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Budget

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. Photo by Julianne Mosher

After weeks of warnings and missives about an upcoming budget shortfall, Suffolk officials finally published this upcoming year’s budget, one that has to take into consideration an apparent $437 million deficit over the next two years. Cuts won’t be instituted until the middle of 2021.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) revealed a 2021 recommended operating budget of $3.197 billion, representing $33 million less than the current year’s budget. It is a reaction to a total revenue shortfall of $325 million in 2020.

In a proposed budget released Oct. 9, the county would be letting go 500 full-time employees. The county exec said it would also mean a reduction in health care and mental health services, the loss of two full classes of trainees at the police academy and the elimination of 19 bus routes. 

Most cuts will be implemented July 1, 2021. County officials said this gives time in case some federal aid is received in the future.

“We have submitted a COVID-19 budget with cuts that would have been unimaginable just a short time ago,” Bellone said on a call with reporters Oct. 13. “These cuts should not happen, these are cuts that are devastating in many ways and would in effect undermine our recovery.”

The budget accounts for a sales tax loss from 2019 to 2020 of an estimated $131.7 million. The anticipated sales tax for 2021 is still $102.5 million less than 2019’s figures.

Among other losses across the board, the one increase seems to be property taxes from a real estate boom on Long Island. Suffolk County received $4 million more than last year, and anticipates $18.6 million more in 2021 than this current year.

In expenditures, contractual expenses and employee benefits are also set to marginally increase.

The county expects a negative fund balance for 2021 of about $176.98 million. Overall, Bellone said Suffolk could be looking at a cumulative $460 million deficit within the next year.

This year’s budget was originally set to roll in back in September, but it has since been delayed until the start of this month. The projected budget also may be another general cry for help to the federal government. Suffolk officials also decry the withholding of state aid to the tune of $1.9 billion to local municipalities.

Cutting employees would save about $25 million next year. The bus route cuts, along with reductions to the Suffolk County Accessible Transportation bus service affecting a total of 2,500 riders of both systems, will save $18 million. The police class cuts will save approximately $20 million, while a 50% cut across the board for contract agencies, which include substance abuse clinics, mental health providers, domestic violence shelters and gang prevention programs, would save another $8 million in 2021 and annualized savings of $16 million.

The budget also shows an overall 1.9% increase in taxes for the police district, though that remains under the New York State tax cap.

Bellone has constantly reiterated Suffolk’s need for federal funds over the past few months, holding press conference after press conference to reiterate loss of services because of COVID-19-induced budget shortfalls. Republicans in the Legislature, however, have consistently attacked the executive for what they have called fiscal mismanagement over the past few years, citing Suffolk’s bond downgrades and a report from Tom DiNapoli (D), the New York State comptroller, saying Suffolk was the most fiscally stressed county in the state in 2019.

Bellone, on the other hand, claimed he inherited in 2012 a $500 million deficit but that the County finished 2019 with a surplus. He added the county would have been on track for $50 million surplus in 2020 that would have wiped out the accumulated deficit prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Suffolk did receive $257 million in CARES Act funding in April, as well as an additional $26.6 million for public transportation. Officials have said most or all that funding has been spent or earmarked, and it does not help cover overall losses.

Ed Romaine. Photo by Kyle Barr

Lacking any kind of financial aid from county, state or federal sources, Brookhaven town is having to do a lot of the heavy lifting themselves in its 2021 budget, despite the pandemic.

In a Zoom call with reporters, Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine said their 2021 budget will be losing out on thousands from New York State they annually receive due to the pandemic.

Under the new budget, the average resident could be paying just under $8.93 more than they did in 2020 in town taxes, though that may not include the taxes from those living in special districts, and it is likely less for those living in an incorporated village. That includes an increase of around $14 in regular town expenses but is offset by $4.75 for highway-related property taxes. Town taxes represent approximately 5.67% of a resident’s own total tax bill. The highest percentage, at over 70%, remains local school districts.

The state’s stay at home order resulted in residents producing 13% more garbage than last year, town officials said. The new budget has an annual fee for a single-family home of $365 a year.

The Town of Brookhaven’s $307 million spending plan is contending with a loss of funds from landfill revenues, building department revenues, fire marshal revenues, just to name a few. The town also has to deal with a reduction in state aid, an example being a 20% cut to the $1 million Citizens Empowerment Tax Credit, equivalent to $200,000.

The only positive this year, it seems, is that mortgage taxes have increased more than normal thanks to an influx of new residents from New York City.

Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said during a budget briefing Thursday, Oct. 1, that despite everything, they are staying within the New York State tax cap of 1.56%. He also boasted that the 2021 planned budget is not using any fund balance, or the town’s rainy day funds, to balance the budget. The town will likely have to dip into the fund balance this year, according to town Director of Operation Matt Miner, due to expenses not just from COVID-19 and subsequent shutdowns, but from Tropical Storm Isaias.

