Letter: What Are We To Do?

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— By Artie Barnett, President, Mineola Board of Education, with unanimous consensus

The Mineola Board of Education has been watching decisions by local and state leaders which we believe will have a severe negative impact on the majority of district taxpayers. We have long said “we can control the tax levy but we cannot control the tax rate.” We believe the tax rate is going to get out of control if something isn’t done.

Two residential apartment buildings are currently under construction totaling nearly 600 new one, two and three-bedroom apartment units.  We understand  the approval process has begun for a third building.  The two buildings under construction were granted payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs) by the Nassau Industrial Development Agency (IDA);  we fear the third building will also be granted PILOT approval. For the next 20 years, these buildings will pay a fixed schedule of payments, no matter their assessed value or impact on the local tax base.

Simple logic would suggest that two and three-bedroom apartments will increase enrollment in our district.  The addition of 886 new apartment units to a school district with a total student population of only 2,700 will likely increase that student population significantly.  As a result, the district will need to increase class sizes, create new sections and likely need to expand the Pre-K-2 building at Hampton,  since virtually every new Pre-K to 2 student, from these buildings, will attend Hampton Street School.

These resulting changes will cost significant taxpayer money, however, because these new buildings—the  precise cause of the student population spike—were granted PILOTs for the next 20 years,  everyone’s taxes will increase, except those three apartment buildings.  To add insult to injury, even as the scheduled payments  for those buildings go up, the PILOT increase the school district receives comes off our allowable tax cap equation. The result could very likely be  tax increases for the district tax payers without any corresponding tax levy increase by the school district.

The IDA’s purpose is to generate jobs and industry, as the name implies. Sweetheart deals with residential developers under the guise of creating affordable housing is counterproductive and dangerous. Senator Jack Martins, the chairman of the Senate’s Commerce, Economic Development and Small Business Committee wrote a metaphor-laced missive recently, titled, “The Power Washer Approach.” It was about inspiring small business growth in communities. In it, he explains his need for a power washer, which he ironically purchases from Home Depot instead of a local small business, to clean up his home. He states, “to be sure, it’s slow and tedious work that requires careful attention so as not to let the water’s force damage what you’re cleaning.”

This is certainly not the approach being taken here. Flooding the real estate market with new housing while granting tax abatements to those developers will impact both the residential and the commercial tax payers in a way that could leave those buildings empty, or worse, subsidized.  It will create an unstable tax base, impacting both real estate values and scaring off any potential retail businesses, who are not eligible for PILOTs. This is not the “Downtown Revitalization Master Plan” that Senator Martins promised while Mayor of Mineola, is it?

We need to see a change in thought process of tax caps, tax exemptions and the allowing of residential PILOTs. Perhaps when considered individually, each of these actions seem like a good idea but when combined, the synergistic effect is a fiscal disaster. To make these decisions without the input of local school districts is unfathomable. When 70 percent or more, of the average tax bill goes towards education, any action by a municipality that will create an increase in school spending must be rethought. To ignore that impact is shortsighted and negligent.

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