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Nov 12, 2014 10:30 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Preliminary Tuckahoe, Southampton School Merger Vote To Take Place Tuesday

Nov 12, 2014 3:13 PM

Less than a week before a revamped merger plan is put before Southampton and Tuckahoe school district voters for a second time, officials believe they are slowly beginning to persuade some Southampton residents to vote this time in favor of annexing the smaller district next year.

It is still unclear, however, if there will be enough new “yes” votes to move forward on the second try.

Voters will go to the polls on Tuesday, November 18, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Southampton residents can cast their vote in the music room of the Southampton Intermediate School on Leland Lane, while Tuckahoe voters can head to the library at the Tuckahoe School on Magee Street.

The merger plan, which has been in discussion for several years, would eliminate the Tuckahoe School District starting on July 1, 2015, absorbing it into the Southampton district. The proposal will have to survive two rounds of voting among community members. The first vote, scheduled for Tuesday, November 18, to be held separately in each of the two districts, is considered a straw vote, and it will determine whether taxpayers of both districts think the proposal is worthy of moving forward to a formal vote in January. A majority of voters in both districts must approve the proposal on Tuesday. A January vote in the two districts would then finalize the merger.

Last year, Tuckahoe voters overwhelmingly approved the merger in a straw vote, but Southampton voters rejected it, 1,075-693.

This week, district officials and residents are making a last push—both for and against the proposal—to encourage residents to head to the polls on Tuesday. The big question: Will this vote be different?

“I think the community forums and written promotional materials provided from both the Southampton and Tuckahoe districts have much more clearly defined the impact of the merger,” Tuckahoe Superintendent Chris Dyer said this week. He said a study commissioned by the two districts on the feasibility of a merger was “a good starting point,” but added, “I think some points were not as well-defined last year as they are now.”

According to Tuckahoe officials, the district made the decision to pursue the merger after looking at financial projections for the next few years. If the two districts were to merge this year, Southampton would gain roughly $16 million in assets from Tuckahoe. However, in the next five years, increasing tuition costs, contractual payments and unfunded mandates will make it nearly impossible for Tuckahoe to operate independently.

The idea of a merger between the two neighboring districts has been discussed for several years, and both boards commissioned a joint merger feasibility study two years ago. Last year, the study was approved by state officials, and the two districts put the prospect to a straw vote in each district to see if it should go to a full public referendum. Tuckahoe voters approved the idea 565-35, while Southampton taxpayers voted 1,075-693 against the proposition.

A key factor appeared to be the tax impact of a merger. In Southampton, the merger will raise tax bills, while Tuckahoe voters would see sweeping cuts in their property tax bills if the two districts are combined.

Since the vote failed, Southampton has come up with a new “merger concept,” which includes two pieces of legislation from Albany—one that would slowly roll out resulting tax increases for Southampton residents, and another that would allow the district to use capital reserve funds to offset tax increases. District officials also released a line-by-line comparison of both districts’ budgets to create a new, joint spending plan without redundancies.

According to Southampton officials, the current Tuckahoe school tax levy is $16,855,182, while the Southampton school tax levy is $50,749,238. A merger would create a district with a combined school tax levy of $67,604,420 for the 2015-16 school year. By combining services and joining the two districts, Southampton officials believe they can curb unnecessary spending in the two districts.

The district has also asked the state to allow the $67.6 million figure to be used as the base for the next year’s cap on the tax levy increase, which would allow Southampton to stay under the cap in the event of a merger.

With the reevaluated figures from Southampton, the tax rate for a home in Southampton valued at $1 million would at first decrease and then increase incrementally over the next decade from $2.44 to $2.77 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. That means that in the 2024-25 school year, the tax increase associated exclusively with the merger would add no more than $330 to the current overall school tax for a house valued at $1 million. In the years in between, the taxes paid to cover the merger would rise gradually until reaching that $330 cap.

Currently, Tuckahoe property owners are paying $7.57 per $1,000 in school taxes, a number that would drop until leveling out at $2.77, saving $4,800 for a home valued at $1 million.

Even with a clearer financial picture for the merger, some Southampton residents are not convinced, saying they should not have to bail out Tuckahoe residents at their own expense. Some residents, like Lori Tutt, say the Southampton School District would survive without the Tuckahoe students if the merger fails and Tuckahoe pulls its students from Southampton High School to save on tuition costs.

“Many people complained last year regarding the lack of information—this has not changed,” Ms. Tutt wrote in a letter to the editor of The Press last week. “The district still has not put out a budget of what Southampton School District would look like without Tuckahoe’s involvement. The district does not have a firm projection on the budget, nor does it have a firm plan on implementation.”