Through an incentive program and other staffing cuts, the town is less 42 full-time employees compared to 2020, as well as several part timers, many of whom were in summer programs which never came online due to the pandemic. The exit incentive program offered full-time staff the opportunity to retire early with $700 in their pocket for every year they worked for the town. Though because of benefits increases, the town is only saving $700,000 from staffing cuts.

“The one thing that I can’t do that the federal government can is I can’t spend money I don’t have,” Romaine said. “When you can’t do that, we could see our revenues were going down precipitously … their retirement at this time in a very difficult year for us was very helpful.”

The town is making the assumption that COVID-19 will be here to stay for the next several months and has set the tentative date for services and recreation spots, such as the Centereach pool complex.

“It does allow for some return to normalcy with some of our summer programs,” Miner said.

In terms of the highway department, Isaias did a number to their finances to the tune of approximately $5 million, including around $3 million in overtime payments, as well as contractor payments and equipment rentals. The town had offered all town residents the opportunity to get rid of their plant storm debris, but more residents also used it as an opportunity to get rid of plant debris that had not come down from the storm.

The town will have to eat those costs, Romaine said, as they have received no Federal Emergency Management Agency funding, and they do not expect any to be coming their way.

The reduction in highway property taxes are due to a decline in the 2021 snow removal budget, having not spent all the money budgeted for the past several years and carrying over a $5.4 million snow reserve. Road resurfacing, Miner said, is remaining fully funded in the capital budget at around $15 million. The town does anticipate a 20% loss in state CHIPS funding, which helps with local road repair, so the overall road repair budget is likely much less than last year.

“If anyone did that to the state budget, I’d figure they’d have problems, but I guess they figure they can do it to towns and villages … it’s too bad,” Romaine said.

This year, elected officials’ salaries are staying the same.

Suffolk County officials, meanwhile, have been frantically urging the federal government to provide additional aid to local municipalities. Though Suffolk received $283 million in CARES Act funding, Romaine said the county did not relinquish any to help town governments despite their pleas. Brookhaven itself did not receive any aid because it did not meet the minimum resident population to qualify.

Whether or not Republicans and Democrats on the federal level will come together to pass a new aid package, which the supervisor did not hold out much hope for, how it may impact the budget comes down to how much they get. Top of the list for Romaine, however, could be paying down debt.

“I’m not going to be supervisor forever, and I want to keep reducing the amount of debt the town has,” he said.

SBU Uses Up Half of Rainy Day Fund to Balance Budget

Stony Brook University is facing a huge financial hole in 2020. File photo from Stony Brook University

The COVID-19 crisis has exacted a heavy toll on Stony Brook University’s finances, creating a $109.6 million deficit on the academic and research side.

Maurie McInnis was named SBU’s sixth president. In a stunning letter made public on her president’s web page, she details the huge financial hole the school will have to navigate in the near future. Photo from SBU

The pandemic cost the hospital and clinic an estimated $58 million, while it also cost the academic and research campus over $74.6 million in the past financial year, which includes $35 million in refunded fees, $12 million in lost revenue from cultural programs and facilities rentals, and $8.5 million in extra expenses, including cleaning and supplies, student quarantine costs and technology costs, according to message from new Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis published on her SBU president web page Aug. 12.

Through a number of steps, including hiring freezes, the university has attempted to offset these costs, but that won’t be enough. The school is tapping into its central reserve fund, essentially the university’s rainy day pool, reducing it by over 50% in one year. McInnis, in an open letter on her web page, said this “is completely unsustainable.”

Starting today, McInnis will hold a series of virtual campus conversations to provide more details and address questions, while she and university leaders search for long-term solutions to address a host of challenges that have presented a serious headwind to the school’s future budget.

In disclosing detailed information, McInnis wrote that she believes such disclosures will help the campus work together towards solutions.

“I believe that it is only by being open and candid and providing clear information that we can come together as a community to tackle our shared challenges,” she wrote in her letter.

In her letter to the campus, McInnis detailed specific costs, while she also outlined the steps Stony Brook has taken to offset some of these financial challenges.

For starters, she wrote that the university has been “told to expect a 20-30% cut in state funding this year, or $25 million.” The school also had its allocation for last year retroactively cut by $19 million.

“It is unclear when, if ever, our funding will return to current levels, let alone the levels of support we ideally receive as a top research institution in the region,” she wrote in her letter.

Federal government restrictions on travel and visas, along with COVID impacts, have created a 17.5 percent drop in out-of-state and international students, which not only reduces diversity but also creates a $20 million drop in revenue.

The number of campus residents will also decline by 40% for next semester, from 10,000 to 6,000, creating an estimated $38.9 million revenue loss.

