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Dec 23, 2013 11:22 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Tuckahoe School District Looks For Recourse For Golf Courses

Dec 23, 2013 11:22 AM

If the Tuckahoe School District hadn’t lost $6 million over two years in taxes paid by the four golf courses within its boundaries, it wouldn’t be forced to seek a merger with the Southampton School District, Tuckahoe officials maintain.

Now the district could be headed to court, seeking to recoup some of that money, and receive higher tax payments in the future, to benefit either the Tuckahoe district or a merged school district down the road.

Last week, district officials announced that they have hired a private attorney to explore whether they can fight recent court decisions that changed the way golf courses pay taxes two years ago. After the ruling, the golf courses’ tax bills are based on income rather than on the value of the land they occupy. Residential land is assessed based on property value, and the golf courses are located in residential zones, but the courts say they should instead be assessed the way commercial properties are assessed—based on annual income.

The golf courses—Sebonack Golf Club, National Golf Links of America, the Southampton Golf Club and the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club—cover a collective 951 acres, or about 12.7 percent of all the land within the district’s boundaries, but pay less than 5 percent of the district’s total tax levy. In general, they pay about one-third the taxes they would pay if assessed on property value.

Attorney Stanley E. Orzechowski says the district can claim financial and educational damages due to the circumstances. Superintendent Chris Dyer said Tuckahoe is considering all options and also will seek advice from local legislators on a logical next step.

“We are still gathering information and attempting to act fiscally responsible for our taxpayers in Tuckahoe and for the future school district for tax revenues,” Mr. Dyer said. “Our pursuit of revenues was for the benefit of our current and future school district, regardless if this was the Tuckahoe Common School District or a merged district.”

According to district officials, another issue is that when golf courses are assessed as commercial properties, as private businesses they are not obliged to provide the town assessor’s office with revenue reports—the town can only estimate annual income and base the tax bill on that guess.

Last week, district officials estimated that, to date, the Tuckahoe district has lost $6 million in revenue from the golf courses over the past two years, the period of time since a court decision changed the method of assessment. That revenue, district officials say, would be enough to sustain the district for several years.

The current system stems from a State Supreme Court decision in a lawsuit in Nassau County, which concluded that golf courses should be assessed on the income method, rather than on their highest and best economic use—namely, a residential use of the land.

Lisa Goree, the Southampton Town tax assessor, confirmed that golf courses, like all commercial businesses, are assessed based on their commercial activities—restaurant and pro shop sales, for example—but not on membership dues, which she said would already be reflected in restaurant and pro shop sales. She added that although the golf courses take up a lot of the property in Tuckahoe, past court cases have determined that they should be assessed as commercial businesses.

“They just have to provide the data that is associated with the day-to-day business operations of the course,” Ms. Goree said. “They do pay taxes, they do pay school taxes, but being that they are valued on an income basis, everyone would think that because they have a huge private golf course they would pay more. But because there is a state law that requires the assessors to look at only certain information submitted by the golf courses, they don’t.”

At a Tuckahoe Board of Education meeting last week, School Board President Bob Grisnik said the district is committed to looking into taking legal action, noting that the tax revenue could be an asset to the district in the event of a proposed merger with the Southampton School District.

“Whether it is for this district or the new combined school district, that assessment is going to carry us forward,” he said. “We have been FOILing some information from the town to determine how income valuations were determined in the courts, and we are pursuing that now.”

Part of the research now, Mr. Grisnik said, is to determine whether it would be better for the school district to pursue a lawsuit or for a group of private residents to take action.

According to Mr. Dyer, the district is still collecting information from Southampton Town about the golf courses. He added that the district will not take action without consulting local politicians, mainly Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle and State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr.

“We are continuing to talk with our local representatives and exploring decision paths that were made in the past,” Mr. Dyer said. “We continue to gather information from the town and golf courses. The reductions of revenues from the new assessments have caused fiscal challenge for Tuckahoe Common School District, the fiscal challenge aspects leading to the merger study.”

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It probably won't matter how much more money they get. They will find a way to waste it.
By dnice (2346), Hampton Bays on Jan 10, 14 9:04 AM
1 member liked this comment
Good luck with that. Thiel and his cohorts will never support the suit.
By SidViscuous (26), on Jan 10, 14 10:06 AM
Turn the golf courses into thousands of homes, and you will see the meaning of high taxes. The district is run by morons, and now are going to spend money on attorneys to fight a case they can't win. Thank God for the taxpayer that there are golf courses in the Tuckahoe district.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jan 10, 14 7:11 PM
We must protect millionaires and billionaires in their pursuit of playing golf. We need to keep subsidizing these golf courses. To have this tax money go to Tuckahoe school district, outrageous!!! Ha-ha
By Mets fan (1501), Southampton on Jan 11, 14 9:14 AM
You must mean the millionaires and billionaires that have houses out here that provide work to thousands of service providers. Were those the ones you were talking about? Why do people hate wealth or success?
By dnice (2346), Hampton Bays on Jan 11, 14 11:09 AM
1 member liked this comment
Envy fuels many comments here IMO, although most are not aware of their internal envy (or anger). Not talkin' 'bout you dnice . . .

Have a good weekend.

Peace on Earth.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Jan 11, 14 11:22 AM
You mean the millionaires and billionaires who have idly stood by and benefitted graciously while our economy and government have been systemically corrupted?

You mean the same people who idly stood by in their ostentation as trillions of dollars in fake currency were printed, devaluing our currency and throwing millions into poverty who were not before?

