire employees, we rehire them at a lower salary.”

While positions have been lost through attrition, the 2018 budget does not call for the layoff of any existing town personnel.

Smithtown town officials also gradually implemented a new policy of leasing
vehicles used by various departments, such as parks and highways, instead of outright purchasing them.

“It’s saved us a lot of money,” Vecchio said. “There’s a big outlay when purchasing a vehicle for a municipality, plus then there’s maintenance.”

Other cost-saving measures taken by the town include replacing streetlights with LED lights and sharing services for emergency dispatching, according to the supervisor.

The proposed budget has set aside $4.4 million for the 2018 road program, which in addition to $1.1 million in state funding, will allow for road improvements and repaving over the upcoming year.

Vecchio said the town is in a good fiscal position with a Triple A bond rating and a $17 million surplus in its general fund.

“What’s the benefit, residents might ask, of having a $17 million surplus?” he said. “The benefit of having that money in surplus is your bond rating. Your interest rates on bonds are always lower when you
have reserves.”

The supervisor has proposed allocating $600,000 of the town’s surplus funds towards the highway budget to supplement continued roadway improvements. A similar measure was approved in the 2017 budget which appropriated $602,000 for roadways and later approved $2 million specifically for improvements to Lake
Avenue in Smithtown.

A public hearing on the 2018 proposed budget will be held at the town board meeting on Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall. Residents can review a line-by-line budget breakdown on the town’s website at www.smithtownny.gov.

If passed, homeowners would see minimal increase in property taxes

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine presented his tentative 2018 budget during a meeting Sept. 28. File photo by Alex Petroski

Brookhaven Town plans to spend $294.1 million in the 2018 fiscal year, about a $12 million increase compared to 2017’s budget, though the town won’t need much help from the public to do so.

Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) presented his tentative operating budget for 2018 to the public during a meeting Sept. 28. Romaine referred to the plan as a “taxpayers’ budget.”

“My job is to bring in the most cost effective budget, and that’s what we think we’ve done here,” Romaine said, thanking the town’s finance department Commissioner Tamara Wright and Chief of Operations Matt Miner for their work in presenting a balanced budget. He also lauded the town’s AAA bond rating as a valuable asset in putting together a spending plan.

“We have a structurally balanced budget for the last few years and we have wound up each of the last few years with a surplus, which kind of distinguishes us in terms of our fiscal soundness,” Romaine said.

The increase compared to the 2017 fiscal year can be attributed in large part to the disbanding of the formerly incorporated Mastic Beach Village, which means some services provided to residents of the village will again become Brookhaven’s responsibility. In addition, health insurance costs for town employees are expected to increase by 10 percent in 2018, and contractually mandated raises will go up by about $1.7 million. The town’s debt requirements will be about 5 percent higher in 2018. Despite the increases, if passed, the spending plan would maintain all services provided to residents during 2017, though no new programs would be funded, according to Romaine. Less than $2 million in reserve funds were needed to balance the budget, compared to about $3.5 million in 2017.

A typical Brookhaven Town resident living outside of an incorporated village should expect to see an increase of about $11 in their town property taxes in 2018 from the town’s general funds, excluding special districts such as sewer and highway districts, which will still see minimal increases. The budget falls within the state-mandated 1.84 percent tax levy increase cap, meaning it won’t need to be pierced, which requires approval via a public vote.

The town benefitted from an additional $7 million in revenue than was budgeted for ahead of the 2017 fiscal year thanks primarily to the town’s mortgage tax and other building fees and fines. Romaine said the unexpected revenue allowed the town to anticipate higher revenues in crafting the 2018 budget.

Part of the tentative budget also includes a $40.2 million list of new capital projects to be funded by bonds and reserves over a four-year period beginning in 2018, including $18 million for road repairs, drainage, traffic safety and street lighting projects; $8 million to cap the town landfill; and $6 million for park and recreation facility upgrades and equipment, among others.

The town board will host a public hearing to allow the community to weigh in on the budget Nov. 9 at Town Hall. The full tentative budget is also available to the public on the town’s website www.brokhavenny.gov.

Town board decides not to renew contract with current owner due to violating tax laws

The Grateful Paw Cat Shelter is located on Deposit Road in East Northport. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

By Victoria Espinoza

Huntington residents rallied behind the Grateful Paw Cat Shelter, of East Northport, this week after the Huntington Town Board announced it was evicting the shelter for failing to notify the board it had lost its 501(c)(3) not-for-profit in 2015.