The bottom line, she explained, is that the $109.6 million deficit on the academic and research side. This she predicts, could become significantly worse.

The measures the university has taken offset some of that decline, saving the school an estimated $55 million, but the measures still do not close the budget gap and are not sustainable.

A hiring freeze for new positions and for those that become open from staff and faculty attrition will save $20 million.

Student housing refinancing will save $31.1 million in fiscal year 2021.

An ongoing freeze on expenses covering costs for service contracts, supplies and equipment and travel will save about $2.3 million

A cut to the athletic budget will save $2 million.

Senior campus leadership, meanwhile, has voluntarily taken a 10% pay cut along with a permanent hold back of any 2% raise for all Management Confidential employees.

At the same time, the university faces longer-term financial challenges.

State support has declined since 2008, from $190.4 million to $147.7 million last year. That will be even lower this year. On a per-student basis, state support in 2020 was $6,995, compared with $9,570.

This year’s expected increase in tuition and the Academic Excellence fee have not been approved by the SUNY Board.

The multi-year contracts that govern faculty and staff pay have not been fully funded, McInnis wrote in her president’s message. That has created an additional cost of $10 million for the 2020 fiscal year. Over the next five years, that compounds to $54 million.

The rainy day fund is picking up $9.7 million of that scheduled contractual salary increase raise.

The Tuition Assistance Program has been set at 2010 tuition levels, which creates a $9 million financial gap in fiscal year 2020. That is expected to rise in 2021. Stony Brook also recently learned, according to McInnis’s letter, that TAP will be funded at 80 percent of what the school awards to New York State students who rely on the program to access higher education.

At the same time, the Excelsior Program, which began in the fall of 2017 and allows students from families making up to $125,000 to attend school tuition free, may not accept new students this year.

McInnis concluded with her hope that the university will come together in the same way it did during the worst of the pandemic in New York to address these financial challenges.

“I fully recognize that you are operating in one of the most difficult environments any of us has experienced,” she wrote. “And, we are going to have to bring the same level of collaboration and innovation that you brought at the height of the COVID-19 response to our systemic budget challenges.”

McInnis urged the staff to “work together, share the best ideas, challenge assumptions, and build on the excellence of Stony Brook University in order to continue to move this great institution forward.”

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Village Hires Deputy Village Attorney/Prosecutor

Port Jefferson Village Hall. File photo by Heidi Sutton

Despite the ongoing pandemic, Port Jefferson village is still moving ahead with its budget agenda, this year seeing a revenue decrease thanks in part to the LIPA settlement reducing the assessed value of the Port Jefferson Power Station.

The Port Jefferson village board held a budget hearing over the Internet, even including a live rendition of the national anthem by Port Jefferson student Nicholas Rodriguez, who played Oliver during the annual Charles Dickens Festival.

However, the new format did not allow for any public comment. This was in accordance with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) executive order suspending portions of the public meeting law due to the coronavirus crisis.

The proposed 2020-21 budget includes $9,992,565 in total appropriations, a 3.19 percent decrease from last year’s amount of $10,310,869. This takes into account a 3.5 percent Increase in the tax rate, a $111,088 decrease in assessed value of the Port Jefferson Power Station, as well as a $145,000 decrease in ambulance charges since that is now handled by the Town of Brookhaven.

“Cutting our budget by over $300,000 was not an easy task,” said Mayor Margot Garant. “In cutting that budget we were effective in consolidating some departments.”

One of the changes she referenced was moving one clerk typist into the position of a retiring typist, at a lower salary, without replacing the original with a new employee. 

As regards other village employees, the village assessor, who was on an hourly rate, has become salaried at $30,000, resulting in an increase of $26,019 from what he was getting paid this last year.

The board is also hiring a full-time internal deputy village attorney as a prosecutor, for a total expense to the village of $102,000. Garant said the board agreed this was needed to help prosecute offenses more effectively, also bringing in more revenue for the courts.

“We were just not getting any real effect as a board,” the mayor said. “We collectively agreed bringing on a staff full time will have more direction over individuals.

Village attorney Brian Egan said this will aid in prosecutions of village code infractions. He added that New York State’s new discovery laws, which require municipalities to present all evidence to the defense within a short time after being charged with a crime, have been difficult on small entities like Port Jeff. The new prosecutor will be in charge of handling that side of things.

“This is to really put an emphasis on our code enforcement to go out and aggressively prosecute code enforcement violations,” Egan said. “Having a full-time deputy village attorney … will benefit [the village] all the time.”

This year, the village is looking to raise $6,451,427 from taxes, a near $50,000 increase from last year.

“Because our LIPA assessment is frozen at a settlement … the assessed value shifts from the power plant to the shoulders of our residents,” Garant said.

