In June 2006, Port News reported that a lawsuit was initiated by a coalition of business interests in Port Washington against the Port Washington School District and the County of Nassau. A press conference was held on the steps of Schreiber High School by the plaintiff's attorney E. Christopher Murray, a partner in the Garden City law firm of Reisman, Peirez and Reisman. Murray gave the rationale for the lawsuit saying that state law created 'a school district tax that is not related to any objective criteria and is nothing more than a randomly created ratio.' A number of local businessmen also commented on the unfairness of the school tax on the businesses of Port Washington.
In a recent interview on the status of the case, Murray prefaced his comments by saying 'the wheels of justice grind slowly.' After the litigation was introduced, Nassau County moved to have it dismissed. In summer of 2007, Nassau County's motion to dismiss was denied. Nassau County appealed the decision to the New York State Appellate Courts where a decision as to whether the lawsuit can proceed is expected in the near future.
One of the supporters of this litigation is Richard Bivone, president of the Nassau Council of Chambers of Commerce. Bivone said businesses across Nassau County are watching this lawsuit closely and had praise for the coalition of Port businesses, which initiated the legislation. He referred grimly to the school tax as 'the 68 percent,' which represents the portion of real estate taxes allocated to schools. A major complaint heard from the chambers of commerce throughout Nassau County is that the school taxes are simply out of control.
Bivone said the type of business most affected is the small business sector. Local chambers of commerce in Nassau trying to lure businesses to their communities are told that it's just too expensive to operate in Nassau County. Bivone also suggested that a major improvement could be made if the school budget voting were held on the same day as the general elections in November. This would invite more participation in the budgeting process by the general community, who are bearing the cost. A parallel course of action is the investigation by the New York State Tax Commission, which is looking into the broader aspect of taxing throughout the state. This commission has already identified school taxes as a major concern.
Roy Smithheimer, executive director of Port's Business Improvement District said that the shrinking economy is also a factor to be considered. Smith Simon said that the mom-and-pop stores seem to be the most affected by the combined problems of tax increases and the poor economy. He said that, while the Business Improvement District was not a participant in the lawsuit, the district is following the litigation very closely to monitor any potential impact on Port businesses poor economy.
In the meantime, the sad commentary of vacant stores in Port continues to exist. Within a block walk from the train station, six commercial properties have posted for rent signs and in a small shopping center on Main St. two of seven stores are vacant. Perhaps the greatest example of the reluctance of businesses to move to Port can be seen on the east side of Port Washington Boulevard between Main St. and Campus Drive where nine of 25 commercial properties remain vacant. Here one of the well-known dining spots with a long tradition in Port, the Clubhouse has remained vacant for many years; the sign above its door remains as a reminder of better days.