Town Attorney Cindy Mangano addressed the public before the speakers began at the board meeting Tuesday, June 13, summarizing how the shelter, run by the League for Animal Protection and served exclusively by volunteers had taken this turn. She said the shelter was notified April 20 by the town to evacuate their Deposit Road establishment within 90 days due to losing their nonprofit status and violating federal and state law.

“In April, everybody here knows it’s time to file your tax returns or seek an extension,” Mangano said. “Charitable not-for-profit organizations must do the same thing. Earlier this year my office sat with Debbie Larkin, the president of LAP, and we were in the process of drafting a new agreement when we learned that a resident had incurred a penalty from the IRS for claiming a tax deduction for a donation to LAP.”

“I’m a cat lover, but five years without a filing, and it was known and the town was not told. I personally don’t have confidence in the league anymore to go forward when they knew the situation existed.”
— Frank Petrone

Mangano said the shelter had actually lost its not-for-profit status in 2015, but never advised the town, which was a breach in their original contractual agreement with the town. According to the town attorney, the LAP lost its charitable status because they did not file paperwork in time with the IRS and the New York State Attorney General’s Charities Bureau office.

“When this came to my attention I scheduled a meeting with Ms. Larkin,” Mangano said. “She told us she knew but she failed to advise us of this fact. So I cannot in counsel to this board advise the board to enter into a new agreement with an organization that as we speak has violated its agreement with the town and is in violation of federal and state laws.”

Residents flocked to the podium to defend the shelter and its contribution to the Huntington community.

“I’m here today to appeal to the town’s decision,” Sharlene Turner, who has adopted many cats from the shelter, said. “Please give the league a renewed opportunity to prove itself.”

Turner suggested setting up strict guidelines and rules moving forward. She commended the dedication of the volunteer staff for providing a safe and warm environment for the animals.

“All volunteers know each cat by name,” she said. “They know their personalities and the relationship a cat has with every other friend in the shelter.

Donna Fitzhugh has been a volunteer at the shelter since 1989.

“I have volunteered over 3,000 hours,” she said. “As you can tell I love working with LAP and volunteering my time and energy to this very worthy organization that has been serving this community for over 43 years. Yes we screwed up, something happened, and we want to rectify this — we do not want to leave. We want to stay and serve the residents of the Town of Huntington.”

Haley Shore, an 11-year-old who donned cat ears at the meeting, said she’s been volunteering at the shelter for about seven years.

“When I heard the news Huntington was going to possibly close the shelter, I was devastated,” she said. “The shelter has become my second home. But this is not about me, it’s about the shelter and all the innocent cats. What are they supposed to do without all of their dedicated and loyal volunteers? For some of these cats this has been the only home they’ve ever known. The cats can’t talk, so we have to be their voices.”

Haley also brought a petition signed by many friends and neighbors.

Several of the volunteers asked the board what would happen to the cats if the shelter closed its doors. According to the town, two other shelters have offered to take over including The Little Shelter in Elwood. However volunteers argued they don’t offer the same amount of health services for animals as the Grateful Paw staff does.

“Yes we screwed up, something happened, and we want to rectify this — we do not want to leave.”
—Donna Fitzhugh

Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) assured the audience that all of the cats living at the shelter now would continue to be cared for, and the shelter would continue with its no-kill policy. However despite the pleas of many residents, he said he had great concerns moving forward with LAP.

“Animals will not be harmed,” Petrone said at the meeting. “I’m a cat lover, but five years without a filing, and it was known and the town was not told. I personally don’t have confidence in the league anymore to go forward when they knew the situation existed.”

Petrone said it’s not as easy as the shelter just refiling for not-for-profit status.

“These laws were broken,” he said. “So you’re telling us just go forward and let’s make it nice. Well it’s not that simple.”

No further decision was reached by the board at the meeting.

Superintendent Robert Banzer speaks about the three propositions on the ballot for next week’s budget vote at last Thursday’s board meeting. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Northport-East Northport residents must support or deny three major proposals next week: a $161 million budget,  $2 million in capital improvements, and reducing the amount of board members from nine to seven.

The 2016-17 budget includes an American sign language elective at Northport High School, an elementary special education program and the purchase of a new school bus.

“This really emphasizes what this budget and what this school is all about,” Vice President David Badanes said at the May 5 meeting. “At the end of the day, it’s about students — there are students who are great in robotics, students who are great in music, students who are great in foreign languages. From A to Z, students in this district continue to shine.”

Northport proposes collecting $140.9 million in taxes, a 0.55 percent increase to the tax levy from last year’s budget, which will raise the average home’s taxes assessed at $3,800 an additional $56.40. This budget meets the state-mandated tax levy cap of 0.55 percent.

