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The Financial Planning Board Committee created at the October 18 Northport-East Northport board of education meeting met for the second time this past Thursday, November 16, to review and discuss the financial impact of maintaining current district operations, including the possession of three district buildings not used for students, in the next five years.
The committee, which was put together to address financial factors influencing the potential sale or lease of the three buildings – Dickinson Avenue Elementary School, Bellerose Avenue Elementary School and the William J. Brosnan Building – includes board of education (BOE) trustees Larry Licopoli, Donna McNaughton, Thomas Loughran, David Badanes and Carol Taylor. Superintendent Robert Banzer and Assistant Superintendent Robert Howard were also present.
Information viewed and discussed by the committee included the financial impact of maintaining the district’s current operations of all buildings, and the specific costs of maintaining Bellerose, Dickinson and the Brosnan building.
According to a “baseline graph” presented by Howard, the total cost of maintaining the three buildings during the current school year is $367,289 ($99,297 for Bellerose, $126,107 for Dickinson, and $141,885 for Brosnan). These figures do not take into account the lease revenue from Island Kids, which is $176,127 this year. The district profit from the current lease is $34,000.
For district homeowners with an assessed valuation at $500K, the annual cost per household of maintaining all three buildings if they were mothballed, and made no revenue, would be $5.13 for Bellerose, $6.52 for Dickinson, and $7.34 for the Brosnan building.
“This is an illustration based on the information we have today. It really gives us a snapshot of what we’re grappling with,” said BOE president Larry Licopoli. He added that maintaining the buildings is “not a financial issue” and spoke of getting that message out to the community. “Our financial situation will exist whether we have these buildings or not,” he said.
The financial situation Licopoli is referring to is a deficit that will reach over $7 million in 2027, when the LIPA glidepath is complete and the district is no longer receiving $2 million annually from the power plant’s property taxes. The BOE will be analyzing potential budget cuts in order to eliminate this deficit and wants to explore potential revenue streams from the vacant or underutilized buildings.
Leasing may be a viable option for earning revenue while holding onto the properties, Licopoli said, reiterating a sentiment that continues to gain traction among community members. The rental payment for a lease, however, cannot be less than the fair market value for each building, a figure that’s determined by the BOE, according to state law.
The district cannot operate in its current state if all three buildings were not available for use, Howard said.
Today, the Brosnan building is being fully utilized by district administration offices and the Island Kids Early Childhood Center, which leases an entire wing. Approximately 40-50% of Dickinson is currently being utilized regularly for such things as transportation, adult education classes and community events. Bellerose, the only truly “mothballed” building, said Trustee Taylor, has an annual maintenance cost of approximately $100,000; several committee members agreed that expense could be offset with potential revenue sources.
Trustee David Badanes hesitated to let the conversation end there though, stating that after analyzing expenses, looking into revenue-making options should be prioritized. Trustee Taylor agreed, stating that “there’s got to be revenue sources somehow, somewhere” to offset the cost of keeping all three buildings.
“The narrative of calamity was accepted for so long – now that we see the reality of what it looks like, and to me, it’s not an armageddon,” Taylor said.
Trustee McNaughton suggested evaluating the financial impact a property sale, whether for single family or multiple house dwellings, would have on the district.
During the next committee meeting, board members will work on developing a plan to reduce expenses and utilize alternative revenue sources for the 2027-2028 school year, upon the $2 million revenue shortfall from the LIPA settlement. The plan, according to the committee presentation, may include a retirement incentive, program cuts, and other planned expense reductions.
The next board of education meeting is scheduled for Thursday, November 30, at which an update on the three properties will be provided to the public. According to the Fall 2023 Our Schools newsletter, the board will be designated as a committee of the whole “for the purpose of deliberating and discussing the findings, to date, of the liaison team along with projected next steps.”