OFFICIALS DELIVER GOOD NEWS REGARDING POWER PLANT TAX SHIFT; ADDRESS VARIETY OF ISSUES AT NS LAC LEGISLATIVE FORUM
October 19, 2015 -- The demolition of the Glenwood Landing power plant is very unlikely to have a significant impact on residents’ tax bills going forward said area legislators who spoke at a forum sponsored by the North Shore Legislative Action Committee (LAC) at the North Shore High School Theater last Tuesday evening.
About 150 area residents turned out for LAC’s first ever Legislative Night with State Senator Carl Marcellino, Assemblymen Charles Lavine, Michael Montesano, and Edward Ra, as well as County Legislator Delia Deriggi Whitton answering questions posed by audience members and delivered by the moderator, School Board President Dr. Herman Berliner. In addition to the power plant issue, a wide variety of topics were covered including education reform and student testing, taxes and state aid, environmental issues, the opiate abuse epidemic on Long Island, and the Garvies Point project in Glen Cove.
Asked if she expected residents to see a major tax shift as a result of the demolition of the Glenwood Landing power plant, Legislator Deriggi-Whitton responded that based on conversations she has had with the county assessor’s office she is very confident that residential taxpayers would be protected. “I feel re-assured that there is not going to be a huge impact,” she said. “So far things are looking pretty good.” She explained that the assessed value on the property is based on the amount of power generated, and that more power is being produced with what remains and what has been installed on the property across the Shore Road, than what had been previously before the building was demolished, and that a reduced assessment on property is therefore unwarranted.
Assemblyman Montesano explained that the state legislature, as it has done annually over the past several years, had once again passed a bill that limits to 1% the increase in the proportion of the total tax levy any one of the four property classes is obligated to pay over the previous year. Although the assessed value of the property has dropped, that law, he continued, had protected taxpayers from a significant shift this past year, and would continue to do so moving forward. The legislation still needs the governor’s signature.
“We have no doubt that the governor will sign it,” said Senator Marcellino referring to the 1% bill. He read a letter from the county assessor’s office, in response to recent queries he had made concerning this year’s shift. The assessor stated that the largest reduction in the assessed value of the property had taken place last year, and resulted in the greatest impact on residents’ tax bills. “Going forward there will be small adjustments - less than one percent,” he read.
“The biggest hit, you’ve already seen,” Mr. Marcellino said, and continued that in addition to the shift being relatively small, that the district had also received a total of $5,000,000 in grant money in 2013 and 2014 to offset any tax shift that takes place. “I think you’re in good shape. There should be no fear of any humongous tax increase.”
“It’s remarkable for the state to do something like that,” Assemblyman Lavine said referring to the grant money that Senator Marcellino and he had worked to secure for the district. He complimented the efforts of people in the community who had worked on the issue, in particular, former school board member Carolyn Genovese, and former LAC chairman Tom Murphy. “They were not going to take ‘no’ for an answer,” he said. “It was your community that stood up for its rights.” While commercial properties will see an increase in their tax bills this year, he said, “you have hopefully seen the worst,” referring to residential taxpayers. “This seems to be working out a whole lot better than we ever thought it would.”
With regard to teacher evaluations and the state testing, all four of the state legislators stated that they believed that both were flawed.
The New York State Education Department, this past August, unveiled its new APPR procedures that implement Governor Cuomo’s proposal of increasing the percentage that state standardized test scores would count towards a teacher’s rating from 20% to 50%. School districts have until November 1st to adopt the new procedures or to apply for a hardship waiver postponing implementation until February or even next year.
Senator Marcellino, who voted for the bill that directed State Ed to develop the new teacher evaluation system, said on on Tuesday that the 50-50 split between test scores and observations was “not in the bill.”
He called for the postponement of the implementation of the new APPR for two years, so that “more people can be included in the conversation” in developing both the tests and the teacher evaluation system. “We need to take time to get it right.” The Senator said that he did not think that the reforms that have upended public education in the state are appropriate for Long Island schools, at which, with a few exceptions, he continued, “kids are getting an excellent education.”
Mr. Marcellino, who was tapped to serve on the Governor’s Common Core Task Force, said that he would like a wide variety of viewpoints represented in group, and that even “Opt Out” advocates should be included as well. The group, which is conducting a review of educational standards and testing in the state, is accepting public comment via e-mail and he suggested that any residents who wish to submit comments copy him on their e-mails to the task force to ensure that their voices are heard.
Assemblyman Lavine, who also voted for the APPR reform legislation this past April, said that the testing is “forcing us to dumb down the way we are teaching our kids.” He explained that he had co-authored an op-ed piece that appeared in the Washington Post two years ago that challenged the position of those who support the more intensive testing regimen.
Public education,Mr. Lavine said, functions at its best when local communities and teachers have the flexibility to do what works for their districts.