Others disagree. Southampton resident Roger Blaugh said in a letter to The Press this week that the district has succeeded in changing his mind this year. He said that while Southampton officials were unprepared last year—prompting him to vote against the merger—he has seen much more information in the last few months. He added that although his taxes will still go up, he feels the district has done its due diligence in presenting a combined budget, making him comfortable to say that now it should be all about the children and bettering the community.

“Last year, I strongly felt that the vote was premature, and that some of the information was suspect,” he said this week. “I think that in the year that has passed since the last vote, the School Board has gotten the message. We are all, I think, at heart supporters of good education.”

Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley is also in favor of the merger, saying that he believes it is the best option for the entire community. A Tuckahoe School District resident himself—the district line is in Southampton Village—Mr. Epley said separating the two districts will serve only to hurt the joint Southampton/Tuckahoe community. “For me, it is more about the quality of education and the impact that a failure to merge would have,” he said. “I want this to be one community.

“We are one community here,” he added. “These kids all grew up together, they play ball together, are Boy Scouts together, go to dances together, and do all of these things. To potentially have that disrupted would have a very negative impact on the community itself.”

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Just a friendly reminder that in order to vote by absentee ballot you must have lived in the district as your primary residence for the 30 days prior to the vote. You will be eligible for and would have to serve jury duty for the Southampton district.
By KevinLuss (356), SH on Nov 12, 14 2:16 PM
1. To receive an application for an absentee ballot by email please email complete application to: clerk@southamptonschools.org
2. Absentee ballot application may also be picked up in person between the hours of 8:00 am - 4:00 pm, M-F at 70 Leland Lane, Southampton, NY, 11968.
ALL absentee ballots must be received by the District Clerk no later than 5:00 pm on Monday, November 18, 2014. If you have any questions, please call the District Clerk at 631-591-4516.
LINK ...more
By collinstracy@me.com (4), Southampton on Nov 12, 14 8:14 PM
No firm plan, gets a no vote from me!
Way too many unknowns---STILL!
What about the Southampton homeowner, who is also a land owner and a business owner? Add up all those extra tax dollars FOREVER!
By Hamptons Seashell (34), Southampton on Nov 12, 14 11:09 PM
2 members liked this comment
Gee, we had no idea you felt that way?
By KevinLuss (356), SH on Nov 13, 14 6:00 AM
Mr. Luss is not correct about how jury service is determined. This is from the NYS Court System website regarding jury service:

