Written by Matthew A. Piacentini Friday, 23 September 2011 00:00
Readers by now know that LIPA / National Grid is hoping to phase out much of the power plant located along the water in Glenwood and Roslyn Harbor. The site has served as a significant tax base for North Shore Schools and municipalities like the Town of North Hempstead, where the part of the plant that is closing lies. Currently, the plant accounts for $21 million in revenue to the school district.
The North Shore Board of Education held a meeting to address community concern over the proposed withdrawal and to answer questions about how it could impact people’s taxes. On Thursday, Sept. 8, the board hosted a talk with residents in the high school theater.
President Carolyn Genovesi explained that the school district is not a “lead agency” as far as dealing with LIPA, but because “the schools will feel significant impact,” she said that they are trying to do whatever they can to alleviate the effects of the withdrawal. “LIPA pays a significant portion of the tax levy, the amount of money needed to run our schools,” she continued. “The portion they pay will be shifted to other classes of property [homeowners, businesses and condos.]”
Genovesi said that it was only about 10 weeks since the board heard LIPA’s announcement about the move, and that they “don’t have much in the way of solid facts.”
It was presented that on June 10 the board was notified of the move. On June 13 trustees met with the Town of North Hempstead for an initial discussion on how to respond. On June 16, that entire group met with National Grid. On June 23, the board decided that the “solution would be a legal one” and met with government representatives, Genovesi explained.
“I think the withdrawal should be balanced and fair to the community that has hosted them for many years,” she told the audience in the theater.
So the board has been working with state representatives, particularly Senators Jack Martins and Carl Marcellino. Genovesi said, “Senator Marcellino has taken the lead… he has access to their staff… he has been working almost daily.”
Currently, there is a shortage of answers as far as how much of a hit in tax revenue the move would cause and Genovesi said that there are a number of possible legislative solutions. She said “the timeline for us is good” because the phasing out will not take place immediately, so there is time to work out favorable options for North Shore. She added that the board is “pushing for compensation to ease the withdrawal,” and “we have not ruled out litigation… Even Grumman, a private company, took care of the community when they left [other areas on Long Island],” she continued, asserting that LIPA should feel at least the same sense of responsibility as a municipal subdivision of the State of New York.
Superintendent Dr. Edward Melnick said that this situation was “very difficult,” adding that “the community wants answers and we don’t have the answers.” He went on to explain that along with the LIPA situation the school is facing challenges ahead because of the New York State tax cap.
Dr. Melnick explained that the new tax cap translates into the school having to limit budgets to a 2 percent increase in taxes unless the board seeks a 60 percent super majority vote by the community to override the cap.
The big change in the way budgets work now is that if the community rejects the 2 percent increase, instead of going to a contingency budget, now the school would operate with the same budget as the year before, he said.
The superintendent said that mandatory expenses go up each year, so that if the overall budget stayed flat, $3.66 million in positions and programs would have to be taken away. Even if the 2 percent increase was approved, he added, $2 million in positions and programs would have to be taken out.
He explained that the school usually needs around a 3 percent increase in the budget each year. A 2 percent increase in the tax levy only amounts to a 1.6 percent increase in the budget.
“The face of public education in New York is going to change drastically. We believe [it is the] unraveling of what has been built,” Melnick told the crowd.
The board said that private fundraising outside of tax revenue through the Viking Foundation would be the best hope of maintaining educational standards at North Shore. Genovi said that in other states where tax caps proved harmful to education, affluent communities pulled through with similar efforts.
“This community is pretty unique,” she said. “This is bad news, but news everyone is receiving. We have to pull together and make sure our kids have a good education. The Viking Foundation is the way to go.”