“The opt out movement reflects a lack of trust in the tests among parents,” said Assemblyman Ra, who voted against the teacher evaluation reforms passed this past April. “There is a lack of faith in the Education Department and the agenda they’re moving forward. As long as there’s a lack of faith, there will be opt outs.” Allowing districts that have demonstrated high levels of achievement to be exempt from the tests might be a good approach to addressing the impact of the reforms, he said.
The legislators also addressed Island-wide financial issues such as property taxes and state aid to schools.
“Taxes, Taxes, Taxes, Taxes, and Taxes” are the five most important issues facing voters, Senator Marcellino stated in his opening remarks.
And both Assemblyman Lavine and Assemblyman Montesano each said in their openings that they wanted to make sure that the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) that cut state aid to school districts at the start of the “Great Recession,” costing North Shore $400,000 per year, is phased out on schedule this coming year, thus restoring that aid.
Asked whether the “2% tax cap” law that limits the amount school districts and municipalities can raise its tax levy from one year to the next, unless a super-majority overrides it, should be modified, Assemblyman Ra said that addressing sharp increases in enrollment, which has happened in the Westbury School District, ought to be taken into consideration. But, he said, “we have a major situation with property taxes. There’s a serious affordability problem.”
Assemblyman Lavine said that he supported allowing the tax cap to be over-ridden with a simple majority, rather than a 60% super-majority as is currently required.
With regard to local environmental issues, Legislator Deriggi-Whitton spoke extensively about efforts to improve the health of Hempstead Harbor, around which her district wraps from Glen Cove to Sands Point. Citing the fact that 90% of the residents of Nassau county are served by sewers, with the communities within the North Shore School District among the small minority that are not, she explained abandoning septic tanks in favor of sewers would not only greatly improve the water quality of the harbor, but also be good for businesses - especially restaurants whose seating is often limited by septic capacity. Towards that end, Ms. Deriggi Whitton has worked to secure $10 million for a sewer feasibility study for this and other areas around the harbor.
Asked what her thoughts were regarding a “D+” in a recent evaluation of Hempstead Harbor’s water quality, she responded that the low mark was based primarily on the evaluation’s water clarity score, and that the score would have been worse if not for the work that has been done over the past several years. Sewers, she explained again, would help improve the harbor’s water quality, and that she has been working to secure funds to connect the recently installed Sea Cliff Avenue Sewer line to the Nassau County plant in Glen Cove. Additionally she said that the restoration work on Scudder’s Pond that was completed in the spring of 2014 would also help to improve the harbor’s water quality, with the pond acting as a filter for storm run-off.
With regard to the heroin abuse epidemic on Long Island, Assemblyman Montesano, who serves on the state’s Heroin Task Force, was asked what could be done to address opiate abuse and addiction. First, he said, prevention needs to be addressed by “beefing up” education - not only for young people but also for parents; and second, there needs to be more help provided to those in need of treatment. One problem in the area of treatment, he explained, is that insurance companies will only provide coverage for 45 days of in-patient treatment, while in 90 to 100 days is what is the minimum recommended for effective treatment programs. Additionally, more substantial out-patient treatment after that period is needed. He also stated that he would like to see a change in the “culture of the courts.” Often, he said, that some defendants who are obviously dealers, having been charged with possession of very large amounts of heroin, are put into diversion programs enabling them to escape punishment and jail time. That, he said, should change.
As for the Garvies Point project that was recently approved by the Glen Cove Planning Board that allows for the construction of an 11 story tower as part of a mixed used development that includes 1100 housing units, both Ms. Deriggi Whitton and Mr. Lavine said that it appears that there is not much that can be done to stop the project from moving forward.
Ms. Deriggi-Whitton, who had served on the Glen Cove City Council before being elected to the County Legislature, said that at the time the project was originally approved, the City was going to receive $25 million from the developer for the 56 acre property, which she said "made sense" to address Glen Cove’s financial problems and to cover the cost of the infrastructure improvements that would be required. Now, she continued, the City would only be receiving $3 million for the property, which the City Council intends to use to balance its 2016 budget, while borrowing $15 million for road improvements to access the development.
Assemblyman Lavine said that the development is a “fait accompli,” and that those opposed to it could have influence over the “fine points” of the proposal that will still have to go through the Planning Board. The city has been in financial stress and “needs something to make itself viable,” he said. “Glen Cove needs an economic shot in the arm.”
The North Shore Legislative Action Committee was established by the school board in 2011 for the purpose of serving as a liaison between the community and the Board regarding legislative matters that have a direct bearing on fiscal or educational aspects of the North Shore Central School District. LAC is composed of eleven community members. They are Amy Beyer (Chairperson), Robin Charlow, Roger Friedman, Marty Glennon, Christine Hughes, David Ludmar, Deborah McDermott, Jennifer Mone, Vito Palmieri, Carol Remy, and Lawrence Ruisi.
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