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Farmingdale Observer - Schools

School Taxes: Why Bills Are Up

At November’s public meeting of the Farmingdale Board of Education, discussion centered on misconceptions regarding the tax levy and the impact of residents filing property assessment grievances with Nassau County.

 

Assistant Superintendent Paul Defendini gave an in-depth presentation regarding the differences between the tax levy the Farmingdale school district assigns and the bills local residents eventually receive in the mail; often, he said, the end result is well out of the district’s hands.

 

“The difference between what we, as a district, say that your levy increase is versus what happens when you open up your tax bill... are not tied together exactly as we’d like them to be,” Defendini said. “The percent increase in the tax levy does not represent the taxes paid by individual residents.”

 

Defendini explained that over the last six years, the average annual increase of the district’s tax levy has been 1.90 percent. If an individual resident’s tax bill did not increase according to that figure, he said, it is likely that other factors outside of the district’s control impacted it. 

 

“If you compare us to any other school district in Nassau or Suffolk County, you will find that we will be one of the lowest from a levy increase standpoint,” he said. “That is the only factor that the Board of Education has any responsibility over.”

 

Defendini’s presentation also focused on the grievance process; that is, if a resident feels the need to dispute Nassau County’s assessed value of their home as it relates to the amount of taxes they pay, based on the levy increase put forth by their local school district. Initially, school taxes are level across the board, Defendini said, but when residents successfully dispute their home’s assessed value, that overall playing field is changed.

 

“If a resident is successful in their grievance, what winds up happening is that your neighbor ends up paying the amount that you save, because in the end, the same amount of money has to come back to the school,” he said. “The distribution of taxes changes every year, and we have no way of knowing this until the summer, well after the actual tax levy information has been presented to the community.”

 

Another complication is the fact that the Farmingdale School District is actually subject to two separate taxing entities: Nassau County, and the Town of Babylon, according to Board of Education Vice President Steve Wilson.

 

“There are many things that can impact the difference in the tax levy and the final bills residents receive,” he said. “The separate taxing entities, property taxes, exemptions, grievances...when you’re looking at your tax bills, the amount can be a combination of any of those factors. It’s not just the tax levy.”

 

In addition, Defendini spoke on the plight of local schools in regards to the fact that, as of the 2012-2013 school year, Nassau County has shifted the responsibility of paying settled taxpayer grievances to the school districts themselves; beforehand, the county would reimburse residents who feel their homes were too highly assessed in value themselves. 

 

Nassau school districts—already strapped for cash due to state aid cuts and various unfunded state and local mandates—have been fighting a legal uphill battle to reverse the county’s decision, but in the meantime, the responsibility to pay out settlements to residents who have successfully filed grievances has cost Farmingdale Schools an approximate two million dollars a year extra, on top of their ordinary operating costs.

 

“Litigation has been brought against the county, because what they did was not a lawful act,” Defendini said. “That litigation is now sitting in the New York State Court of Appeals.”

 

Defendini summed up his presentation by saying that residents, who did not successfully settle grievances in Farmingdale saw an average increase in their taxes of 6 percent, even though the school district’s tax levy increased by only 2.35 percent for the 2013-2014 school year.