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Sep 23, 2008 10:59 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Civic members feel slighted over PILOT reduction

Sep 23, 2008 10:59 AM

Members of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association expressed their concerns Monday night to Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot about changes to the way Community Preservation Fund money will be distributed to local school districts in need of financial assistance.

FRNCA President Michael Brewer prefaced the question and answer portion of the group’s monthly meeting by stating that the town’s revamped method of allocating the funding, in the form or payments in lieu of taxes, or PILOTs, will result in an increase in property taxes for residents of the three hamlets that his organization represents, all of which are part of the Riverhead School District.

“There are some things I think are unfair,” said Mr. Brewer, who estimated that some homeowners in Riverside, Flanders and Northampton could see their school property taxes increase by as much as $1,000 next year. “Flanders is being penalized,” he said.

Property owners in the Riverhead School District received $3.1 million in PILOTs from Southampton Town during the 2007-2008 school year, to help offset the large amount of land that is off the tax rolls because of the pine barrens. Under Ms. Kabot’s proposed town budget for 2009, Riverhead school officials are set to receive about $950,000 in funding from the town, some $2.15 million less than it received last year.

In addition to reducing the amount of money that the town allocates for PILOTS from $4.8 million this year to about $3 million next year, Ms. Kabot’s proposed budget earmarks about $1.8 million to the Hampton Bays School District. Hampton Bays now qualifies for the PILOTs following amendments made last year to the CPF legislation. Prior to the change, only the Riverhead School District qualified for the funding.

Due to the reduction in funding, Mr. Brewer estimated that some residents will be forced to sell their homes.

Brad Bender, the vice president of the organization, said the reduction in PILOT payments repeats an ongoing cycle in which residents of Flanders, Riverside and Northampton are being short-changed by the town. “We’re always looked down upon,” Mr. Bender said. “When do we get our share?”

Ms. Kabot, who was the guest speaker during Monday’s meeting held at the Phillips Avenue Elementary School in Riverside, explained that recent modification to the original CPF legislation allows other school districts, namely Hampton Bays and Eastport South Manor, to also qualify for PILOTs. Prior to the changes, only those school districts with more than 25 percent of land off the tax rolls could qualify for a PILOT. That provision was dropped last year after State Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. of Sag Harbor petitioned that it be removed at the request of then Town Supervisor Patrick Heaney.

“The town must comply with state law,” Ms. Kabot said during the meeting. “It’s through no fault of the town government.”

Ms. Kabot, who was joined at the meeting by fellow Town Board members Anna Throne-Holst, Chris Nuzzi and Dan Russo, explained to the estimated 40 audience members, which included Democratic Town Board candidate Sally Pope, that the Hampton Bays School District is entitled to more money than Riverhead because Hampton Bays has a greater tax levy, which determines the PILOT amount it receives. Ms. Kabot added that board members have in the past petitioned the state the change that formula so the PILOT is based on tax loss rather than tax levy.

The town supervisor also explained that because of the decline in the housing market, there is simply less money being generated for the town’s CPF, which is funded by a 2 percent transfer tax on real estate purchases. She noted that the town expects to receive about $32 million in CPF revenue this year, some $16 million less than the last year’s total of $48 million.

“Now it’s dwindling because the market is changing,” said Ms. Kabot, referring to CPF revenues.

Ten percent of the town’s CPF can be shared with local school districts to help offset the cost of having land taken off the tax rolls. The majority of CPF money is used to buy and preserve open space.

Regardless, Mr. Brewer said that he and other members of his group are upset that Hampton Bays is receiving money that has been traditionally reserved for residents in Flanders, Riverside and Northampton. He noted that Hampton Bays recently built a $42 million middle school. “The bottom line is we don’t have what Hampton Bays has,” Mr. Brewer said.

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