Outcry in Southampton over school tax hikes

Southampton Town officials are hoping to get help from New York State in finding a solution to their problem of soaring school tax rates in the portion of the Riverhead School District that lies within their town.

Southampton Town assessor Ed Deyermond said Tuesday that he is asking the state Office of Real Property Services to do a “forensic analysis” of assessments in the Southampton, Riverhead and Brookhaven town sections of the Riverhead School District to look for any errors that may be contributing to the big shift in taxes over to the Southampton side.

“And if there is something wrong, they would give us recommendations on how to fix it,” he said.

For the third consecutive year, the Riverhead school tax rate skyrocketed in Southampton Town, rising 22 percent in the tax bills that just went out. By comparison, the school tax rate in the Riverhead Town portion of the district went down by just under a percent. Over the past three years, the Riverhead school tax rate increased by 60 percent in Southampton Town and by just 3 percent in Riverhead Town.

“This week, thousands of taxpayers in my community are being violated for the third consecutive year while this board has sat back,” Flanders resident Therese McGuiness told the Southampton Town Board at its meeting Tuesday.

She said the communities in the Southampton Town portion of the school district — Flanders, Riverside and Northampton — have some of Long Island’s highest poverty and unemployment rates and lowest median and family incomes, citing the U.S. Census Bureau, yet they pay high school taxes while other, more affluent areas of the town pay relatively low school taxes.

“Southampton has to be a good place for everybody, not just the rich,” Ms. McGuiness said.

She said she wanted to see officials show the same outrage over this issue that they showed over the MTA payroll tax that was enacted earlier this year.

“I want to assure you that we have not been sitting on our haunches. We have monitored this very carefully,” Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst told Ms. McGuiness.

Mr. Deyermond said the tax shift is due in part to fluctuations in the state equalization rate, a system that is used to divvy up taxes in districts such as Riverhead that cover more than one town, and in part to a drop in assessment in the Riverhead School District within Southampton Town.

About 2,000 properties in the Riverhead district had their tax assessments lowered, and the overall districtwide assessment dropped by about 10 percent, he said.

The town had previously gotten special state legislation to allow for a special equalization rate in the Riverhead School District in 2004 and 2005 in order to address the tax shift. That rate, along with payments in lieu of taxes from the Community Preservation Fund, helped curtail school tax rate increases in the Riverhead district within Southampton Town for a few years.

Mr. Deyermond said the deadline to apply for another special rate was June 1, but at the time, it didn’t appear there would be a problem this year. In addition, he said, there was a concern that obtaining the special equalization rate could actually make the situation worse. The town only later learned that the school district had increased its tax levy, and that there would be a big shift in taxes to the Southampton side.

Ms. Throne-Holst said the town only got that information about a day before the tax bills were due to be computed. The supervisor said that she would be going to Albany to talk to officials about this issue and she suggested some residents come along.

Ms. McGuiness said most people in her community work several jobs and so wouldn’t be able to go.

Mr. Deyermond suggested bringing state officials to Southampton to meet with residents.

[email protected]

Looking to comment on this article? Send us a letter to the editor instead.