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Oct 21, 2015 12:08 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town Tax Receiver: East Quogue School Could Receive $1.2 Million In PILOTs

Theresa Kiernan, receiver of taxes for Southampton Town, talks about PILOT funds at the East Quogue School District board of education meeting Tuesday night. AMANDA BERNOCCO
Oct 21, 2015 1:09 PM

East Quogue taxpayers learned Tuesday night that their school district could soon qualify for an additional $1.2 million in funding, starting as early as the next school year, to help keep taxes down.

Theresa Kiernan, Southampton Town’s receiver of taxes, explained to the nearly 30 people gathered for Tuesday’s East Quogue Board of Education meeting that their district could soon start receiving the special funding, called payments in lieu of taxes, or PILOTs, if Governor Andrew Cuomo signs off on a special amendment later this month.

PILOTs, which are provided through the town’s Community Preservation Fund, are awarded to those school and fire districts that are deprived of tax revenue due to a high number of properties being removed from the tax rolls, usually due to land preservation. Mr. Cuomo is expected to sign the legislation on Monday, October 26.

If that happens, the cash-strapped East Quogue School District could receive its first PILOT in time for next year’s budget.

To help put PILOTs in perspective for those in attendance Tuesday night, Ms. Kiernan explained how much money East Quogue taxpayers would have saved if they had received such a payment for the current year’s $23 million budget. She estimated that such a PILOT would have knocked the district’s tax rate down from $11.68 to $10.97 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, saving a taxpayer whose home is assessed at $500,000 approximately $355 in school property taxes.

“The main point that I want to stress about this program to the School Board, to the residents, is that the purpose of the CPF PILOT fund is tax relief to the taxpayers,” Ms. Kiernan said at the meeting. “This is not a revenue source for the school. So they can’t say, ‘Oh, good—we’re getting an extra $1.2 million, and go spend it somewhere else.’ It’s strictly for the purpose of reducing the tax burden on the taxpayer.”

If it starts receiving these funds, East Quogue would be the fourth school district in Southampton Town to do so. This year, Southampton Town has awarded $924,630 to the Hampton Bays School District, nearly $1.9 million to the Riverhead School District, and another $85,000 to the Eastport South Manor School District in the form of PILOTs, according to Ms. Kiernan.

The amount of money each district is awarded is based on the amount of protected land within its boundaries. Therefore, the more protected land a district has, the more PILOT money that district should receive. Both the Riverhead and Eastport South Manor school districts, which straddle two municipalities, receive funds only from Southampton Town for land that falls within its boundaries.

“We’re appreciative of the town’s support for it,” East Quogue Superintendent Robert Long said after the meeting. “And we were really happy with the turnout, even though we hoped to see more.”

Although most of those in attendance were pleased to hear about the potential tax cuts provided by PILOTs, Patrick Heaney, a former Southampton Town supervisor and a longtime East Quogue resident, said he is skeptical of the funding, noting that the actual dollar amount is a moving target.

“We need to understand that qualifying for a PILOT does not mean we won the lottery,” Mr. Heaney said to Board of Education members after Ms. Kiernan left the room. “It represents a formal recognition by the state and town that the ratio between the taxable development and preservation in our beloved hamlet is out of balance.”

He continued to say that the PILOT money will not answer all of the district’s financial problems, noting that the amount of money paid through the funds is not fixed.

“The preserved land has artificially [caused] you to raise tax rates on stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with the cost of education,” he told the board. “So we just need to be mindful of that as we prepare to take and accept a PILOT payment—which is discretionary, by the way, not mandatory.”

He also noted that funding for the CPF, which is provided through a 2-percent tax on most real estate transfers, fluctuates year to year and can dip considerably in times of recession.

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Mr. Heaney, one would think that you might be appreciative that the taxpayers would see a reduction in taxes.

Could it be that PILOT money is usually based on land preservation and you are a proponent of "The Hills" development project? I wonder how much PILOT money the EQ school district taxpayers would receive if "The Hills" property is preserved?

Why did you wait until Ms. Kiernan left the room before you spoke?
By crusader (391), East Quogue on Oct 21, 15 6:52 PM
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