March 29, 2006
Consolidation Study? Fuhgeddaboudit!
All I can say about the success of the facilities referendum in East Hampton is, it's about time. Finally the East Hampton District's schools will receive the basic renovations they should have gotten many years ago. Thanks to the perseverance of the superintendent, his staff, the school board, and the voters who made this possible.
Now I'd like to speak my mind regarding the Springs School District's request for yet another study on the feasibility of consolidating with East Hampton. How many times do we have to go through this dance before the message gets through that such studies are a waste of time and money? Why? For the simple reason there's no way the disparity in tax rates will be equalized through such a maneuver.
The current property tax rates are as follows according to the East Hampton Town Tax Receiver's Office:
— East Hampton School District: $37.55 per $100 of assessment
— Springs School District: $60.83 per $100 of assessment
Obviously, Springs' tax rate is considerably higher than East Hampton's, $23.28/$100 to be exact. If consolidation were to occur with a straightforward balancing of the tax rates, East Hampton taxpayers would pay $49.19 per $100 assessment and Springs taxpayers would have their rate reduced to that same amount.
Let me make a daring prediction and say that East Hampton taxpayers are not going to approve an $11.64 per $100 assessment increase in their school taxes. That would constitute a 31% increase in their tax rate!
There's been some talk of New York State possibly intervening and coming up with compensatory money to offset the balancing of tax rates in such a consolidation move. But if one follows the financial reports coming out of the Governor's office, it becomes quite apparent the likelihood of such State financial intervention is about as hopeful as the Knicks winning the NBA championship this year.
It's been reported Springs turned down performing a study to determine the feasibility of having its own high school because such a study was too costly. That's certainly a decision the Springs District has the authority to make, but personally, I've always maintained that such a study could be done in house by school district personnel at a reasonable cost. And, I would submit, the possibility of Springs having its own high school program is far more plausible than the chances of its consolidating with East Hampton.
Now that the East Hampton building referendum has been approved, all of the sending districts can expect significant increases in their tuition. Springs and Montauk, with the largest number of tuition paying students, are going to feel the burden of those tuition increases more than the other sending districts. I don't have an answer as to how to soften the blow to taxpayers for future tuition costs, but wasting money on another consolidation study certainly isn't the answer.
Several years ago there was a push to have an outside agency do a consolidation study for all of the East Hampton participating districts. I urged against it, predicting the voters from the various districts would never approve having their school tax rates raised. Forty thousand dollars later (the cost of the study) the results verified that only the Springs School District would experience a decrease in its tax rates through consolidation while East Hampton's, Montauk's, Amagansett's, and Wainscott's tax rates would rise appreciably. Since each district must approve any consolidation plan, it's a no brainer to realize such approval is a pipe dream.
To the East Hampton District, I say congratulations on getting approval for more updated school facilities which will benefit the students from all of the sending districts. At the same time I urge East Hampton School officials not to waste any taxpayer money on another consolidation study which will only result in alienating your constituents.