The second $2 million proposition on the ballot includes boiler replacements and a new gym ceiling at Northport Middle School, with funds taken from the 2008 general construction/electromechanical capital reserve and the 2012 capital reserve fund.

The district’s Athletic Facilities Citizens Advisory Committee first introduced many of the capital projects in a presentation led by trustee Regina Pisacani last December, after the committee conducted tours of the district’s facilities to see what improvements were needed.

Members of the United Taxpayers of Northport-East Northport presented a petition at a school board meeting last June, with more than 300 signatures, asking for the board size to go down by two members.

Armand D’Accordo, a member of the United Taxpayers of Northport-East Northport who presented the petition at that meeting, said he’s seen a number of issues with the current board size.

“I have gotten the sense at board meetings, both through watching and interacting, that it seems a bit dysfunctional, due to the makeup of how many members and how long they’ve been around,” D’Accordo said.

According to the district clerk’s office, if the proposition passes, it will go into effect in next year’s election. Trustees Pisacani, Donna McNaughton and Jennifer Thompson will all be up for re-election next year, and only one of the three seats would be open.

Board members have said they disagree with the proposal, arguing that a larger board size means more representation for the district.

“I’ve always liked the idea that the community has this degree of representation with nine members,” trustee Julia Binger said in a phone interview.

Trustee Lori McCue echoed her sentiment: “The downside for the community is a lack of representation,” McCue said in a phone interview. “I don’t feel this would benefit the community.”

The Northport-East Northport budget vote will be held from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. next Tuesday, May 17 at Dickinson Avenue Elementary School, Fifth Avenue Elementary School and the William J. Brosnan Building.

By Elana Glowatz

Desperate times call for desperate budget measures.

For the first time in four years, a northern Suffolk County school district is taking aim at its tax levy cap, looking to bust through that state budget ceiling as more districts around New York do the same in tight times.

The New York State School Boards Association said the number of school districts seeking a supermajority of voter approval — 60 percent — to override their caps has doubled since last year. The group blames that trend on inflation.

tax-cap-graphicwThe state cap limits the amount a school district or municipality can increase its tax levy, which is the total amount collected in taxes, from budget to budget. While commonly referred to as a “2 percent tax cap,” it actually limits levy increases to 2 percent or the rate of inflation — whichever is lower — before certain excluded spending, like on capital projects and pension payments.

This year, the rate of inflation was calculated at just 0.12 percent and, after other calculations, the statewide average for an allowed tax levy increase will be 0.7 percent, according to NYSSBA.

“The quirks and vagaries of the cap formula mean it can fluctuate widely from year to year and district to district,” Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer said in a statement.

More school districts are feeling the pressure — a NYSSBA poll showed that 36 districts will ask voters to pass budgets that pop through their caps, double the number last year.

It may be easier said than done: Since the cap was enacted, typically almost half of proposed school district budgets that have tried to bust through it have failed at the polls. That’s compared to budgets that only needed a simple majority of support, which have passed 99 percent of the time since the cap started.

In 2012, the first year for the cap in schools, five districts on Suffolk’s North Shore sought to override it, including Mount Sinai, Comsewogue, Three Village, Rocky Point and Middle Country. Only the latter two were approved, forcing the others to craft new budget proposals and hold a second vote.

Middle Country barely squeaked by, with 60.8 percent of the community approving that budget, and Comsewogue just missed its target, falling shy by only 33 votes.

Numbers from the school boards’ association that year showed that more Long Island school districts had tried to exceed their caps and more budgets had failed than in any other region in the state.

But four years later, Harborfields school district is taking a shot.

Officials there adopted a budget that would increase its tax levy 1.52 percent next year, adding full-day kindergarten, a new high school music elective and a BOCES cultural arts program, among others. Harborfields board member Hansen Lee was “optimistic” that at least 60 percent of the Harborfields community would approve the budget.

“We’re Harborfields; we always come together for the success of our kids and the greater good,” Lee said.

The school boards’ association speculated that more school districts than just Harborfields would have tried to pierce their levy caps if not for a statewide boost in aid — New York State’s own budget increased school aid almost $25 billion, with $3 billion of that going specifically to Long Island.

Now that New York school districts have settled into the cap, Long Islanders’ eyes are on Harborfields, to see whether it becomes an example of changing tides.

Next Tuesday, Harborfields will see if it has enough public support to go where few Long Island districts have ever gone before, above and beyond the tax levy cap.

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