In terms of capital projects, there are several on the horizon for the upcoming fiscal year, including building the $795,069 parking lot on Barnum Avenue. There are also plans to renovate the Highlands Boulevard retaining wall in the next two to three months using funds from the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York gained through state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). Additionally, the village has gained Suffolk County grants to renovate the bathrooms by Rocketship Park and in the lower floor of Village Hall, to fix lingering issues, make them Americans with Disabilities Act compliant and heat the outside bathrooms so they can be used in the winter. Additionally, an $80,000 drainage project on Longfellow Drive is expected to start this year.

The village has also recently received permits from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for securing the bluff on East Beach, which has been rapidly eroding over the past several years. The mayor had expected they would need to take out a small bond for that project. Another bonded project will most likely be the digitization of village records at both the building and planning department and the clerk’s department. Such a project may cost upward of $200,000. 

The village currently has a AA bond rating.

Mount Sinai High School. File photo by Barbara Donlon

Mount Sinai parents will begin to see portions of the school district’s 2020-21 proposed budget figures in the next few months. At a Jan. 15 board of education meeting, district officials unveiled 12 percent of the budget, which included central administration, insurance, central printing, BOCES, transportation, technology and debt services among others. 

The tentative total budget figure for 2020-21 looks to be $61,009,700, a slight increase from last year’s number. 

Board of education/central administration costs would be increasing by $19,000 in the upcoming school year. 

Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said the chunk of that increase would go into costs for an additional budget vote and cover the translation of all documents/public notices into Spanish. That would cost the district $14,000. 

“It is a state mandate that hit us and other districts this year,” he said. “Any election/public notices has to be translated into Spanish. The state says we have to do this, but they are not giving us any money to do this.”

Another mandate that will be implemented is the addition of a data protection officer in response to a number of school districts experiencing hacks last year. 

Purchasing cost will increase by $2,050 in 2020-21 due to the district utilizing a co-op organization that assists in securing materials and supplies. 

“We have been using Educational Data Services — they do a lot — they work with vendors and we don’t have to do the bidding,” Brosdal said. “In the long run it will save us money.”

Technology will see an increase of over $65,000, in part due to the district getting rid of antiquated equipment as well as adding sets of laptops, replacement items like projector lamps, printer repairs, iPads and smart board parts. 

Tax Anticipation Notes for 2020-21 are estimated at 3 percent. Debt services would decrease by over $6,000. Central printing, insurance, BOCES administration will increase collectively by $22,000. 

The next budget meeting will be Feb. 12 at 8 p.m. Topics discussed will be pupil personnel services, building principals, instructional and adult ed/driver’s ed. 

The Town of Brookhaven Town Hall. File photo

The Brookhaven Town board passed Nov. 19 its $312.9 million budget also establishing its capital budget plan for the next four years. 

The budget is a nearly $10 million increase from last year’s $302 million, but officials have said there would only be a small increase in property taxes.

Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) praised the budget for not dipping into the town’s fund balance, or its rainy-day funds, and for staying under the 2 percent state tax cap.

The board unanimously voted to amend the two budgets at the Nov. 19 meeting. Town Chief of Operations Matt Miner said those amendments were cases of overestimating or underestimating revenues from specific items. Other areas were changed to make the final document budget neutral.

“There were no changes to the overall budget or the tax levy,” Miner said.

New budget capital projects comes in at $43.9 million, which is $14.6 million less than 2019. The town budget eliminates $15.8 million in pension debt and $30.1 million in “pipeline” debt, which is money left over from the closed bond projects, either unused or unappropriated.

“The budget meets my original three-point plan to reduce deficit spending,” Romaine said. “All funds are in compliance with the fund balance policy.”

The 2020-24 capital budget sets up public improvement projects established via bonds and reserves. This includes $26.4 million for the Highway Department, comprised of road repairs, drainage, traffic safety, facilities and machinery/equipment. This is in addition to a $5 million increase for road resurfacing in the operating budget from $10 million to $15 million.

Elected officials will also see a small raise in annual pay. Council members will receive a $1,446 increase to $73,762, while the supervisor will be bumped by $2,398 to $122,273. The highway superintendent salary is set at $121,515. Town clerk and tax receiver will each receive around $2,000 in increases. Elected officials have seen an approximate $2,000 pay increase over the past few years.

File photo

Comsewogue school district representatives said they focused on keeping increases low while dealing with a decrease in school enrollment.

The Comsewogue Union Free School District has proposed a $93,974,755 budget for the 2019-20 school year, an increase of $2,027,025 from last year. 

Included in the budget is a proposed tax levy, the amount of money the district raises from taxes, of $57,279,755, a 2 percent increase of $1,140,786, below this year’s tax levy cap of 3 percent.

