Census shows Riverhead taxpayers among the county’s poorest

While the East End is often portrayed as wealthy, several East End school districts ended up on the Suffolk County’s 10 poorest list as determined by median household income, according to the U.S. Census American Community Survey. Riverhead had the third lowest median income of school districts in the county with enrollments over 100 students, according to the survey.

Riverhead School District officials have long complained they’re not getting their fair share of state aid because the district is perceived as being “land rich.” The state uses a combination of income wealth and land wealth to determine how much aid each district receives, and Riverhead officials have been lobbying state lawmakers for years to adjust that formula.

“We are considered a land wealthy district but our pocketbook doesn’t reflect that,” said Riverhead School Board president Ann Cotten-Degrasse. “This has been going on for years.”

She said she remembered going to Albany to lobby for more aid when she was a teacher and union president in the district and, she said, little has changed over the years.

Among districts with enrollments over 100, the 10 Suffolk School Districts with the lowest median household income were Wyandanch, $53,208; Greenport $57,669; Riverhead, $63,291; Amityville, $67,202; Hampton Bays, $67,985; Copiague, $68,036; Springs, $67,310; Brentwood, $69,991; Longwood, $70,048; and Central Islip, $70,021.

The districts with the highest median household incomes were Cold Spring Harbor, $182,991; Half Hollow Hills, $114,200; Babylon, $114,099; Shoreham-Wading River, $112,939; Three Village, $111,241; Mount Sinai, $110,332; Port Jefferson, $110,239; Commack, $108,784; Smithtown, $105,483; and Harborfields, $103,161.

The community survey is affiliated with the census but, while the census is done every 10 years, the survey is tabulated more frequently. The five-year survey for 2005-09 is the most recent one available with statistics, including median household income, on every school district in Suffolk County.

Riverhead’s state aid allocation amounts to about 15 percent of its budget, according to recently published figures from the State Education Department.

Of the districts with the 10 highest median household incomes, three — Three Village, Commack and Mount Sinai — receive a higher percentage of their budgets from state aid than did Riverhead. Of the districts with the 10 lowest median household incomes, some get an even lower percentage of their budget revenues from state aid, including Greenport, which gets about 8 percent, and Hampton Bays, which gets 9 percent.

But most of the others, which are all in western Suffolk, get much higher percentages of their budget revenues from state aid, topped by Brentwood (62 percent), Wyandanch (55 percent), Central Islip (43 percent), Copiague (39 percent) and Longwood (31 percent).

“We’ve been preaching to the choir for years,” Ms. Cotten-Degrasse said of Riverhead’s complaints about the state aid formula. “The problem is, it’s like a pie, so if Riverhead gets more, somebody else is going to get less, so nothing happens.”

Ms. Cotten-Degrasse believes “it’s going to get worse” if the state enacts a 2 percent tax cap.

She estimated that Riverhead would have to cut $2 million per year from its budget for five years if the tax cap were adopted. The tax cap was proposed but not adopted by the state this year.

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