Senator Craig Johnson
New York State Senator Craig Johnson was the guest at the last Herricks School Board meeting.
Johnson opened by saying, "One of the highlights of my not yet 100 days is the passing of the budget and we definitely were not a "dollar short." The governor wanted to make sure that Long Island schools received their fair share of the budget." Johnson then added, "But I say this to the school board, as a little bit of warning, don't expect it every year. It's a new fight every year. When you get the first budget and you realize, what are we going to do and then you get the second budget with the additional monies. But, be prepared that it will be more difficult to ensure those amounts because we are trying to shift what had been in the past as we go forward."
"We just have to watch out because next year may be different. The key component to the budget was the Middle Class Property Tax Rate which is being provided to the residents all across the state. It is a property tax rebate check based on a sliding scale. It is also based on the value of your STAR and on the ENHANCED STAR."
Johnson continued, "Every resident who is on the Enhanced STAR will receive, without applying for it, a check in the amount of $479. When you take that rebate check and add it to the Enhanced STAR, a senior citizen will receive a total tax rebate and benefit in the amount of $2,349."
He then went on to explain the Middle Class STAR. He said, "This is based on a sliding scale and we had six separate negotiations with Governor Eliot Spitzer's budget staff and by the sixth one, the number two budget person literally threw me out of her office because she got tired of hearing why the middle class in Herricks, New Hyde Park and Port Washington was different from the middle class in Syracuse and Buffalo.
"They finally got it. What they had to change was how they determined the income value when looking at this middle class rebate check. The way it works is on a sliding scale. You will have to apply for the Middle Class Property Rebate check. You will receive something in the mail, probably around August, explaining how you will go about this. They just haven't completed this process yet.
"The way it works is if your household income is $120,000 or less you will receive, after you fill out the paperwork, a rebate check for $517, combined with the Basic STAR rebate, it's roughly $1,500. Then if you have an income from $120,000 to $175,000 your rebate check will be approximately $388, from $175, 000 to $250, 000 the rebate check will be $259. If your household income is more than $250,000 then there is no rebate."
Senator Johnson then said, "Let me tell you a funny story. When the governor told me about the rebate checks I asked him was it gross or HGI (Household Gross Income). He said, I'll get back to you, and he did and he told me it was HGI."
"When you add the rebate check to the Basic STAR the average benefit to the homeowner in Herricks range from $1,500 to about $1,200. I would love it to be more, I would love it to be a lot more. It's the best we can do right now."
One resident, in the audience, wanted to know where they could get information about the Basic STAR benefits.
Senator Johnson said, "Those forms are not ready yet, but go to the New York Department of Taxation website or phone them at 1-877-678-2769."
Debbie Beers asked how long these amounts would be given as rebates and he said that it is his understanding that the rebate checks in this amount will be for the next three years. Johnson said, "I will double check those numbers, just to make sure."
Beers asked, "What are the chances of having the aid based on the cost of living index."
It was mentioned that Herricks gets the lower amount of any district, because of the lack of commercial buildings.
Johnson said, "Talk to the Westchester delegation. They are screaming this year. What happened is that they have high property taxes, just as Long Island does, but Long Island incomes are lower than Westchester's incomes. In fact, the Westchester assembly Democrats voted against the school budget because of that issue. They felt that Nassau got away with something. But, if you look at the map Nassau has lower incomes."
Assistant Superintendent for Business Helen Costigan said, "Due to your aid this year, we at Herricks were able to reduce our budget by a full one percent."
Resident activist Tess Florentino said, "What about grants? We are in a bind since we pay 96 percent of our taxes due to the fact we have no commercial base."
Johnson said they are working on grants and he said that he and Herricks Superintendent Dr. Jack Bierwirth are working closely to see what further help can be given to the Herricks district.
Since there were no further questions, Senator Johnson said goodnight and left the meeting.