Letter to the Editor
(Ed.'s note: The following letter was sent to State Senator Balboni and reprinted here at the writer's request. Please note it was written before the March 9 meeting referenced in the last paragraph.)
Dear Senator Balboni,
I recently participated in your survey, and received your letter dated March 6 outlining the revisions to the STAR exemption that you are working on.
While a little bit of a rebate is nice once in a while, $300-750 really doesn't make much of a dent in a tax bill that is up over $15,000.
It also makes not the slightest bit of difference to our school district, which will not be in any better position to pass a budget as a result of STAR, nor will it have any more money to provide educational programs, repair roofs that have been neglected for 25 years, or cover the unfunded mandates that are being handed down from the state and federal governments.
Port Washington, as you know, is a very diverse community, in terms of personal wealth, ethnic background, and age, just to name a few of our diversities. Our school district has gone, in the last 21 years, from enjoying 19 percent of its budget being funded by state aid to 5.5 percent projected for next year. We are currently on contingent budget status, with a very vocal and motivated 'no' vote in town. Our district has been audited and the findings were that we are running a ship that is a bit too tight for comfort. We are planning to spend down what little reserves we have in order to repair a roof so that our elementary school children don't have to dodge buckets in the hallways and classrooms (I am not exaggerating). In this same school (Manorhaven) we have classes of third graders with 27 children, one-quarter of whom speak no English. And in the current proposed budget there are no additional teachers or other faculty proposed for next year at the elementary school level.
We are being taxed on wealth that we do not have unless we liquidate that wealth: in other words, in order to afford our taxes we have to sell our homes. Our elderly population, who have been the backbone of our community for three or four generations are no longer willing or able to 'pay it forward,' by investing their tax dollars in the next generation of children the way their children were financed by the elders of the town that preceded them. And it's no wonder. They purchased their houses for $37,000, and are being taxed on values of houses that on paper are over $1 million, in many cases. That's not their real wealth unless they abandon their homes, their community, and the lives they have built. We can't afford to beggar our most valuable citizens. They made this town, they created this community. Those of us who have come in after them would like to emulate them, by putting down roots and teaching our children to do the same. I, for one, was raised here and have returned to raise my family here. But it's very hard to envision staying for the long term when every level of government taxes us and keeps the money, forcing the school district I came home for to beg the community for the funds to carry out its mission.
Please don't send me any more information about revisions to the STAR program. I see that as no more than bread and circuses: a ruse to make me feel appeased, like the state is really doing something for me. If you really want to do something for the voters of Port Washington, then stand up strong for a revised tax system that taxes real wealth and returns a healthy portion of the money we pay back to our schools. We recognize that taxes must benefit the greater whole. But to take our taxes, then send the money elsewhere, and then increase our local budget with unfunded mandates in the form of testing, and compensatory payments to a broken retirement and insurance fund for our hard-working educators, all the time reducing the funding that the state returns to our own schools is unconscionable.
Don't tax our property alone. Tax our true wealth. Find a formula that reflects liquid wealth, wealth that can be used to pay the taxes. And then make sure that the voters are getting what they are paying for. And cut out the unfunded mandates. If you want to impose something on school districts, then pay for it out of our state taxes, don't make us pay for it locally.
There is a Forum on education funding reform tomorrow evening at the Manhasset Public Library. The speakers will be Michael Rebell of the CFE, and Matthew Gardner, state tax policy director for the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. I'll be there. I would be most pleased to see you there, as well.