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Tax Cap Legislation Draws Mixed Reactions

School districts, local governments will be limited to 2 percent tax cap increases unless 60 percent of public or governing body vote in favor.

Board of Education President Ann Cotten-DeGrasse and administrators have been warning about the potential repercussions from school operations for months, and now it's official: Riverhead School District and the rest of New York State are  going to be subject to a 2 percent property tax hike cap in 2012 and beyond.

Beyond school districts, all local governments – towns, villages, fire districts – would be subject to regulations of the bill, which slipped by many members of the public in the shadow of the same-sex marriage bill passage.

Tax raises each year will be limited to 2 percent  unless 60 percent of voters or a governing body approve a higher tax rate. Roughly two-thirds of tax bills are paid to local school districts.

Walking around downtown Riverhead on Tuesday afternoon, Deborah Shishido admitted that she didn't know what a tax cap was, never mind the fact that it had passed at the state level and is going to cause a "rough ride" for local school districts, according to Cotten-DeGrasse.

Nonetheless, Shishido, a Quogue resident, said school districts should still be able to operate functionally.

"I think they have the money, they just don't manage it correctly," she said. "They should spend less on administrators and more on the kids."

Bill Farrell, an Islip resident and attorney with offices in Riverhead, expressed a similar sentiment.

"I think this is a knee jerk reaction, and don't think it's going to solve the real problem," he said. "There are too many school districts and too many superintendents and staff members getting paid. They should consolidate school districts into townships."

According to the text of the bill, which was sponsored by 34 state senators, including state Sen. Ken LaValle, R-Port Jefferson, New Yorkers pay the second-highest property taxes in the nation. The median property tax bill in the United States is $1,917, according to the bill, with the New York average coming in at $3,755.

Riverhead's school budget – $109.5 million in the upcoming school year – has more than doubled since a contingency budget of $51 million was adopted in 1998.

Cotten-DeGrasse, a Riverhead resident herself, said she would love to see her property taxes drop. But, she said, "there comes a time when we can't do any more with less."

The school district laid off 24 employees in May after raising the 2011-2012 budget by 1.27 percent over last year. The school board president said it's only going to get worse as employee retirement payments aren't going down in the next couple years. While the bill excludes capping pension cost increases over 2 percent from the previous year, Cotten-DeGrasse said spending on pension increases could cut into programs offered in the district. 

"We're going to have to start looking to cutting programs – sports, music, art, all the extras we have," she said. 

She said she was most disappointed about the lack of mandate relief in the bill, and the fact that there is no sunset on the tax cap.

Superintendent Nancy Carney and Interim Finance Superintendent Joseph Singleton were both unavailable for comment.

Paul Squire contributed to this article.