One of the main foci of the budget was for child mental health awareness.

“Everybody we met with, everyone was in agreement, students’ mental health and well-being — it was important to put more money into the budget for social and emotional learning and mental health issues,” assistant superintendent Susan Casali said.

One increase came in the form of pupil personnel services from $3,322,061 to $3,678,447. PPL aids students with special needs. 

While the district experienced a total enrollment decline of 40 students, the number of students with special needs has increased, according to the assistant superintendent, and each of those young people is more expensive overall than a typical student. In addition, the district is hiring one additional social worker and a new social worker teacher’s assistant.

“That’s why you don’t see the budget going down — there are students that cost us a lot more money,” Casali said. 

Other major increases include a 27 percent and $696,209 increase in debt services, but this is offset slightly by a $570,000 or 33 percent decrease in interfund transfers.

In terms of state aid, the district received a moderate increase from $31,800,000 to $32,700,000. 

In addition to the budget vote, the district is asking residents to vote on proposition 2, which would establish a capital reserve fund. This allows Comsewogue to set aside money for future capital projects, when it will require district residents again to take money out of the reserve. Casali said this is funded through unallocated funds the district has by the end of the year, and the fund does not increase taxes.

In the meantime, the district is going ahead with the first phase of its bond project; bids were scheduled to go out to companies in April. District voters approved the $32 million bond last year, which the district said would go up in several phases. The first phase, costing about $5.8 million, will complete work on the parking lots at the Boyle Road Elementary School and the Terryville Elementary School, along with the creation of security vestibules in all school buildings and adding new locks to doors throughout the high school building.

The district is lauding its Moody’s bond rating of AA2, and expects to have to keep up on payments for the next three years in order to maintain that rating.

Comsewogue will host its budget hearing May 9 at 7:30 p.m. in the district office board room. The budget vote will take place May 21, in Comsewogue High School from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Voting booths at Rocky Point High School. File photo by Kyle Barr
Check back later this week for Miller Place’s proposed school budget and interviews with school board trustee candidates.

School districts throughout the North Shore of Long Island are gearing up for budget votes on May 21. Here is a round up of some of the local districts latest budget overviews and a preview of candidates who are running for board of education trustee seats.  

Mount Sinai High School. File photo by Barbara Donlon

Mount Sinai School District budget overview 

The final proposed budget figure for the 2019-20 school year will be 61,009,770, which is a 1.34 percent and $806,295 increase from the current year’s amount. 

The district is poised to receive $18,007,000 in state aid in the upcoming school year, a slight decrease than it received last year. 

Though it will receive slightly more in foundation aid for the upcoming school year in $12,909,109 compared to this year’s figure of 12,845,044, the district will be receiving less money in building state aid. The 2019-20 amount will be $1,168,106, a $489,000 decrease in funds. That’s due to a 25-year-old bond loan on the high school finally being paid off, according to Superintendent Gordan Brodsal. 

“The bond on the high school is paid off,” he said. “No more principal, no more interest. That means no more building aid from the state.”

The tax levy cap for the district in 2019-20 will be 2.168 percent and the tax levy amount is $40,986,735, a $870,000 increase from the previous year. 

The tax rate for an average assessment of a household valued at $3,700 will be $9,839. As a result, and the district said there will be a $17 increase in tax rates for the average homeowner.

For capital projects, a separate vote in conjunction with budget, the board wants to set a capital reserve of $850,000. Including the $750,000 in funds put last year in capital reserve, the district will have $1.6 million for future capital projects.

Brosdal and the board are proposing to use $1.5 million for two projects: the cost of another partial repair of the high school’s roof and to replace the middle school’s HVAC system. The high school roof repair would cost $850,000 and the HVAC replacement would cost $650,000. The remaining $100,000 would be saved for future projects. 

Other highlights of the budget are plans to make the Consultant Teacher Direct Instructor program full day for children in grades 1 through 4. To expand the program, the district would be looking to hire two additional instructors. 

Also, the budget will cover replacement of outdated textbooks in the middle and high school. The total for the new textbooks will cost the district $75,550.

Mount Sinai board of education trustee vote

This year, Mount Sinai will have five candidates running for three open trustee seats. Board member Anne Marie Henninger’s seat will come up for vote again after she replaced trustee Michael Riggio, who vacated his position in August 2018. Board member Lynn Jordan will be vying for re-election. Challengers this year are Lisa Pfeffer, Chris Quartarone and Robert Pignatello. The two candidates with the highest votes will get a three-year term while the person to receive the third most votes will take up Riggio’s vacated seat, which will have a two-year tenure instead of the usual three years for the other seats. 

