The following is a letter to the Riverhead Town Industrial Development Agency from the Riverhead Central School District, signed by Riverhead Board of Education President Colin Palmer, submitted to RiverheadLOCAL for publication.
Dear Riverhead Town Industrial Development Agency Board of Directors and Ms. Tracy Stark- James, Riverhead IDA Executive Director:
By way of this official correspondence, we would like to inform you of our strong and absolute support for the legislation introduced last February by New York State Assembly Member Harry Bronson and New York State Senator Sean Ryan that would prevent industrial development agencies like the Town of Riverhead IDA from exempting taxes as an economic incentive offered to businesses and real estate developers that would otherwise be received by a school district. Over the past decade this practice has robbed the Riverhead School District of over $15 million in school revenue. This is money that could have been allocated to helping the District increase its classroom capacity to meet growing student enrollment, introduce new educational programs and services, provide greater social-emotional support programs for our students, expand our technology capabilities, and offer additional professional development opportunities for our faculty. In other words, the absence of these funds has created budget gaps that can only be filled by either sacrificing educational programs and services or placing additional financial burdens on our community’s residents. Neither of these options is acceptable.
What is most concerning about how the process by which the Town of Riverhead IDA approves these onerous tax exemptions is that there is no verifiable, quantitative measure of the actual need for the tax abatements. The Riverhead IDA does not conduct an independent audit of the finances of a project to assess the real need for the tax break. The applicant’s self-reporting of the finances is all that is provided. Developers are always saying that they will not proceed with their proposed project without the IDA funding, but that has never been tested. What project has Riverhead lost because the IDA did not provide funding?
It costs approximately $19,000 to educate a student in the Riverhead Central School District. That is one of the lower figures on LongIsland. As was recently pointed out to the IDA, there are 34 new K-12 students attending Riverhead School District schools from the recently developed apartment buildings on Main Street. With almost $2.7 million in tax abatements that would otherwise have come to the District’s coffers approved in 2022, the financial challenges — the financial squeeze — being placed on the District is unconscionable. What is even more frightening are the over 650 new apartment units in the Riverhead pipeline, a good portion of which will undoubtedly be occupied by families with school-age children. It is almost a guarantee that al the developers of these new developments will be asking for IDA tax abatements. If the IDA continues its practice of granting these abatements, the additional students generated by these projects without the commensurate tax revenue will further exacerbate the District’s financial health.
We are asking you to voluntarily agree to keep the Riverhead School District whole when considering tax abatements for proposed projects in Riverhead. Only in this manner will the District be able to provide the physical plant and the high-quality educational program the children of Riverhead deserve without placing extreme financial burden on Riverhead residents.
Colin J. Palmer, president
Riverhead Central School District Board of Education
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Read More: Opinion | Citing ‘extreme financial burden’ on school district from tax exemptions, RCSD asks the