Island Park library and school district locked in tax dispute


Residents have found themselves caught in the crossfire of a financial dispute between the Island Park Public Library and the Island Park School District.

The disagreement revolves around a tax settlement with Long Island Power Authority, leaving both the library

and school district facing uncertain financial futures and taxpayers possibly shouldering the burden.

The conflict can be traced to LIPA’s legal battle with the Nassau County over tax assessments on the E.F. Barrett Power Plant. LIPA contended that it was being over-assessed and sought tax reductions, which could significantly impact the school district’s budget.

The district settled its decade-long litigation with LIPA in 2022 after challenging the agency’s efforts to reduce the taxes it pays on the power plant. According to the terms, LIPA agreed to make $12 million in direct payments to the district for four years starting in 2022-2023.

Over the years, Board of Education trustees have gone back and forth with LIPA and Nassau County in an attempt to alleviate the financial burden that reducing taxes on the plant would create for local taxpayers, who would have to make up the revenue shortfall.

However, the library now has become entangled in the dispute, because it’s supposed to receive a proportionate share of taxes and payments in lieu of taxes, or PILOTs. The settlement agreement between the county and the school district failed to include specific language that would guarantee the transfer of more than $500,000 to the library.

Library officials expressed dismay when the school district decided to withhold the funds due to perceived deficiencies in the agreement.

“Nassau County has opined that the Island Park Library is entitled to its proportional share of the Direct Assessment monies under the LIPA settlement,” library officials said in a frequently asked questions sheet for residents. “The County also sent a chart to the Town of Hempstead which confirms the amount of money the Library should be provided by the School District for this year. However, under New York State law, as a school district library, those monies must first go to the School District and then be transmitted to the Library. The School District is presently withholding those monies.”

In a letter sent to parents in February, the school district hinted that its expected loss of roughly $118,000 in state aid in the governor’s proposed budget could be partially to blame for withholding funds to the library.

“For our small District, this loss in aid exacerbates an already challenging financial situation,” Island Park Superintendent Vincent Randazzo said in the letter. “The aftermath of the LIPA/Nassau County Tax Certiorari Settlement with respect to the E.F. Barrett Power Plant has resulted in a substantial loss of revenue. This, coupled with a proposed loss in state aid, poses a threat to the quality of education our students receive and jeopardizes the ability of our school district to maintain essential programs and services.

“I, along with our entire Board of Education and administration, are committed to championing the needs of our district to ensure that we can continue to provide the necessary programs and services vital for the academic, social and emotional growth and development of our students,” Randazzo added.

Without the anticipated funds from the tax dispute, the library may be forced to substantially increase taxes, placing even more of a financial strain on Island Park residents, officials said.

The average home in Island Park pays about $350 in library taxes per year.

“The Island Park Public Library has been placed in the unfortunate position of considering a significant tax increase to its budget, which would impact taxpayers through our school district collected tax levy,” library officials said.

Residents, including Richard Schurin, president of the Island Park Civic Association, expressed concerns about the potential ramifications of the settlement agreement.

“It’s upsetting to me, it’s like a family squabble,” he said. “The library director was with us all along. Somebody screwed up and didn’t include the little particular language that was promised, and as a result, the library is now in big trouble because they were counting on that money.”

Schurin urged the county to rectify the agreement’s language and called for the school district to acknowledge responsibility in allocating the funds to the library.

“It doesn’t cost the county any money to fix the agreement,” said Schurin, whose decade-long involvement in community affairs includes actively engaging with the school district and the library on issues involving LIPA. “They can call up LIPA and say, ‘we forgot to indicate that a portion of the money that you’re paying goes to the library. Here’s an amendment, please sign off on it.’”

The library is facing rising operating costs, such as health insurance and state retirement contributions, which is projected to increase by $25,000.

In addition, the library is staring at mounting building maintenance expenses.

Complicating matters is the disagreement over who’s responsible for maintaining the library building. While the library sees itself as a tenant not responsible for repairs, library officials claim the school district expects the library to cover major expenses such as roof repairs.

“The school district owns the buildings, not the library,” Schurin said. “Another way that this can be resolved is if the school district agrees to make all the repairs instead of the library. What’s going to happen is the library is going to introduce its budget in a few weeks, and they’re going to ask for an increase in the budget to make up for the shortfall. It’s not going to be fixed. The county screwed up, and the school board is refusing to fix it.”