Rocky Point High School. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Rocky Point Union Free School District budget overview 

The latest proposed budget amount for the upcoming school year will be $86,743,446, a slight increase of 0.71 percent from last year’s amount. The district will also see a projected tax levy cap of 2.59 percent and a tax levy amount of $52,491,371, which is an increase by more than $1.3 million from the current year’s figure of $51,166,218. 

The district will be receiving $28,864,295 in state aid for 2019-20, an increase of close to $130,000. Rocky Point will get $19,044,293 in foundation aid, an increase of more than $140,000 compared to last year’s figure of $18,902,525. 

Another highlight of the budget overview is that debt services will decrease in the 2019-20 school year as a result of a completion of payments of two bonds that date back to 1995 and 2000. The bond payments will expire on June 30 and will save the district $451,751. 

Superintendent Micheal Ring said the bonds expiring were approved by voters for various construction projects, including the construction of the Rocky Point Middle School. As debt service decreases, so does building aid from New York State, which is provided to offset part of the cost of bond interest and principal payments over the life of debt. 

Employees Retirement System rates will decrease to 13.1 percent, which is expected to likely save the district more than $159,000. Teachers Retirement System rates are expected to decrease as well to 9 percent and would save the district close to $582,000. 

Ring said that as rates have gone down it has resulted in opportunities to better support the district’s core instructional programs and enhance maintenance of facilities.  

Rocky Point board of education trustee vote

This year there will be two open trustee seats. 

Board member Scott Reh, who was sworn in to the board Jan. 14 to fill the seat vacated by Joseph Coniglione earlier this school year, has said he has no plans on securing re-election in May and will let other candidates run for his seat. The candidate with the most votes will serve for the three-year term. The candidate with the second highest number of votes will serve the remainder of Coniglione’s term, which is one year. The candidates this year are Susan Sullivan, Michael Lisa and Jessica Ward. 

Shoreham-Wading River High School. File photo

Shoreham-Wading River Central School District budget overview

The finalized proposed budget figure for 2019-20 will be $75,952,416. It is a $1,176,344 increase from last year’s figure. 

The tax levy cap for the upcoming school year is 2.36 percent and the tax levy cap amount is $54,377,657, an increase of $1,257,442 from the current year’s amount. 

The district is expected to receive $12,676,465 in state aid for the 2019-20 school year, a decrease of over $98,000 from 2018-2019. Also, SWR will see an increase of over $48,000 in foundation state aid received with the total amount being $6,442,501. 

The fund balance for 2019-20 will decrease by close to $67,000 from 2018-19. 

The final budget will cover the implementation of an integrated video, door access and alarm management system as well as additional video cameras and perimeter fencing. Night gates will be installed at the Alfred G. Prodell Middle School, Miller Avenue Elementary School and Wading River Elementary School. Also, the budget will cover the purchase of a new high school auditorium bandshell and supplies/materials for the middle school greenhouse. 

Shoreham-Wading River board of education trustee vote

This year, SWR will have three trustee seats open.

The full terms of board members Michael Lewis and Kimberly Roff will expire June 30. Roff chose to not seek re-election. 

The third seat is for board member Erin Hunt, who resigned in March and whose term will expire June 30 as well.  

The candidates with the two highest number of votes will win the full three-year term seats.  These candidates’ term will be from July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2022.

The candidate with the third highest number of votes will win Hunt’s vacated seat.  The winning candidate’s term will begin the evening of the election, May 21, and their term of office will end June 30, 2020. An election will take place in May 2020 to fill the seat for a three-year term.

The five challengers for this year are: Thomas Sheridan, Jennifer Kitchen, Meghan Tepfenhardt, Edward Granshaw and William McGrath.

 

Northport High School. File photo

Northport residents were given an overview of a proposed finalized school district budget for the 2019-20 school year at the April 11 board of education meeting. Plans include important capital projects that the district will look to pursue in the upcoming school year. 

The overall budget figure totals $171,397,668 — an over $4.5 million and 2.75 percent  increase from last year’s amount. The district will see a projected tax levy cap of 2.78 percent and the levy amount would increase by over $4 million. 

“We’ve been on this budget process for about two months,” Superintendent Robert Banzer said. “We’re at the point when we will be rapping it up.”

The proposed tax levy would result in an increase of property tax rates of $187.918 per $100 of assessed valuation. 

This year’s budget amount will help cover expansion of integrated co-teaching model at elementary and high schools, funds for ongoing security expansion including the implementation of a smart card ID system, funds for extra/co-curricular and athletic programs. Also there will be improvements to instructional technology with more Chromebook laptops in classrooms and there will be a “future study” done that will look at the future demographics and capacity of the school district. 

Debt services increased $1 million compared to last year due in part to two major payments. One is a bond payment, which has gone up close to $770,000. The other is a tax anticipation note that has increased to $300,000.