The sources of prospective jurors shall be: (a) the names contained on voter registration lists, lists of licensed motor vehicle operators and lists of persons to whom State income tax forms have been mailed; (b) the names of persons who have volunteered to serve in accordance with section 506 of the Judiciary Law; and (c) the names from such other sources as authorized ...more
By localcitizen (110), Southampton on Nov 13, 14 2:33 PM
1 member liked this comment
This vote falls under the jurisdiction of the clerk of the school district. However, your confirmation that ''The sources of prospective jurors shall be: (a) the names contained on voter registration lists...'' is clear confirmation to whomever may read this, that I was indeed accurate. Thank you.
Nov 14, 14 1:09 PM appended by KevinLuss
Also, the issue of jury duty would only be a problem for people that are registered here to vote but don't actually live here...
By KevinLuss (356), SH on Nov 14, 14 1:09 PM
Don't do it Southampton. After the honeymoon is over, you'll be paying higher taxes forever. And don't let them tire you out with constantly putting it up for yet another vote.
By Dolores (2), amityville on Nov 13, 14 3:19 PM
1 member liked this comment
Why would you give one wit what we do in Southampton if you live in Amityville?? Guess what? Southampton and Tuckahoe voters will decide this issue without your help. I believe most of us will come out and decide this issue not based on a $330 per $1 million raise in taxes...we will vote YES based on what is best for OUR community. I would never insert myself into your community's issues and would appreciate you staying out of ours.
By remytwoton (23), southampton on Nov 15, 14 9:32 AM
1 member liked this comment
There are no independent accountants that made up these numbers for the merger just school administrators who want a bigger district. Don't believe the nonsense one bit. Why should Southampton take the burden, and Tuckahoes taxes get cut by 65% for their bad fiscal behavior. There is no way Southamptons taxes are going down don't believe the voodoo economics.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Nov 13, 14 6:00 PM
Vote YES for the kids and the community ! It is an annexation...SH is not losing anything for their dollar.
By Infoseeker (280), Hampton Bays on Nov 14, 14 8:29 AM
2 members liked this comment
It has nothing to do with the kids or community, it has to do with my pocketbook. I just received my ss adjustment, no where near what my taxes will go up and that is this year. How about the later years.
How many times do I have to vote no!!!!!
By alocal (9), Southampton on Nov 15, 14 2:37 PM
No, but it will cost us A LOT MORE DOLLARS!! Vote this scam down and let's be done with it!
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Nov 14, 14 8:49 AM
1 member liked this comment
A LOT MORE DOLLARS?? How about let's get to the facts and not use vague terms. $330 per $1 million assessment value is what you are calling A LOT MORE DOLLARS. Never mind the fact that this will be phased in over 10 years. Yep, that's right. Fact: for the next three years, Southampton taxpayers will be paying less, then the tax rate gradually raises to that $330 per $1 million assessment.
By remytwoton (23), southampton on Nov 15, 14 9:41 AM
Raiding the fund pays for a tax "decrease" the first few years. The $ 300 per million assessed value don't work when factoring in increased salaries and benefit costs. This whole deal is a scam and should be soundly defeated and put to bed once and for all!
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Nov 17, 14 8:51 AM
Vote NO! Let Tuckahoe pull in their belt. They own millions of dollars worth of property in their district. You can look it up! Let them sell it to help out their budget!! The Tuckahoe mothers are such whiners! If your children are happy in their present school, leave them alone. It is about the money! Southampton is being asked to bail you out!!! You chose to live there and knew the taxes when you purchased your home.
By bayview (160), Southampton on Nov 14, 14 11:05 AM
In lieu of yet another terrible, fatal accident on County Road 39 today, amongst many other concerns which I have raised along with those of others, transporting young children to Tuckahoe from Water Mill, Southampton and North Sea, that might require school buses and parents' vehicles to use this dangerous road and add to the commuter traffic and safety of these passengers, is not a sound idea.
By Hamptons Seashell (34), Southampton on Nov 14, 14 6:30 PM
1 member liked this comment
Joan, it is the height of desperation to attempt and tie a tragic death of a pedestrian crossing the street with anything having to do with the school. It's unseemly and one would think beneath a professional such as yourself.
By KevinLuss (356), SH on Nov 15, 14 5:54 AM
I would LOVE to hear her sales pitch for a home in the Tuckahoe school district!
By A dose of reality (7), Southampton on Nov 15, 14 8:36 AM
Do you honestly think that Southampton students don't currently ride buses on County Road 39? You are indeed trying to play on people's fears...but this one is truly comical. Southampton students already traverse to and from school on that road. This issue has nothing to do with the tragic death that occurred and you know it. If anything your ridiculous comment brings to light how Tuckahoe and Southampton students travel to school on many of the same roads now...and why we are indeed, one community ...more
By remytwoton (23), southampton on Nov 15, 14 9:38 AM
1 member liked this comment
Whats truly comical is we are going to lower taxes by 60% in the Tuckahoe school district, but Southampton will only go up 300 dollars. So hilarious that people believe this. The Tuckahoe district over spent and now need a bailout. ....VOTE NO TO THE BAILOUT
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Nov 15, 14 6:00 PM
1 member liked this comment
Chief, this merger is perfect. The entire state is watching. You and seashell are going to change as many minds as bayviews exclamation points will. Your claims and numbers change constantly, in fact you list two different percentages just under this article alone. $ aside, this is the right direction.
By lamm (304), Southampton on Nov 16, 14 12:19 AM
Would someone PLEASE tell me how adding more students and ridiculous teacher salaries to an already subpar district would make it worthwhile to suck more taxes from me? Please explain.
By Lets go mets (377), Southampton on Nov 16, 14 7:31 AM
I am surprised that no one is asking the question "then what"? A few years down the road, when student population has risen, along with salaries and benefits, then what? If we are limited to 2% tax cap and we use that up every year for the known increasse, how are the unexpected increases covered? Cuts in programs? The same cuts Southampton is trying to avoid by merging? So then we form East End School District? And then what? Suffolk County School District? And then what? My point is shouldn't ...more
By rl (11), southampton on Nov 16, 14 8:13 AM
Of course this merger will cost more money. The district will borrow more debt because they cant pierce the 2% cap. No one is having their salaries cut so how will you save money. Anyone in Southampton that votes for this will get what they deserve in their tax bill. The numbers provided for the merger are suspect. VOTE NO!!!!!
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Nov 16, 14 1:20 PM
Not enough clear information has been given. The Southampton District's mailer is confusing. The numbers given are much lower than what I pay in school taxes, so I do not believe them. What is Tuckahoe's debt? Does Tuckahoe own real estate assets that it could sell to lower its debt?
By oystercatcher (126), southampton on Nov 17, 14 10:20 PM
We, your neighbors and friends, did NOT overspend. We, the people who pay $5.00 more in taxes per $1,000 value, have BEEN tightening our belts. There's no notches left in the belt to tighten my family any more!

Please stop trying to PUNISH US like we are some group of bad, "whining" people. We are your neighbors and friends. We need help. Please just reach out and help us. Wouldn't you want someone to care that much about YOU and YOUR KIDS?

By Shinnecock Hills family (59), Southampton on Nov 18, 14 6:44 PM