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WLNG
May 03, 2006

Housing Plan Would Clear A Hurdle


Marc Alessi agreed his initiative would indeed take away the excuse offered by politicians who lack the will to bring affordable housing proposals to fruition. For the sound bite, the North Fork Assemblyman was more diplomatic: "It eliminates an obstacle."

The state assembly's education committee is currently reviewing a bill that, if adopted, would hold school districts "harmless" from the effects of the establishment of workforce housing. It calls for a reapportionment of funding to school districts to offset additional costs incurred as a result of affordable housing development.

Opponents of affordable projects often cite the financial burden additional students bring to a school district as a reason for tanking a proposal. Alessi's legislation provides a mechanism to ensure workforce housing doesn't negatively impact school districts.

In a recent interview, Alessi reported that amongst the Long Island congressional delegation, "a number of people are excited" about the proposal. Once the committee hears the initiative, he said, "We'll get a better sense of how colleagues throughout the state feel." He said passage of the bill should not be a problem since it centers on issues important to Long Island, the region where fiscal equality for school districts is a priority. The comparative property wealth on Long Island traditionally skews school aid formulas, the assemblyman pointed out.

While the idea of apportioning extra state aid to districts that accommodate affordable housing is new, the state has addressed tax inequities before. This year, a new program that addresses the property tax loss associated with land preservation has meant extra money for some local school districts.

In other news related to school funding, during his state of the county address this winter, County Executive Steve Levy debuted a proposal that, if adopted, would guarantee no increase in county taxes for senior citizens in the state's enhanced star program in districts keeping taxes within a 4% increase. The idea piggybacks on Governor George Pataki's proposed rebate for residents in districts where expenditures are kept within 4%.

Pataki's proposal was nixed by the state legislature. "It didn't keep peace with reality," Alessi said. Given cuts in school aid and the ever-rising costs of salaries and benefits, most districts are lucky to present voters with budget increases that stay below double digits. He agreed that both Pataki's and Levy's plans could result in wholesale defeat of school budgets. One East Hampton school official was less measured in response to Levy's proposal. He called it "a filthy idea."

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