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Port Jefferson school bond tax impact underestimated, officials say

Port Jefferson residents and school district officials watch

Port Jefferson residents and school district officials watch a video discussing a $29.9 million bond proposition on Monday night, Nov. 27, 2017. Credit: Newsday / Carl MacGowan

Port Jefferson school officials say an error by the district’s financial adviser has caused estimated taxes on a $29.9 million bond proposition to climb almost 19 percent.

Officials said the adviser, Port Jefferson Station-based Munistat Services, overestimated annual state aid for the project by about $400,000. District officials said that error caused the tax rate for the project to jump 18.7 percent, from 7.21 percent to 8.56 percent.

That means homeowners who pay $4,000 a year in school taxes would see an $239 annual tax increase if the bond is approved by voters next Tuesday. Officials originally had estimated the average annual tax hike would be $198.

“The fact that they made a mistake was kind of mind-blowing to us,” Superintendent Paul Casciano said Monday during a public informational meeting about the bond proposal. About 30 residents attended the meeting.

Officials have said the bond is necessary to pay for facility and security upgrades at the district’s three schools and to relocate administration offices. District residents will vote on the plan from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School.

Casciano said in an interview he didn’t think the revised tax rate would cause voters to reject the bond. Munistat officials were not available for comment.

“While we’re not happy an error was made, we don’t think it’s going to be a significant amount,” Casciano said.

Some residents at Monday’s meeting criticized the project’s cost and questioned aspects of the proposal, including new lighting and artificial turf at an athletic field.

“Some of these things seem kind of luxurious,” Jessica Gurevitch said. “We don’t like lights. We don’t like lights shining in our windows.”

Rene Tidwell called the bond “excessive” and questioned plans to expand the high school. “How do we rationalize a $7 million building — three stories — when we know enrollment is declining?” she said.

District officials said the expansion is needed to move some classes to the high school from a portable building and a separate technology building. The technology building would then house administrative offices, and the current administration building would be demolished.

The bond received support from some residents, who said improvements are badly needed.

“We have to support each other,” Philip Griffith said. “If we all work together and vote for this, we’ll get what we want, which is a great school system.”

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