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Oct 4, 2011 12:55 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Golf Clubs in Tuckahoe Take Up Large Percentage Of District, Pay Low Percentage Of Property Taxes

Oct 5, 2011 12:09 PM

For years, taxpayers in the Tuckahoe Common School District have argued that they are getting the short end of the stick on their school tax bills, thanks largely to the district’s status as a golf mecca.

As it turns out, the district’s four private golf courses—a quartet that includes some of the sport’s most prestigious clubs, and the priciest to join—pay much lower property tax bills than other businesses or homes in the district, considering the amount of acreage they occupy in the district. In fact, acre for acre, they are taxed at a rate less than a third of what other property owners in the school district pay.

Because the tiny district has an unusually heavy concentration of golf courses, there is a significant impact on the district’s bottom line. Four private golf clubs—the Sebonack Golf Club, National Golf Links of America, the Southampton Golf Club and the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club—cover a total of 951 acres, or about 12.7 percent of the entire district. Per acre, the golf courses pay an average of $785.99 in school taxes; all other properties in the district pay an average of $2,205.65 per acre.

To a large degree, it comes down to the method of assessment. Southampton Town officials say that golf courses, as commercial properties, are assessed largely based on the highest and best economic use of the land, not the amount of land they cover. At the same time, private golf courses, like other businesses, cannot be compelled to disclose how much they make—which leaves the judgment of what a course could expect to earn solely to assessors.

“They are not required to provide that information to the assessor’s office,” explained Lisa Goree, acting sole assessor for the town, referring to a club’s annual revenues. “However, we do request it, just as we would any other commercial property in Southampton Town, to assist us in placing a value on their property.”

There is no hard and fast formula for arriving at an assessment, but various factors come into play when assessing courses, such as how many holes they have or whether they have a pro shop, for example, both she and deputy assessor Maureen Berglin said.

The current system stems from a State Supreme Court decision in a lawsuit in Nassau County, which concluded that golf courses should be assessed on the income method, rather than on their highest and best economic use—namely, a residential use of the land. Most of the golf courses in Southampton Town are zoned residential, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. pointed out, but because of the court decision, the courses are assessed based on their income. Public courses, such as the Poxabogue Golf Center in Sagaponack, which is jointly owned by Southampton and East Hampton towns, are tax exempt, he added.

The Tuckahoe School District spans 7,488 acres of land to the east of the Hampton Bays School District, and to the north and west of the Southampton School District. It also includes a slice of properties in Southampton Village, several owners of which are petitioning for a boundary line change that would place them in the Southampton School District, where the school tax rate is about three times lower. A taxpayer in the Tuckahoe School District—which has a single school, an elementary school, that enrolls about 360 students—with a home assessed at $1 million pays $6,550 in school taxes under the latest school budget. For a home assessed at $1 million in the Southampton School District, the school portion of the property tax is about $2,260. Many blame the golf courses, at least in part, for the disparity.

Although the golf courses make up more than 12 percent of the district’s overall land mass, for the 2010 fiscal year the four clubs paid a combined $747,813 in school taxes, or 4.9 percent of the district’s 2010-11 total tax levy of $15.2 million. According to town records, the Sebonack course is 249.7 acres, has a land value of $34 million and paid $214,725 in school taxes; National Golf Links is 251.2 acres, has a land value of $35 million and paid $221,496 in taxes; Southampton is 167.68 acres, has a land value of $11 million and a school tax bill of $69,838; and Shinnecock Hills is 282.85 acres with a land value of $39 million and pays $241,752 in school taxes.

The numbers have sparked a taxpayer protest. Citizens for Change, the group of village residents in the Tuckahoe School District that is pushing to move that slice of the district into the neighboring Southampton School District because of what they see as tax inequities, has been circulating a petition among the more than 100 homeowners who live both in the village and school district. The rest of the village is in the Southampton School District, which comprises an elementary, middle and high school.

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There is absolutely no justifiable reason why these courses should receive any sort of special dispensation. Outrageous on so many levels.
By dagdavid (646), southampton on Oct 6, 11 6:58 PM
Stop picking on the old rich white men!!

First you want to make them pay the same income tax rates that their secretaries do and now, force their leisure clubs to pay the same property tax rates that families do.

What's the point of being an old rich whitey if you cant game the system in your favor?

/Sarc
By C Law (354), Water Mill on Oct 7, 11 12:19 PM
1 member liked this comment
And all that grass certainly use a LOT of town resources.
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Oct 7, 11 12:27 PM
So, you are in favor of people with no kids being able to opt out of school taxes?

People with no children don't use any more school resources than the clubs do.

Maybe you could clarify your position on the subject
By C Law (354), Water Mill on Oct 7, 11 1:30 PM