Democrat Photo | Dan Hust
MATT LAYMAN WAS one of two students the other was Victoria Harmon (not at the meeting) recognized at the last Sullivan West meeting for scoring so high on the PSAT that they became National Merit Commended Scholars.
Tax Abatement Restored in District
By Dan Hust
LAKE HUNTINGTON November 6, 2007 The new dynamic of a now-full Sullivan West school board became evident at the regular meeting on November 1.
The 485-B tax exemption, which gives a discount on the school portion of property taxes for new or expanding businesses, was restored by the board in a 6-3 vote.
Board members Noel van Swol, Shaun Sensiba and Rose Crotty voted against it, echoing their positions on the matter earlier this year, when a differently composed board voted 6-3 to not allow the exemption.
The disagreement hovered around whether the abatement which discounts school taxes 50 percent the first year and eventually dwindles to no discount at the end of 10 years helps or hurts the district.
“Blanket tax abatements are not effective,” said Sensiba, citing studies indicating such. “…We’re supposed to protect the education of our children and fairly tax those who are here.”
“You are increasing your tax base,” pointed out board member Anna Niemann, who had advocated for 485-B back in February when it was voted down. “…You’re drawing business in. And when you build a commercial entity, you’re generally not bringing kids with it.”
Since Roscoe is the only local school district which doesn’t offer the abatement, Niemann argued that restoring it in SW would be “putting ourselves on the same playing field… as other districts” when it comes to attracting businesses which add to the tax base without directly adding children and the associated costs of educating them.
Interestingly, there were actually three votes regarding 485-B. The first was to table it for more discussion, but that failed 6-3, with van Swol, Sensiba and Crotty the only ones for tabling.
The second vote was to amend the resolution to require the district to annually review the policy and publish a list of who gets the abatements and the related figures.
That amendment passed 5-4, with Ken Cohen, Angela Daley, Richard Tegnander and Niemann against it.
The final vote, of course, was to approve the restoration of the abatement, which passed 6-3.
Tegnander broached a particularly sensitive subject that Thursday evening, proposing a “compromise” that he felt would reduce costs, resolve confusion and heal division within the communities that make up Sullivan West.
Offering routes 17B/114 as a north/south boundary line, he proposed condensing the three current election districts whose boundaries are based on the pre-merged school districts into two, with polling locations at the high school in Lake Huntington and the elementary school in Jeffersonville.
Thus, the polling booths normally available in Callicoon and Narrowsburg would be shut down.
“Some may argue that if the voting were held at one or both campuses, it would cause a hardship to people living the greatest distance from these sites,” said Tegnander in a prepared speech. “Perhaps. But our children manage to get to these locations every day. Would it be too much to ask the same of the adults?”
Yes, was the resounding answer from the majority of the board.
“I understand the desire to end the factions,” said Sensiba. “… [But] I view us as a confederation of probably 30 communities. When you ask people to travel further to vote, you’re disenfranchising them.”
Sensiba wasn’t against redistricting, but he advocated it be done in a manner that includes, not excludes perhaps even expands the current number of polling locations.
“As a democratic group, we should be trying to increase the number of people voting, not creating barriers that will decrease people from voting,” he stated.
Van Swol, who felt Tegnander’s “heart is in the right place,” reminded everyone that SW has the second-highest per-capita voter turnout in the entire Hudson Valley region, to which Supt. Hilton assented.
“I think we have a pretty good system,” said van Swol. “…This is a very inflammatory concept, and I know Rich didn’t mean it that way, but we have enough problems on our hands right now.”
“I really have to agree with Noel and Shaun,” remarked Board President Richard Sandler. “This is a very, very large district… We have bigger fish to fry, and I don’t think we should be addressing this now.”
Cohen recommended at least changing the names of the election districts to avoid referencing the old school districts, to which van Swol said he could agree.
However, the discussion was closed by Sandler after an informal poll indicated no board support (nor from those in the audience) for Tegnander’s proposal.
In other business
Niemann was the lone “no” vote regarding the decision to put school law firm Bond, Schoeneck and King on retainer, which puts an end to costly per-call charges whenever their services were needed over the past year.
“I think they’re too expensive,” she said of the $4,900/month fee that will be charged from now through June 2008. “I think their billing is very high.”
High-schoolers Matt Layman and Victoria Harmon were recognized for scoring so high on the PSATs that they became National Merit Commended Scholars.
Superintendent Ken Hilton said the honor recognizes them for being “remarkably prepared, stellar students.”
SW Board: Investigate High School Building
By Dan Hust
LAKE HUNTINGTON The third time was indeed the charm for Noel van Swol.
After two failed attempts, the Sullivan West school board member succeeded on Thursday in convincing his colleagues to ask NYS Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s office to investigate shoddy construction at the Lake Huntington high school.
By a vote of 7-2, the board authorized Superintendent Ken Hilton to request an investigation “into the nature, extent and quality of professional services rendered with respect to said construction” and provide any requested information and documentation that would aid in “recovering monies that may be owed to the taxpayers.”
“The community wants us to do something,” said van Swol. “…If they [the AG’s office] do nothing, then the onus is on them.”
The resolution was actually amended to specifically ask the attorney general to begin an investigation, though whether that will happen is in question, since normally there has to be some indication of criminal behavior to do so.
And even though board member Ken Cohen indirectly introduced that amendment by questioning the resolution’s focus, he and Anna Niemann voted against it.
“Because it was amended and I didn’t get a chance to review the exact wording of the amended resolution in writing,” he said after the meeting. “Just as I had a chance to review the original resolution and alert the board of its unclear language, I prefer to have the same opportunity to review an amendment to make sure it is worded correctly. As we saw, a word here or there can change the whole meaning of a resolution.”
As for Niemann, “an investigation is too preliminary,” she explained.
She acknowledged that the school’s attorney had drafted the language of the resolution, “but I’m concerned it will hinder our case.”
The district is planning to effect permanent repairs to shore up the second floor of the high school, which was constructed with gypcrete rather than the concrete the design called for, but SW is currently locked in litigation with the builders over other allegedly shoddy construction issues.