The district for the upcoming school year will be receiving $16,130,805 in state aid, which is slightly more than they expected to receive in Gov. Cuomo’s first executive budget. 

“This has changed since the last time we spoke,” Banzer said. “We got a little bit more in state aid.”

The district used the funds from state aid to reduce the tax levy amount to the most recent 2.78 percent figure.  

Banzer proposed a general fund budget of $936,750 for capital projects in the upcoming school year. Roof repairs and replacement districtwide total $616,750. Asphalt, concrete and drainage repairs total $320,000. 

The superintendent also proposed to use $1.8 million from the capital reserve fund for additional asphalt, concrete and drainage repairs as well as traffic reconfiguration at the entrance of Northport High School. These projects will need resident’s approval come May. 

“We had to prioritize some projects,” Banzer said. “There remains other work to be done and we understand that.” 

Also discussed at the board meeting was the ongoing LIPA situation. 

“This is really important to understand, there has been a lot of questions,” Banzer said.

The school district has been involved in the third-party beneficiary case regarding LIPA alleged breaking a promise by seeking to reduce its power plant’s taxes by 90 percent. The district has also been in mediation with the Town of Huntington, LIPA and a third-party neutral attorney. 

Residents most recently held a public rally against LIPA earlier this month. 

The next Northport school board meeting on May 9 at 7 p.m. will be a public hearing to discuss the finalized budget  at the William J. Brosnan School Building, located at 158 Laurel Ave. The budget vote is slated for May 21. 

From left, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). Photo from the governor’s office

Cuomo lauds LIRR reform, hints at renewable energy initiatives

By Donna Deedy

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) unveiled April 11 his Long Island agenda to a crowd of some 400 politicians, business leaders, local residents and students at Stony Brook University’s Student Activities Center. It was one of two stops statewide, where the governor personally highlighted regional spending for a local community. 

Overall, the $175 billion fiscal year 2020 budget holds spending at 2 percent.

“This year’s budget builds on our progress and our momentum on Long Island, and it includes $18 billion for Long Island — the largest amount of money the state has ever brought back to the region, and we’re proud of it,” Cuomo said. 

Nearly half of the revenue that Long Island receives goes toward school aid and Medicaid, $3.3 billion and $6.9 billion collectively, according to Freeman Klopott in New York State’s Division of the Budget. But the spending plan funds several bold initiatives, such as an overhaul of the MTA and Long Island Rail Road and the phase in of free public college tuition for qualified students. 

Long Island Association president and CEO Kevin Law, who had introduced the governor, suggests looking at the enacted budget as five distinct categories: taxes, infrastructure, economic development, environmental protection and quality of life issues, such as gun safety reform. 

On the tax front, Long Islanders, according to the governor’s report, pay some of the highest property tax bills in the United States. Over the last 20 years, Cuomo said, local property taxes rose twice as fast as the average income. 

“You can’t continue to raise taxes at an amount that is more than people are earning,” he said. His goal is to stabilize the tax base. 

On the federal level, the governor will continue to fight with other states the federal tax code, which last year limited taxpayers’ ability to deduct state and local taxes over $10,000 from their federal income tax returns. Long Island reportedly lost $2.2 billion. 

Otherwise, the governor considers his plan to be the most ambitious, aggressive and comprehensive agenda for Long Island ever. 

The budget’s regional development goals emphasize a commitment to Long Island’s research triangle: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Northwell Health, Stony Brook University and Brookhaven National Laboratory. The governor envisions the Island as New York’s potential economic equivalent to California’s Silicon Valley. The objective is to bridge academic research with commercial opportunities.

Some of the largest investments include $75 million for a medical engineering center at Stony Brook University, $25 million to Demerec Laboratory at Cold Spring Harbor, $12 million for a new college of veterinary medicine at Long Island University Post, $5 million in additional research investments at Stony Brook University and $200,000 cybersecurity center at Hofstra University.

“Governor Cuomo’s presentation was uplifting,” said state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket). “It was also a preview of the future of Long Island as an indelibly important part of the state the governor and Legislature appreciate and are continuing to invest into.”

Offshore wind initiatives will be announced in the spring, with a goal of providing 9,000 megawatts of wind power by 2035. As part of Cuomo’s New Green Deal, the state target is 100 percent clean energy by 2040.

Highlights of Gov. Cuomo’s 2019-20 budget for Long Islanders

Taxes: Permanently limits local tax spending to 2 percent annually. The 2 percent property tax cap, first implemented in 2012, has reportedly saved Long Island taxpayers $8.7 billion. Now that the property tax cap has become permanent, the governor reports that the average Suffolk taxpayer will save an estimated $58,000 over the next 10 years. The budget also supports the phase in of middle-class tax cuts. By 2025, under the reforms, middle-class filers will save up to 20 percent income tax rate and impact 6 million filers. 

