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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. 

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.

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New upcoming superintendent Jessica Schmettan speaks to school board. Photo by Kyle Barr

Board approves 2019-20 district budget

The Port Jefferson School District named the first female superintendent to the post Tuesday, and to top it off, she’s a nine-year Port Jeff resident.

At the board of education meeting April 9, the board named current Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Jessica Schmettan, 42, as the new superintendent effective Nov. 1 this year.

“I’m a resident, a taxpayer, and I have two kids in school,” Schmettan said of her connection to the village. “I’m just so excited to be chosen.”

The Port Jefferson School District welcomed new upcoming superintendent Jessica Schmettan, center with black coat, April 9. Photo by Kyle Barr

The upcoming superintendent beat out a field of over 20 candidates, many of whom Kathleen Brennan, the board president, said were highly qualified for the position.

“Just because she was an inside candidate, she was not tossed any softballs,” said Brennan. 

Schmettan holds a bachelor of science in special education from Long Island University, a master’s degree in instructional technology from the New York Institute of Technology, and School District Leader certification from the College of
New Rochelle.

Before coming to Port Jeff in 2016, she began her career as an educator in the Three Village Central School District. She also has experience with special education from the Roosevelt Union Free School District and United Cerebral Palsy of Long Island. She went on to work for seven years in the Sachem Central School District as administrative assistant for instructional support and programming and later assistant superintendent for elementary curriculum and instruction.

Though there was one other female interim superintendent in the past, Schmettan is the first full-time woman appointed to the position

“It’s exciting for my daughter so she can see what she’s capable of,” the upcoming superintendent said.

In August 2018, current Port Jeff superintendent Paul Casciano declared his intention to step down from his position. In the following months, continuing into the new year, the district worked with Suffolk County BOCES in the process of finding a new superintendent. Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister said most of the costs to the district were from advertising in newspapers, including The New York Times. While he is still waiting for the bills to come back with precise amounts, he estimated the cost to be about $15,000 to $17,000 to the district. 

While Casciano originally intended to stay until July, he extended that until Oct. 31 to aid in the transition.

“I’m so proud of Jessica as the first woman to be appointed to the head of schools in Port Jeff,” the current superintendent said. “She’s proved she has a deep knowledge of our core mission, teaching and learning.”

During the meeting, Brennan spoke directly to Schmettan. “One of the things you said in response to one of the questions you asked was you’re going to have to have courageous conversations. And that phrase struck me, and that kind of describes Port Jeff going forward, we are going to have to have a lot of courageous conversations.”

“I’m a resident, a taxpayer, and I have two kids in school.”

—  Jessica Schmetta

Many of those conversations will revolve around the impact of the settlement with Brookhaven town and the Long Island Power Authority over the taxes levied on the Port Jefferson Power Station. The settlement agreement cuts LIPA’s taxes on the power station in half incrementally for the next eight years. 

Schmettan said she plans to resurrect the budget advisory committee, so the public can get involved in the process of crafting future budgets. She expects the district will continue to see cuts and will have to make some difficult decisions, but she is optimistic about the future of the district, saying “we’re up to the challenge.”

Board adopts 2019-20 budget

The Port Jefferson school board has approved a budget that, while consolidating programs, will still see a small increase. Along with the budget, the board is asking residents to approve the use of capital reserves to fix sections of the high school and elementary school roofs.

The board approved a $43,936,166 budget April 9, a $46,354 and 0.11 percent increase from last year’s budget. The tax levy, the amount of funds the district raises from taxes has also gone up to $36,898,824, a $464,354 and 1.27 percent increase from last year, staying directly at the 1.27 percent tax cap. Officials said they had a lower tax cap this year due to a reduction in capital projects funded by general appropriations. If the district pierced the tax cap, it would need 60 percent of residents to approve the budget come the May vote, rather than the normal 50 percent.

Leister said the district has slashed and consolidated a number of items, including professional development for staff, private transportation allocation, and a $142,000 reduction through scheduling and enrollment efficiencies for staff. The district has also cut the teacher’s retirement system by $25,000 and staff retirement system by $60,000. The biggest increases in budget came from health insurance for staff, increasing by approximately $555,580, and benefits, which increased by $408,480.

The district also plans to use $400,000 in the general fund budget to relocate the middle school office into an existing upstairs science classroom for what district officials said was security reasons.

Leister said the district should be creating a tax calculator for district residents to roughly calculate their school taxes. The program should be available up on the district website in about a week.

The board is also asking residents to vote on allowing the board to allocate funds from capital reserves, the funds built up over time from money unused by the end of each school year, to fix portions of the elementary school and high school roof, equaling $3,600,000.

The board will have its budget presentation May 14 at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium before asking residents to vote on the budget May 21. Residents can vote from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the high school cafeteria.

Rocky Point High School. File photo by Giselle Barkley

Rocky Point residents were able to get a full picture of its school district budget for the 2019-20 school year after two workshops on Jan. 14 and March 18 that covered all aspects of the budget.  

