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Opinion

Port residents should be aware of recent developments that will soon affect property taxes. Beginning April 16, you will see people in our streets taking pictures of our properties as the first step in our county reassessment program. By September, 2002 you will know your new assessment. According to Newsday, Port will see its average assessment increase by 21 percent more than the county average. This means our average county taxes will increase by 21 percent based on reassessment alone. Then, of course, there is the 10 percent increase in the county tax rate this year, followed by 10 percent over the next two years, needed to get us out of the mess created by certain Republican county politicians. In three years the typical Port homeowner will see his county tax rise by 45 percent. On top of this, we have a $34 million judgment against our town, again because of misjudgments, this time by Democratic politicians.

But county and town taxes account for only 20 percent of total taxes. The major part - about 75 percent - is due to school taxes (62 percent) and police taxes (13 percent). To a large extent these extraordinarily high taxes are due to state laws (e.g., the Triborough Amendment and the Taylor Law), which are the responsibility of our state legislators Balboni and DiNapoli. These laws severely limit the bargaining power of our school board and police commissioners to negotiate reasonable salaries, and instead result in us having to pay our teachers and policemen 40 percent more than their counterparts in New York City, who work under far worse conditions. I agree the city teachers and police are underpaid, but ours are paid far more than is fairly required by the market.

Our school board is now contemplating another construction bond proposal that is approximately three times as much as the cumulative amount spent on construction by the typical Nassau school district over the past five years. This is based upon data obtained from our school district. Taking student populations into account, and using the median and average amounts spent by other Nassau school districts, we would expect to see a proposal of $20-25 million. Taking the middle of this range, adjusting for inflation of 15 percent, and then adding another 50 percent for safety to come up with a reasonable generous estimate, we arrive at $39 million. But not $60 million! I hope our new school board members have not succumbed to the pattern I have seen repeated over and over again. New well-intentioned school board members are elected, and then quickly succumb to the pressure of those attending school board meetings who always want more of this and more of that, and could care less what the effect is on struggling taxpayers. There are a number of parents who really, but erroneously, believe their children's education will suffer if millions are not spent on one particular program or another. I know they get upset with me when I mention what the preponderance of studies show relating educational quality with various inputs. The key finding of the Coleman Report, which I believe is still the most massive and authoritative study of its kind, was that the major factor affecting quality of education was the family's attitude toward education. This factor alone dwarfed such factors as class size (within reason, and we are well within reason) and teacher salary levels. Most studies since then have reaffirmed this finding. Many people have mentioned to me how upset they are with the amount of the proposed bond. But when I suggest they go to school board meetings and say so, they are uniformly reluctant, saying they are "too busy." Some are more honest and say they don't want to argue with parents who, according to reports and my personal observation, are sometimes quite hostile and rude to those they disagree with at school board meetings. No one wants to deny Port children a solid educational opportunity. But please, school board members, consider the impact on taxpayers who would like to stay in Port, and in justice, have a right to do so.

Frank J. Russo, Jr.


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