John Mcyntre June 28, 2011 at 08:26 PM
It is about time we the taxpayers finally have a voice on what is going on. The Schools and Admin. are out of touch with reality. We really need to consolidate school districts and eliminate the layers of overhead in all our School districts. This is a start on the Tax Cap. now we have to move on and really reduce our costs. Many people can no longer afford to live on Long Island and our young people are leaving the area in droves. Time to act is now.
eugene frohnhoefer June 29, 2011 at 12:52 PM
In the article you say that Senator LaValle was a co-sponsor of the bill. This is true. However you didn't say the when the finalized bill came to a vote that he voted against the bill. Reason being that it was ammended to the point where there 2% cap is going to be meaningless. The final bill was ammended to include that the scholl districts can borrow, I believe I have this correct, $1.5 Billion to support pension systems, without voter approval. So there goes the idea of helping the tax payer right out the window.
Pamela June 29, 2011 at 02:06 PM
Sorry Ms. Cotton DeGrasse we will not cut sports and other activities. As a school board member you and the other members should be looking into making ALL employees pay a percentage of their benefits. This is one long overdue avenue that must be implemented to help cut spending. The Teachers union has to come off it's high horse or risk losing more teaching positions due to layoffs. We as parents/taxpayers will not allow any further cuts to ANY of our children's education including sports. The concessions are finally going to have to come from the employees of the district. Why is it that every time Cotton Degrasse opens her mouth you never hear her speak of cutting or requiring the employees to pay part of their benefits. This is a perfect example why you shouldn't elect retired teachers to school boards. They continually cater to the teachers which is total BS.
Joan Zaniskey July 01, 2011 at 02:28 AM
Very important and significant question on this. What is so important about sports programs? If you had to choose for your child between a degree in engineering, medicine, media arts, the sciences and sports babysitting, what is your choice? Granted the teaching profession and its administration support system has out worn the slogan used for years, "But it's for the kids", but where are the "kids" parents in all of this? Do you want your "kids" to learn how to support themselves? Or do you want the easy out of "babysitting sports programs". Given the hard choices we have due to the insane economy, it's easy to cop out and take the easy road for "sports baby sitting" so we can have a full time two income family. Does any parent. want to support a."baby sitting after school activity that advances studies in other then sports"? The entire debate on tax caps is dumb. Let's hope that all parties involved here will see the folly in hard nosed positions. This so dumb for all
Pamela July 01, 2011 at 12:05 PM
It's a proven fact that sports programs help teach our youth team work and sportsmanship. If you haven't noticed sports also keeps our kids of the streets and out of trouble. Scholarships also come from sports to help out families that can not afford college tuition. Sports gives our children something else to look forward to for exercise which helps with the obesity epidemic in our country. I could go on and on however i think this gets the point across.
eugene frohnhoefer July 01, 2011 at 03:38 PM
Yes, I agree, that sports programs, where winning and losing, are a way of teaching our kids that life is not fair. I say we are all equal but we are not the same. The acedemic student may not fair well in athletics as the athletic may not fair well in acedemics. We hope they equal each other and we do have athletes or acedemics that are good at both. But when you have a field day and there are no differences, i.e. everyone gets the same ribbon, you deny the athleteic kid from doing better then the acedemic. So is there no concern toward the athletes self esteem, especially if that is where he excells.
Antoinette July 03, 2011 at 09:27 PM
Sports programs, after school clubs, pre and post school day enrichment programs- all are an integral aspect of a child's school life. However, the skewed emphasis in the RCSD on sports, with spending at $1000-$1100 per participating child is not necessary to teach life's lessons. We could reach many more students with intramural sports, promoting local clubs for more rigorous competitions. Colleges have not responded significantly to our student athletes- most specifically, to those in football . True every once in a while we have a star, but most careers start with middle school and end with high school graduation. Intramural sports would cost much less- not in what is laid out for the student participant but in coaching fees, pension fees for coaches, social security contributions for coaches, the associated intermural costs such as line keepers, time keepers, buses, certified athletic trainers, etc. RCSD could introduce life intramural sports as well as Olympic competitive sports; young people excelling at these could continue to participate in college and beyond. Sports such as crew, tennis, golf, fencing, table tennis, bowling, archery, dance- all these and more could be offered- our Athletic Director simply has to get on his feet and be creative, not allowing his coaching staff to do his job. The 2% cap can be met by severely restricting all the "perks" in teacher, teaching assistant, and other staff salaries and benefits.
Joan Zaniskey July 06, 2011 at 03:50 AM
All this debate about the importance of sports programs vs: academics is dumb. One would think that all these kids are destined for great success in pro sports, finding a cure for cancer, developing a solution for the brown tide and making world peace. The reality is only 75% graduate from high school. Would it not be more pragmatic to teach kids who are not interested in higher learning or sports to learn skills that will enable them to earn a living. What ever happened to teaching trades? You all know what it costs to call the electrician, plumber or carpenter. What about computer repair? Automotive sciences i.e. mechanics? Farming, that's a big plus for our area. Not glamor jobs but we all can't be superstars. Isn't this is what the middle class is? Think about it.

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