The total 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 the tax levy amount would increase by more than $1.3 million. 

Rocky Point Union Free School District Superintendent Michael Ring speaks to the class of 2018 June 22. Photo by Bill Landon

At the Jan. 14 workshop, district officials expressed concerns over the delay in implementation of foundation aid to its schools and how it could affect state aid funds they receive. On April 1, the state passed its budget and the district will receive a preliminary figure of $19,044,293 in foundation aid, an increase of more than $140,000 from last year. 

“The district is appreciative of the efforts of our elected representatives in Albany for all they have done to provide additional foundation aid for the 2019-20 school year,” Superintendent Michael Ring said. “Although the increase for the school year represents a smaller rate of growth than in recent years, we are aware of the fiscal challenges being addressed in Albany.”

Another highlight from the January workshop was debt services which 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. 

The Rocky Point superintendent 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 will most 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 mentioned over the past decade the district experienced large increases in required contributions to both ERS and TRS.

“Those increases were challenging to fund and necessarily constrained funding for instructional programs and maintenance of buildings and grounds,” he said. “As these rates have settled back down, the result has been opportunities to better support our core instructional programs and enhance maintenance of our facilities.”

In the March presentation, the district showcased recent enrollment numbers of its students. For the upcoming school year, they are projecting a decrease of 56 students in total, the middle school and high school look to be the most affected as they will have 26 and 23 fewer students respectively.  

“We are aware of the fiscal challenges being addressed in Albany.”

— Michael Ring

Ring said declining enrollment is a factor impacting most Long Island school districts, adding the district has effectively managed the impact of this trend through appropriate allocation of resources, redeployment of staff when ordinary attrition occurs and anticipating future needs based on an understanding of the population trend.

The proposed budget is tax cap compliant, according to the superintendent. However, the final tax levy proposal that will go before the voters in May will not be final until acted upon by the board at its April 16 meeting.

For the budget to pass, the district will need a majority of voters support. If the district doesn’t get enough initial votes, the district would call for a second vote with the same or a revised budget. If the second vote does get enough support expenditures could be cut by more than $1.3 million. That could mean potential cuts to instructional and administrative staff as well as instructional support and athletics. 

The district budget hearing will be held May 7 at the Rocky Point High School auditorium and the budget vote will be held May 21.

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Denise Mordente during a budget presentation at Port Jefferson Village Hall April 1. Photo by Kyle Barr

The LIPA settlement has weighed heavily on this year’s Village of Port Jefferson budget, leading to a budget that pierces the 2 percent tax cap while at the same time cutting several thousand in expenditures.

The new total budget is $10,310,869, $331,277 less than 2018-19. The budget will leave $6,451,427 needed to be raised in taxes, a 3.33 percent increase from last year, piercing the tax cap.

For homeowners, this change could mean a $21 annual increase to property taxes on the low end, and up to $130 on the high end for more modern homes. For businesses, older buildings might see a $130 annual increase, while modern structures could see an increase of $256, according to the village board.

The village board voted unanimously to adopt the budget at its April 1 board meeting. 

This includes a loss of $208,622 in annual revenues from taxes on the Long Island Power Authority-owned power plant. 

In the agreement signed by Brookhaven Town and the Long Island Power Authority, the $32.6 million tax assessment on the power plant is going to be reduced by around 50 percent incrementally over the next nine years to $16.8 million, starting with the 2017-18 tax year. Denise Mordente, the village treasurer, said since the date of that agreement overlapped with the existing budget, they had to make up for two years of LIPA’s glide path, rather than one.

“Next year we can budget for [a single year of the glide path] … this is double the amount,” Mordente said. “That’s why we have to cut this year.”

Personal services increased among multiple departments due to collective bargaining agreements and an increase in minimum wage, the treasurer said, though the treasury department’s total expenses decreased by $29,287 due to letting go of a staff member.

Village officials have cut $331,280 in total from the expenses of numerous departments, including $41,326 from code enforcement through cut salaries, though Mordente said code enforcement often doesn’t use the total of its budget. Other cuts included $18,117 from the Village Center, mostly from materials expenses. Meanwhile, the parks department saw a near 10 percent increase from both employee services and contractual expenses. 

The village is also looking at a $271,019 decrease in expenditures due to the ambulance services now being handled fully by Brookhaven Town in what was formerly the Mount Sinai Ambulance District as of January 1.

The village continues to pay down on several bonds, including the 2013 $2 million public improvement bond, the 2011 $5.5 million public improvement bond and the 2016 $1.48 million bond anticipation note. As of Feb. 28, the village has $5.74 million left to pay off.

The village board is still considering what it will do with the Port Jefferson Power Station in the future. Deputy Mayor Larry LaPointe said he has been in talks with LIPA, and the quasi-governmental agency has responded positively to suggestions that it be turned into a battery storage facility or a site for renewable energy, but talks are still ongoing.