Brooks: State should fill school tax gap created by Sandy

Debris from superstorm Sandy sits in front of

Debris from superstorm Sandy sits in front of a home in Ocean Beach. (Feb. 7, 2013) (Credit: Ed Betz)

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From Long Beach to Lindenhurst, from Seaford to Sayville, from Massapequa to Moriches, Long Island communities are still trying to recover from the devastation of superstorm Sandy. Four and a half months after the storm, many people have still not been able to return to their homes. Others have returned but still have significant damage. The most unfortunate do not have homes to return to at all.

The state as well as the counties and towns recognize that the value of these homes has been significantly reduced. Efforts to reduce the assessed value of these properties to reflect the damage and provide some tax relief to the owners is good, but more action by Albany is required if we are to avert a tax surge with this year's school budgets.

Long Island receives a relatively small amount of state aid for education as compared to our total educational costs. In Nassau, about 85 percent of the cost of education is paid by property tax, and in Suffolk, it's about 80 percent. Most other areas in New York get over half of their costs covered by state aid; some get more than 75 percent.


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Unlike county or town taxes that are spread over a large number of homes and businesses, school taxes are paid solely by property owners in each school district. Many of the communities that were hit hard by Sandy are in relatively small school districts. Reduced assessed value of the homes damaged in these communities will have a devastating effect on the property taxes of those homeowners who were not affected by the storm.

The amount of property taxes charged to a home is based on the assessed value of the home multiplied by the tax rate. The rate is the relationship between the total tax levy -- in other words, the amount of the total school tax bill -- divided by the assessed value of the school district.

So as the assessors reduce the assessed value of the homes damaged by Sandy, they are reducing the district's overall assessed value. To raise the same amount of revenue, they have to increase the tax rate. The communities hit hardest by the storm may see a significant jump in their tax rates.

If we do not receive additional aid from the state, we will be shifting the cost of the tax relief that results from the reduction in damaged homes' assessed value solely onto the other residents of the school districts who were not hurt by the storm.

That means the communities already struggling from the storm are going to be hurt again.

I am drafting a bill, the Sandy State Aid Relief Assistant Program, that is designed to stabilize the school taxes for next year for those communities most affected by the superstorm. That will involve increased state aid, based on the amount of the reduction in the communities' assessed value from the storm to stabilize the tax rate. Under such a program, the cost of the tax relief to homeowners most damaged by the storm would not be borne solely by the rest of the community, but rather by the state of New York. I'm calling on our Long Island delegation to champion this legislation; our legislators in Albany must pass this bill, so that increased aid can be included in budget negotiations this month.

Long Island has suffered for far too long under the current state aid formulas. We don't receive a fair share of state education aid now. Homeowners are already at the breaking point from our heavy taxes. To shift an additional tax burden to these communities could devastate many families already struggling to make ends meet. Albany must act -- and it must act now -- to provide the needed funds to offset these assessment reductions and allow our communities to rebuild.

John E. Brooks of Seaford is a former member of the Seaford school board and a former candidate for the New York State Assembly.

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