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Mar 18, 2014 10:14 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

State Legislation For Southampton-Tuckahoe School Merger Passes

Mar 19, 2014 10:03 AM

A long-discussed merger between the Southampton and Tuckahoe school districts cleared a major hurdle last week when new legislation to allow separate tax rates within one school district was approved by both the New York State Assembly and the Senate.

The measure now will be included in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget, state officials have confirmed. With the legislation being included in all three of the government agencies’ draft budgets on April 1, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. said this week it will most likely get the support it needs and be included in the final state budget later this spring—and a new merger vote could be held as early as this fall.

With the legislation, if a merger of the two districts is approved by residents, a single new tax rate for the merged district would be phased in for both districts over the course of 10 years—a move that would drastically reduce the immediate increase for Southampton taxpayers from roughly 8.7 percent to as low as 0.8 percent, Mr. Thiele said. The increase was largely blamed for the measure failing to win approval among Southampton taxpayers.

At the same time, local legislators are spearheading a separate bill, specific to Southampton and Tuckahoe, providing that if a merger occurs between the two neighboring districts, the newly formed district would be eligible for roughly 10 percent more state aid each year, an amount equal to about $500,000, Mr. Thiele said.

“Over that 10-year period, as you are phasing in the new tax rate, at the same time assessed values are increasing, state aid will be increasing and other things will be working to keep taxes as stable as possible,” Mr. Thiele said.

The idea of a merger has been discussed between the two districts for several years, but action was first taken in October 2012, when a merger study was commissioned by both districts. After the plan, which outlined details for the Southampton School District annexing Tuckahoe, was approved by New York State Education Commissioner John B. King’s office in August 2013, voters in the two districts were able to cast a first vote on the proposal. It was overwhelmingly approved by Tuckahoe voters, but those in the Southampton School District turned it down.

Tuckahoe officials have said the fiscal future of the school district is dire, and without a merger or some other intervention, the district could become insolvent within a few years.

The study estimated that Southampton taxpayers could expect to see an increase of roughly 21 cents to their annual property tax rate, which would be about 8.7 percent, or $105 more a year, on a house assessed at $500,000. Meanwhile, Tuckahoe’s property tax rate would be slashed by $4.82—nearly two-thirds of the current rate—saving the owner of a house similarly assessed at $500,000 more than $2,400 in annual property taxes.

Although Tuckahoe residents approved the merger 565-35, Southampton residents rejected the proposal 1,075-693, temporarily shelving the merger while officials from both districts and state legislators went back to the drawing board to try to equalize the tax rates.

Since then, neither district has abandoned merger talks, and the legislation has been supported by both Mr. Thiele and State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle. The new bill would equalize the tax impact on all registered voters of both districts by reducing how much the Tuckahoe residents will save up front, and at the same time decreasing the amount Southampton residents would see in an increase.

With the new legislation all but in place, both districts can now look toward the future, as well as the possibility of bringing the merger back to a public vote as early as the fall. After an initial vote to gauge whether taxpayers in both districts find the plan worthy of moving forward, taxpayers will be asked to cast their vote again in a final vote.

“There is the piece in the bill that the governor put in, and what we did was we accepted that language and we carved out separate language for Tuckahoe and Southampton,” Mr. LaValle said.

Dr. Scott Farina, superintendent of the Southampton School District, was not immediately available for comment on Monday.

“We are very appreciative of the efforts made by Assemblyman Thiele and Senator LaValle in working toward this solution to differentiate the requirement that exists in law for one tax rate so that over a period of time the taxes will be differentiated and fair for both school districts’ taxpayers,” Tuckahoe Superintendent Chris Dyer said this week. “We are very appreciative of their support.”

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Bottom line Southampton school district tax payers will be stuck paying higher taxes with no extra benefits. Vote NO!
By April1 (156), Southampton on Mar 19, 14 12:47 PM
I don't see how this helps. A bill is being "spearheaded" to increase State aid. I have reservations as to whether or not we will actually get anything. The State is CUTTING aid. They're going to give 10k a year to the Hamptons? How long do we get that aid?

This bill simply kicks the can down the road. I am supposed to be happy about a bill that raises my taxes every year, "while assessments are increasing"?

Cutting spending is the only way this will work. Combine the schools ...more
By diy_guy (101), Southampton on Mar 19, 14 6:37 PM
Not much will be saved by combining schools, staff, equipment etc. If the districts merged all the schools buildings would need to be used.
By April1 (156), Southampton on Mar 19, 14 7:19 PM
A negative for the residents of Southampton School District, if taxes go up for us, this will be defeated.
By bigfresh (4594), north sea on Mar 20, 14 7:39 AM
Taxes will go up, guaranteed.
By April1 (156), Southampton on Mar 20, 14 9:13 AM
The whole rationale for school consolidation was to substantially cut huge costs through the elimination of administrative and personnel redundancies of huge proportions, generate substantial savings from economies of scale and rationalize the academic program to improve academic performance. This is much ado about bnothing.

If you notice, there was not a whit of thought or print given to improving academic performance of either school, and absolutely no program of significant cost reductions ...more
By Obbservant (449), southampton on Mar 21, 14 10:14 AM
Core testing is destroying academics! Lol!!!!!
By chief1 (2788), southampton on Mar 23, 14 9:45 AM
Even though I live in the Tuckahoe School district I was against the merger as presented. Southampton taxpayers would have to shoulder a tax increase whereas Tuckahoe would have a sharp decrease. It didn't make sense.If I lived in Southampton School District i would have not voted for it either. I think that everybody likes economy of scale. I believe the savings will be in the 3 million dollar range. If the state ok's a separate school tax for the districts so it doesn't impact the Southampton ...more
By Tuckahoe Ted (53), southampton on Mar 28, 14 7:57 PM
Speaking of Core testing who will be paying for it when RTTT $ is gone in 2015. The merger study does not address common core at all, which means it also does not address the extra cost involved. The merger study should not be valid at this point.
By April1 (156), Southampton on May 2, 14 8:27 PM