Internet taxation: Requires internet purchases to charge sales tax to fairly compete with brick-and-mortar retail establishments. This reform is expected to raise sales tax revenue by $33 million for Suffolk County in 2019. 

LIRR reforms: Dedicates $2.5 billion to the Long Island Rail Road. $734 million will be used to purchase 202 new trains, $47 million will fund the Ronkonkoma train storage expansion project, which adds 11 tracks to the railyard. Another $264 million is allocated to reconfiguring and rebuilding the Jamaica station. An additional 17 stations will also be upgraded. A third track will be added between Hicksville and Floral Park to address bottlenecking. Many projects are already underway and expected to be completed
by 2022.

The new LIRR Moynihan Train Hall will become an alternative to Penn Station in New York City. It will be located in the old post office building. Construction is underway with completion targeted for the end of 2020. The cost is $2.5 billion with $600,000 million allocated for 2020. A new LIRR entrance at mid-block between 33rd Street and 7th Avenue will also be built at a price tag of $425 million. 

School aid: Increases school aid to $3.3 billion, a nearly 4 percent uplift. The 2020 budget includes a $48 million increase of foundation aid.

College tuition: Funds tuition-free education in public colleges to qualified students, whose families earn less than $125,000 annually. The program annually benefits more than 26,100 full-time undergraduate residents on
Long Island.

The DREAM Act: Offers $27 million to fund higher education scholarships for undocumented children already living in New York state. 

Higher education infrastructure: Spends $34.3 million for maintenance and upgrades at SUNY higher education facilities on Long Island. 

Downtown revitalization: Awards Ronkonkoma Hub with $55 million for a downtown revitalization project. Nassau County will receive $40 million to transform a 70-acre parking lot surrounding Nassau Coliseum into a residential/commercial downtown area with parkland, shopping and entertainment, where people can live and work. Hicksville, Westbury and Central Islip will also receive $10 million each to revitalize its downtowns. 

Roads and bridges: Among the initiatives, $33.6 million will be used toward the Robert Moses Causeway bridge. Safety will be enhanced with guardrails along Sunken Meadow Parkway for $4.7 million. The Van Wyck Expressway is also under expansion for improved access to JFK air terminals. 

Health care: Adds key provisions of the Affordable Care Act to state law, so health insurance is protected if Washington repeals the law.

Plastic bag ban: Prohibits most single-use plastic bags provided by supermarkets and other retailers beginning in March 2020. Counties and cities can opt to charge 5 cents for paper bags. It is projected that 40 percent of revenue generated will fund local programs that purchase reusable bags for low- and fixed-income consumers. The other 60 percent will fund the state’s environmental protection projects.

Food waste recycling program: $1.5 million will be allocated to establish a clean energy, food waste recycling facility at Yaphank. 

Clean water initiatives: Awards Smithtown and Kings Park $40 million for installing sewer infrastructure. A shellfish hatchery at Flax Pond in Setauket will get an additional $4 million. The new budget offers $2 million to the Long Island Pine Barrens Commission and $5 million in grants to improve Suffolk County water supply. The Long Island South Shore Estuary will get $900,000, while Cornell Cooperative Extension will receive $500,000. The state will also fund another $100 million to clean up superfund sites such as the Grumman Plume in Bethpage. The state has banned offshore drilling to protect natural resources. 

Criminal justice reform: Ends cash bail for nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors. Mandates speedy trial to reduce pretrial detention. Requires that prosecutors and defendants share discoverable information in advance of trial. 

Gun safety: Includes one of the nation’s first “red flag” laws. Passed in February 2019, the law enables the courts to seize firearms from people who show signs of violent behavior or pose a threat to themselves or others. The new law, which takes effect later this year, also authorizes teachers and school professionals to request through the courts mental health evaluations for people who exhibit disturbed behavior related to gun violence. Bans bump stocks. Extends background check waiting period for gun purchases. 

Anti-gang projects: Invests more than $45 million to stop MS-13 gang recruitment and improve youth opportunities.

Opioid crisis: Allocates $25 million to fund 12 residential, 48 outpatient and five opioid treatment programs. The state also aims to remove insurance barriers for treatment.

Tourism: Promotes state agricultural products with $515,000 allocated to operate Taste NY Market at the Long Island Welcome Center with satellite locations at Penn Station and East Meadow Farm in Nassau County. The PGA Championship next month and Long Island Fair in September, both at Bethpage, will also feature New York agricultural products. 

Agriculture: Continues support for the New York State Grown & Certified program to strengthen consumer confidence and assist farmers. Since 2016, the program has certified more than 2,386 farms.

Voting: Sets aside $10 million to help counties pay for early voting. Employers must offer workers three hours of paid time off to vote on election day.