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Mar 16, 2010 6:05 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Thiele drafts law for East Hampton school tax equity

Mar 16, 2010 6:05 PM

Property tax inequity has long been a problem for residents of Springs, who pay far more than other parts of East Hampton Town, due in large part to the lack of a commercial district to help defray the costs of sending Springs students to school.

But this week, the Springs School Board said it may have found a way to control its school taxes when it announced a new bill, drafted by State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., that would spread the costs of the East Hampton High School out among all of the districts in town that send their kids to the town’s central high school.

Springs School Board president Christopher Kelley said this week that the proposal, which was the brainchild of School Board member Thomas Talmage, was submitted to the East Hampton School District more than three weeks ago and he has not yet heard a response, despite the fact that his board had asked for one by March 5.

He said that his board is now seeking further redress from the New York State Department of Education. On Monday, it sent a letter to Education Commissioner David Steiner asking that his office begin an investigation into why East Hampton has proposed decreasing taxes by 1.5 percent for its own taxpayers, while bringing in 24 percent more in tuition revenue from other districts. Springs has not yet finalized its proposed 2010-2011 school budget, and has added an extra budget hearing, for Monday, March 22, before completing its own budget, which is expected to increase from last year’s $21.5 million.

E

ast Hampton School District Superintendent Dr. Raymond Gaultieri said on Tuesday that he had spoken to Mr. Thiele, who he said, had no intention of introducing the measure to the Assembly unless he had the consensus of all the school districts in town.

“East Hampton and the rest of the sending districts would not support it,” Dr. Gaultieri said. “The purpose of it is to lower the tuition for Springs and raise it for everyone else.”

The beauty of the Talmage proposal is that if the East Hampton School Board chooses to increase the costs of the high school, the East Hampton taxpayers will have to pay as much as everyone else in town to support those increases,” said Mr. Kelley. “We are the largest single revenue contributor to the East Hampton School District’s budget. In essence, we are their largest taxpayer, paying over $7 million per year on a $65 million plus budget. But enough is enough. Justice must be done. We can’t continue to subsidize tax reduction for our East Hampton neighbors, no matter how much we like them.”

But Dr. Gaultieri said East Hampton did not increase the rates sending districts are paying.

“We did not raise the tuition,” he said. “They are paying us what they owe us” from the 2008-09 school year. He said Springs had underestimated its payments to avoid a tax increase during the economic downturn. “They’re paying exactly what they agreed to pay.... They made that decision not to put it in the budget at the time.”

Springs School Superintendent Michael Hartner said this week that the school is still entertaining proposals from Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton to send their high school students to those schools. He said that parents and current eighth grade students are currently going on tours of the other districts and will let Springs know this month if they plan to send their children to other high schools. Sag Harbor officials have said that Springs would likely pay $20,000 per student to send their kids to Pierson High School, while Bridgehampton would likely charge students at least $15,000.

Despite the East Hampton School Board’s initial view that it would challenge Springs’ decision to send students to other districts, Mr. Hartner said that he has not received any threat of legal action from East Hampton over sending high school students elsewhere. He said that he is also pinning some hopes on the introduction of Mr. Thiele’s bill.

“I hope it does have a chance,” said Mr. Hartner. “I think the current system is inequitable. We’ve done calculations that show that the average taxpayer in Springs pays more per high school student than those in other districts. We feel that’s a situation that should be remedied. Springs is probably the least affluent of East Hampton school districts.

Springs District Treasurer Ken Hamilton recently performed an economic analysis that shows that the average Springs household pays more than three times what an East Hampton household pays in high school costs.

Springs taxpayers currently pay more than $73 per $100 of assessed valuation in school taxes, while taxpayers in Wainscott pay just $16.75, taxpayers in Amagansett pay $23.95 and taxpayers in Montauk pay $45.90 per $100 of assessed valuation in school taxes, according to his findings.

East Hampton High School, which is currently the only high school in town, charges each of those districts according to a state formula that amounted to nearly $24,000 per student for high school tuition—a cost that increases each year, this past year by nearly $2,000 per student. About 260 Springs students attend East Hampton High School.

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This is one of the most important stories in the past few weeks (months--years?) and there isn't one comment. There are, however, many comments about Levy switching parties and deer hunting. Wake up people and get your priorities right. These unfair taxes will destroy lives in Springs. Weather or not you care if your neighbor is a hunter is a reflection of your contempt for people.
By facts man (148), east hampton on Mar 25, 10 7:26 AM
I say centralize the school district. We have amazing resources already in place, but duplicated between school districts. There are too many administrators and not enough opportunities for the kids. Springs has ample land, EH does not. EH has the high school, Springs, Montauk and Amagansett do not.

For now, lets clear out the school boards and start fresh with people that can get along. Obviously the Springs school board and the EH school board are no longer making an effort to ...more
By Happy in Springs (12), Springs on Mar 25, 10 8:57 AM
I would love to see a new high school built for Springs and Montauk students. There is plenty of land behind the Springs School to do it.
By reality 101 (137), East Hampton on Mar 25, 10 11:02 AM