Group urges taxpayers to reject school expansion

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Back-and-forth bickering split the air in typically tranquil Remsenburg Tuesday night as members of a group that opposes the Remsenburg/Speonk School District’s proposed $14.9 million school expansion aired their displeasure with the plan, while School Board members defended the proposal.

The members of CARE—an acronym for Citizens Advocating Responsible Expansion—stated at the meeting, attended by about 50 people and held at the Remsenburg Academy, that there is a strong possibility that taxes will soar if the $14.9 million bond is approved this Friday.

They also attacked School Board members, including two who were sitting in the audience, noting that they have been unwilling to bend and reduce the scope of the project, which will double the size of the school to 60,000 square feet. Project opponents also repeated their shared opinion that there is enough room at the elementary school to accommodate the district’s estimated 200 students.

School Board President Jeremiah Collins and former board member Candace Andria, both of Remsenburg, and current board member Aimee White of Speonk joined the conversation after an audience member, Tim Dahler of Speonk, called board members arrogant for refusing to listen to the demands of project opponents. Additionally, Carol Huber of Remsenburg called out Mr. Collins for refusing to alter the plan.

Meanwhile, Mr. Collins maintained that he and his fellow board members have a good relationship with taxpayers in Remsenburg and Speonk.

“On the other hand, we have other people approaching us who are in favor of the expansion vote,” Mr. Collins said. “All we’re doing as a board is putting out a vote to the community.

“What do we need, honestly? A vote to have a vote?” Mr. Collins asked. “Vote on it, yes or no.”

“No one came to the meeting last night,” added Ms. White, referring to the board’s last official meeting prior to the bond, which was attended by only six people. “That’s a shame, because we had the superintendent of East Moriches.”

East Moriches Superintendent Charles Russo attended Monday night’s meeting to defend his district’s expansion and to dismiss suggestions that the $23.7 million project lead to a spike in property taxes and austerity budgets.

Remsenburg/Speonk School District taxpayers can vote on the $14.9 million bond proposal this Friday, December 12, from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. in the gymnasium at Remsenburg/Speonk Elementary School on Mill Road in Remsenburg.

Kathy McGinnis of Remsenburg, who is also the Westhampton Beach Village clerk, delved into the financial details of the proposed project on Tuesday night. She noted that the tax base in the Remsenburg/Speonk School District, which she said totals about $2.2 billion, is too small to support such large expansion.

She also pointed out that the Westhampton Beach School District now has a tax rate of about $4.78 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, and that Remsenburg/Speonk’s tax rate currently totals $4.44 of assessed valuation. Westhampton Beach’s tax rate is 7 percent higher, Ms. McGinnis said, but that district has already undergone a $40 million expansion.

“Where are we going to end up with this bond?” Ms. McGinnis asked, referring to the projected tax rate if the bond is approved on Friday.

At the present time, school officials are predicting that, in the 2011-12 school year, the bond will increase school property taxes by 53 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation. On a $1 million home, the district average, taxes would increase by about 12 percent, a figure that works out to be about $520 per year.

Officials are estimating that the school’s annual budget, which must grow to pay for new hires and heating the addition, will bump up the tax rate by another 20 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. That translates into another $200 a year in property taxes for the average homeowner.

Louis Mancuso of Remsenburg, a former member of the Remsenburg/Speonk School Board, said those figures did not add up in his mind and suggested that, in his opinion, taxes could double if the expansion is approved.

“I would like to think it’s bad math, and that they’re not deceiving us,” Mr. Mancuso said about the board. “But they could be off enormously. We need someone with good math on the board.”

Near the close of the 90-minute meeting one audience member said the community needs new faces on its School Board. “They think they know better than you, but we know better than them,” shouted Mr. Dahler.

Just prior to his outburst, Mr. Dahler compared the School Board to the federal government in Washington, D.C., where, he said, “They don’t care what you think. They do what they want.”

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