Do you mean the same billionaires and millionaires whose unchecked behavior destroyed a potentially beautiful nature preserve, ...more
Jan 11, 14 12:00 PM appended by Mr. Z
@dnice: It's just not that simple. Wealth and success are good things. However, any good thing in excess...
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jan 11, 14 12:00 PM
Mr Z, you are painting with a broad brush, but I get that maybe you resent the wealthy. I'm not just talking about Wall St millionaires. There are plenty of wealthy people who earned their money in sectors other than banking and stock speculation. I don't think that the wealthy are the problem, or not all of them rather. It is way too easy to blame them.
By dnice (2346), Hampton Bays on Jan 11, 14 1:28 PM
1 member liked this comment
I don't hate successful people , BUT YOU SHOULD PAY YOUR FAIR SHARE!!!!! Why do millionaires and billionaires need discounts?
By Mets fan (1501), Southampton on Jan 11, 14 5:05 PM
I agree with you Mets fan that they don't need discounts. Not at all, but let's not demonize them either. There are many, many examples of caring and giving wealthy people. Most are. We are after all the most generous nation on earth. The rotten apples ruin the whole.

You do realize how much the wealthy pay, right? I am talking about individuals, not corporations.
By dnice (2346), Hampton Bays on Jan 11, 14 5:15 PM
1 member liked this comment
It has nothing to do with resent or envy.

Corporate taxes as Federal revenue per GDP are at an all time low. Capital gains tax is 15%. Do yourself a favor and do a Google Image search for "capital gains tax and income inequality". The pictures speak thousands of words, and the numbers don't lie...
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jan 11, 14 11:51 PM
1 member liked this comment
I'm well aware of the disproportionate amount that corps pay. It is a big problem as is the growing chasm between the ultra rich and the middle and lower classes. I'm talking about private wealth in general and the tendency to demonize it.
By dnice (2346), Hampton Bays on Jan 12, 14 8:58 AM
The stagnation, and even reduction in "middle class" salaries since 1980 is an all too real problem. The reality is that nothing which one requires as a "basic necessity" has become any less expensive.

Oligarchy is an ugly business. When control of a governing body is vested in those with wealth, instead of the public servants whom are elected to office by their constituents it induces a level of corruption and nepotism which becomes intolerable. The "middle class" has declined, and ...more
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jan 13, 14 1:21 PM
Millionaires, and billionaires pay 80% of the taxes in this country, and represent less than 10%. The estates in the Southampton school district subsidize our tax rate, and they use very little services. How about you work on the 200 people living in the 12 unit motel? Nah lets just blame the hard working successful people of society.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jan 13, 14 6:25 PM
I see your point Z. Where do we start in trying to address or fix the disparity?
By dnice (2346), Hampton Bays on Jan 13, 14 10:00 PM
A good start would be returning to a principle this country was founded on. Separation of corporation and state. A seriously good start would involve media and distribution of information to teach real history, not the useless fairy tale most people learned.

Just like the separation of church and state where creating or denying a law based on religious beliefs is unconstitutional (think gay marriage, Leviticus 18:22), the Constitution DOES NOT grant suffrage to corporations, and they ...more
Jan 14, 14 11:16 AM appended by Mr. Z
Simple axioms help too. "Corporate involvement in government is un-American. Read your History."
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jan 14, 14 11:16 AM
1 member liked this comment
They pay 80% of the taxes because they account for 90% of the income. Chief is the typical republican tool of the rich and powerful.
By progressnow (556), sag harbor on Jan 14, 14 11:17 AM
Your right chief, let's give the billionaires a discount. I guess with the tax breaks it's affordable for you to play golf at National Golf Links. Just how much is membership there? Anybody out there know how much it is? What's wrong with just paying their fair share? You'll never play at National, chief. I thought the 200 people from the motel already moved to Tuckahoe, ha-ha
By Mets fan (1501), Southampton on Jan 13, 14 9:19 PM
Mets fan, the problem with that, IMO, is that it is too easy to just raise taxes instead of cutting back spending. Tuckahoe should clean it's own closet (bending over for the union) before it starts looking for more ways to stick its hand into the taxpayers pocket. If there is a group that isn't paying enough and the district truly needs the money then it should be looked at. It is so easy to look at the wealthy and say give more but even they are not a bottomless pit. It will never matter ...more
By dnice (2346), Hampton Bays on Jan 13, 14 9:44 PM
At this point in history, they kind of are a bottomless pit. Quantitative easing continues, and it's estimated that 32 TRILLION dollars sits in offshore accounts via shell corporations, trusts, and other various tax havens in tax avoidance.

Just dwell on that for a bit...
Jan 14, 14 11:35 AM appended by Mr. Z
“The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerated the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than the democratic state itself. That in its essence is fascism: ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or any controlling private power.” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jan 14, 14 11:35 AM
That figure refers to the global elite, not just the US. My point is it won't matter how much you tax them if changes aren't made in gov't spending. The gov't will ALWAYS spend more than it brings in if you let them.
By dnice (2346), Hampton Bays on Jan 14, 14 2:11 PM
So let me get this straight, the teachers are over-paid and should take a pay cut. We shouldn't push the millionaires and billionaires because they are being strained. Dnice , do you have any idea how much membership fees at National are? Would somebody enlighten her,so you can see where billionaires are being so strained, so they can have their little elitist world.
By Mets fan (1501), Southampton on Jan 15, 14 6:24 PM
Mets fan, just because they have it doesn't mean you get to take it. You are a hater. Your posts reek of it. Do you know of the agreement between the union and Tuckahoe? Ridiculous. Maybe it is you that needs to be enlightened. Do some homework before you start throwing around unintelligent assertions.
By dnice (2346), Hampton Bays on Jan 15, 14 8:30 PM
The Golden Rule
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Jan 14, 14 12:44 PM