EH residents bear brunt of Harbor school taxes

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The town’s failure to routinely reassess properties within its boundaries has meant taxpayers on the East Hampton side of the Sag Harbor School District must shoulder far more than their fair share of the district’s tax burden than those who live on the Southampton Town side, according to the school’s business manager, Len Bernard.

Southampton has a procedure for routinely updating its entire assessment roll. East Hampton has never conducted a town-wide reassessment.

The school district, like Sag Harbor Village itself, straddles the town line between East Hampton and Southampton, though in both cases, the majority of the properties are on the Southampton Town side.

Some 900 property owners on the East Hampton side of the school district face a total of $500,000 more in school taxes for 2008 than they did for 2007—an average of more than $550 extra per taxpayer, according to Mr. Bernard, who served as East Hampton Town’s budget officer during Republican Supervisor Jay Schneiderman’s administration and has been a steady critic of the current East Hampton supervisor, Bill McGintee. He said that increase comes on top of a major jump in the town tax rate.

East Hampton is currently considering a town-wide reassessment and the Town Board heard a presentation from a New York State expert on the subject two weeks ago.

“That’s just another reason for a town-wide reassessment,” said Mr. Bernard this week.

Southampton Town reassesses properties every year, and the value of many houses in Southampton went down last year, leaving residents in East Hampton—which doesn’t reassess properties unless they change hands or they are enlarged—to cover more than their fair share of the tax burden, he said.

Sag Harbor Village Trustee Brian Gilbride is one resident on the East Hampton side of the village who believes his taxes are way too high. A Republican candidate for East Hampton Town Board in 2007, he said this week that his tax bill this year was $8,100. He said that $5,800 of that bill went to the school district, up from $4,900 last year. He added that many people who live in houses similar to his, but on the Southampton side of the school district, pay between $3,000 and $4,000 a year in school taxes.

“I still work. I’m worried more about people on fixed incomes, carpenters who may have had their workweek cut,” said Mr. Gilbride. “This is a real tough thing for a lot of people who have had their work hours cut back,” he said. “I think the vast majority of blue collar workers and people who are just struggling would see some kind of reduction” if East Hampton reassessed. “Reassessment should be revenue neutral,” he added. “It only levels the playing field.”

Sag Harbor Mayor Gregory Ferraris said that he’d recently met with East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill McGintee, whom he said understood the tax concerns of village residents.

“They did bring the issue to my attention,” said Mr. McGintee of Sag Harbor officials. He added that he was concerned about a tax hike of 24 percent for town property owners that is not evenly distributed because of an obsolete assessment roll in the town.

“I had a nice dialogue with the mayor and we’re going to do what’s right,” he added.

Mr. Bernard said that this year, East Hampton residents will pay $3.1 million of the school’s $28.5 million budget, up from $2.6 million last year. He added that the school’s budget has gone up only $470,000 over last year, leaving East Hampton taxpayers to shoulder more than the school’s total budget increase this year, on top of their other tax obligations.

Though Mr. Bernard said that no taxpayers have complained directly to him about the jump in their school taxes, Ed Deyermond, who lives on the East Hampton side of the school district, is a trustee on the Sag Harbor Village Board and works as the tax assessor for Southampton Town. He said that several people have asked him why their taxes in East Hampton have skyrocketed.

He said that the school district’s portion of taxes in East Hampton have increased 16 percent this year.

“The solution is to get both towns at the same level,” he said. “We certainly are not going to slide back,” he said of Southampton’s assessment strategy. “It would be East Hampton moving their assessments back in line.”

Mr. Deyermond said that he doubted that the Sag Harbor Village Board would file a suit against East Hampton for not reassessing properties, adding that he thought such a suit would likely come from an individual taxpayer.

“I’m sure there are people who live on Lily Pond Lane who are paying less in taxes than someone in a little house up here,” he said.

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