North Shore School District officials began weighing how to mitigate the impact of a possible settlement between Nassau County and LIPA on Monday, describing the move as one that could shortchange the district of millions.
LIPA and Nassau had been in a legal battle for a decade, seeking to lower its tax assessment on the Island Park power plant and Glenwood Landing site. Under Nassau’s proposed deal, LIPA’s tax bill on these properties would be halved over seven years.
North Shore School District, which encompasses Glenwood Landing, Glen Head, Sea Cliff, Brookville and parts of Roslyn Harbor and Greenvale, draws a considerable portion of its budget from LIPA.
About $17.6 million of the district’s $107.8 million budget – or 16.3 percent – comes from the taxed Glenwood Landing site and payments in lieu of taxes from four other properties, according to Superintendent of Schools Peter Giarrizzo.
Under the deal, Giarrizzo said it appears the Glenwood Landing plant and properties would be merged into one PILOT plan. Revenue would then shrink from $17.3 million to about $8.6 million over seven years, with a possibility of extending it another four years “if something happens with the site.”
“Come 21-22, we’re going to have some important decisions to make about how we’re going to make ends meet,” Giarrizzo said.
Giarizzo said that he has reached out to Nassau County Legislators Delia DeRiggi-Whitton and Joshua Lafazan, who represent portions of the district, and state Sen. James Gaughran.
“Once we have more clarity on the numbers, specifically related to the exact settlement, we can know what to ask,” Giarizzo said. “We’re at the point where we don’t have a clear path forward on what’s most helpful to the district.”
Trustees agreed that it would be ideal to reach out to legislators on an individual basis to underscore how important the revenue from LIPA is for sustaining programming and staff in the district.
Trustee Marianne Russo also asked if it is possible to apply for a waiver of the 2 percent tax cap in light of an unexpected change of the tax roll.
Russo also questioned whether or not the claim that a $39.9 million bond proposal was “tax neutral” in light of the LIPA news is still accurate, suggesting “it can’t possibly be neutral if you’re shifting the [tax] base.”
“I think our credibility is on the line,” Russo said, noting that the “base assumptions” have changed and they need to have an honest conversation with the public.
Giarrizzo also said he consulted with counsel on the bond and fiscal advisors to ensure accuracy before sending out informational materials related to the bond.
Board President Sara Jones also said that if the bond is passed, it allows for some flexibility and that taxpayers are protected both by the tax cap and the way the bond is structured.
This is also just the start of a long conversation, she said.
“This is like the tiniest beginning of all the things we have to do to be open, to be transparent, and deal the best we can with preserving our programs and protecting our taxpayers,” Jones said.
In regards to the settlement impact, Board Vice President David Ludmar said it could be helpful to allow the use of reserves in a different way, “go leaner” on spending, and potentially set up a special reserve fund in wake of the LIPA settlement.
“This is a seven-year plan,” Ludmar said of the PILOT. “We’re talking about decades of managing and overseeing a school district for the grandchildren of the people who live here.”
Giarrizzo said having the ability to tap into other sources may be helpful, but as the total tax levy comes down and they start to use reserves, the impact of that may compound. They would need to find ways to replenish the reserves as possible, he also said, and investigate other streams of revenue.
The full discussion will be available on the school district website by the end of the week.