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Garden City School District Braces for Impact of Tax Certiorari Settlements

Superintendent estimates $1.5 million in average annual costs

Adding yet another hurdle to jump in an already complex budget season, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Feirsen officially announced that the estimation of Garden City School District’s average annual liability for tax certiorari settlements could be in excess of $1.5 million.

Historically, tax certiorari settlements have been paid by Nassau County. However that all changed last spring when the Nassau County Legislature and the county executive voted to change what had been in place for more than 80 years, which is known as the ‘county guarantee’ of tax certiorari judgments, according to Feirsen.

“Remember, Nassau County, which is an anomaly in New York State, does the assessments. And as part of that deal, way back in the 1930s with the state legislature, in order to get the power to do the assessments on a countywide basis, the county also assumed the responsibility for errors that were made in those assessments,” Feirsen told an audience of residents.

Since that time, Nassau County has been paying the charges incurred when people are not satisfied with their assessments. “They go through the appeals process and they go to court and the court issues a judgment in their favor. So by ending the ‘county guarantee,’ Nassau County pushed the charge down the line to local school districts,” Feirsen said.

“It becomes our responsibility to pay these tax certiorari refunds,” Feirsen added. He also emphasized that tax certiorari refunds cannot be exempted from the tax cap and must be figured into the budget as another expenditure, or they must come out of a reserve fund specifically designated for tax certiorari refunds in a given year.

Based on countywide figures, Feirsen announced that the annual liability average in the last three years has been in excess of $1.5 million. “This amount could become a liability, could become an expense that the district will have to pay beginning next year,” Feirsen said.

“I emphasize this does not save any money anywhere. It merely shifts the burden of paying the refund from Nassau County to the local taxpayers of Garden City. This adds another level of challenge of putting together a budget,” he added.

In a period of board of education questions and comments, School Board President Colleen Foley clarified that the money deposited in the tax certiorari reserve funds must be used for tax cert procedures stemming from the specific tax year in which such monies are deposited. Due to these restrictions, if districts decide to establish a tax certiorari fund, they must do so separately and ensure for each tax year.

Foley asked if there was an end to this procedure or if it would continue indefinitely. Feirsen responded that Garden City School District, along with a good number of other school districts in Nassau County, are currently in court fighting this legislation in court. “Every year you put aside money for the bills that come through for that year. So you’d have a tax certiorari reserve for 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, etc., until either the issue becomes moot or you just keep doing it,” Feirsen said.

Foley also inquired at what point in the timeline would the administration have a reasonable estimate other than the $1.5 million figure. Feirsen stated that the copies of the petitions will be arriving in May but the district has no way of knowing an exact figure at this time. “This is another complicated factor in an already very difficult budget picture,” Feirsen said.

School Board Trustee Laura Hastings inquired if the district would need to put aside monies for attorneys fees or clerical staff for filing the tax certiorari funds. Feirsen confirmed that there will be additional costs that go along with processing these judgments.

In other news, Feirsen presented his recommendations to the board of education that addressed the instructional components of the school budget, which make up 74.33 percent of the total budget.

The Garden City School District’s proposed 2012-2013 overall budget is $104,976,751, which represents a budget-to-budget increase of $3,859,693 or 3.82 percent. The projected tax levy increase (with STAR) is 4.25 percent and the maximum allowable tax levy is 4.3 percent.

“What we’re trying to do in both my proposal to the board and the board’s ultimate decision on the budget is to achieve the proper balance between the needs of our students, the interests of our community in educating those students and preparing them for life after they leave us and providing a prudent budget for the community that can be supported by the community in terms of its fiscal dynamics,” Feirsen said.

In his recommendations, Feirsen proposed teacher reductions due to decreases in enrollment. They include one grade seven core subject team (4.0 FTE) decrease (English, Soc. St., Science, Math). The budget also includes 1 FTE teacher position in general education and 1 FTE teacher position in special education to be held in reserve to address possible enrollment increases at any level.

In previous budget presentations, Feirsen maintained that the proposed 2012-13 budget preserves programs and proposes no major changes. He said the budget proposals call for zero building closures; maintains class sizes guidelines; retains special programs; maintains high school guidelines; preserves most co-curricular/athletics programs; and retains full-day kindergarten. It also utilizes reserves but does not deplete accounts and reduces staff judiciously as a result of reductions in district enrollment.

The board of education’s adopted budget will be presented for a vote on Tuesday, May 15. To learn more about the Garden City school budget, or for a list of upcoming budget work sessions or for more information, visit the website at www.garden city.k12.ny.us.