Island Park Schools’ board of trustees has adopted its proposed budget for the 2018-19 school year, and for the second year in-a-row has managed to keep its tax levy increase under the state mandated limit.
At an April 17 regular business meeting, school officials finished their review of the upcoming budget, which totals around $40 million — a 1.46 percent or roughly $575,000 increase from last year.
The tax levy, or the funds the district collects through property taxes, is projected to increase 1.5 percent. The increase, which the board said is the fifth lowest in Nassau County and ranks 13 lowest in Long Island, falls well below the state mandated tax cap, which sets a limit on year-over-year school tax levy hikes at two percent, or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.
School officials pointed out that after accounting for exclusions such as debt servicing and court ordered payments as well as certain retirement expenses, the limit on Island Park’s tax levy increase for next year is 3.16 percent. “We’re only taking what we need,” Marie Donnelly, the board’s school business official, said at the meeting. School officials confirmed that there will be no reductions in programs for the next school year.
Also broached at the budget meeting was the topic of the Long Island Power Authority’s looming tax certiorari case. Should the district go out for a settlement in the case, the board would be legally obligated to vote on whether or not to accept the offer. Resident Richard Schurin, who in 2010 unsuccessfully ran for a seat on the board, raised the concern that board President Jack Vobis has a possible conflict of interest as he is an associate attorney at Rivkin Radler, the law firm representing LIPA in the case. He suggested Vobis “remove himself” from the vote if it comes to that.
“If it comes down to a deciding vote, it would be a judgment call, but I don’t know what that is going to be,” Vobis said, adding he would recuse himself from the vote if necessary. “We all have the public in mind,” he said referring to his fellow board members. Vobis assured Schurin that he has no inside information on the case. The other trustees appeared to support Vobis’ remarks.
Schurin said he is generally satisfied with the 2018-19 budget as well as the district’s handling of the LIPA case, noting its hiring of a consulting firm to aid them should the legal fight go to Albany. He also mentioned that state law restricts the board from putting aside reserve funds for this particular situation, adding “[their] hands are tied.”
Last Friday, however, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and state Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) introduced a bill that would allow Island Park and other school districts to better prepare for the potentially devastating hit to their tax bases. Bill S8235 would allow the creation of tax stabilization reserve funds to lessen the hit to affected communities, as well as broaden the use of the existing $30 million power plant cessation mitigation fund set up by the state. Additionally, the bill extends the time for the tax payments on LIPA plants to ramp down to 15 years.
Nonetheless, the results of the LIPA case will likely not affect next year’s budget, since a loss would result in an appeal, which would extend the lawsuit. Additionally, if a settlement were to be agreed upon it would be phased in over time.
The budget referendum, along with the trustee election is scheduled for May 15. Board Vice President Diana Caracciolo is running unopposed for her seat.