Fast track

| 08 Mar 2018 | 01:51

    — Assemblyman James Skoufis (D-Woodbury) and state Sen. William J. Larkin Jr. (R–Cornwall-on-Hudson) have introduced legislation that would accelerate the start date for the already-approved town of Palm Tree.
    The bill also would provide special state aid to the Monroe-Woodbury School District to offset the financial impact the new town will have on the school district’s taxpayers.
    “My main priority remains protecting the Monroe-Woodbury School District and its taxpayers,” Skoufis said in a press release detailing the legislation. “Shifting the district’s boundaries is in everyone’s best interest given the forthcoming influx of private school households into the area in question, but we must also ensure that Monroe-Woodbury’s finances do not take a hit.
    “Let me continue to be clear,” he added. “My support for accelerating the town of Palm Tree’s schedule is conditioned on special aid to offset the district’s losses.”
    Currently, Palm Tree – which will include the existing village of Kiryas Joel – is set to become an established town in January 2020, thereby removing itself from the town of Monroe and local elections. This legislation would speed up that time frame by one year to January 2019. The bill does not grant any approvals and only speaks to the schedule; the new town received its required approvals from the Orange County Legislature and local voters in 2017.
    “The residents and local officials in these two communities have clearly spoken,” Larkin said. “They want this new town and see it as the best way forward. I’m happy to sponsor this legislation that not only speeds up Palm Tree’s creation, but protects Monroe-Woodbury in the process. I’ll certainly do my part to make sure the Senate approves this bill as quickly as possible.”
    As the application to create the town of Palm Tree moved forward, Monroe-Woodbury’s school board concurrently voted to alter its boundaries in order to mirror the land shift between Monroe and Kiryas Joel. This realignment continues to be in everyone’s best long-term interest because private school families are expected to predominantly reside in this area, driving up significant transportation and special education expenses for Monroe-Woodbury.
    In the short-term before this land is developed, however, the school district has determined there will be a financial shortfall unless special state aid is provided.
    The creation of Palm Tree will shift 220 acres now within the Monroe-Woodbury School District into the Kiryas Joel School District. Monroe-Woodbury would stand to lose about $880,000 in property tax revenues. There would be savings, however, that would adjust the total lost revenue to about $343,000. The district’s overall budget this school year is $171.2 million.
    In an email exchange with The Photo News, Skoufis said the proposed aid would effectively increase the state reimbursement rate for Monroe-Woodbury construction projects.
    “The district intends to come out with a capital plan later this year, so the benefit in terms of dollars and cents would depend on the cost of their plan,” the assemblyman added. “It would be substantial. That said, my main focus is ensuring the district and taxpayers are, one way or another, made whole following the boundary shift.”
    “We are grateful to Senator Larkin and Assemblyman Skoufis for their continued support of the Monroe-Woodbury Central School District and the important work we do,” said Superintendent of Schools Elsie Rodriguez. “As always, our primary focus is on providing a high-quality education to our students, but we also have a fiduciary responsibility to our taxpayers. This legislation would benefit our residents and we thank them for their efforts on behalf of our 7,000 students.”
    The legislation to accelerate Palm Tree’s schedule and deliver aid to Monroe-Woodbury is being pursued in this year’s state budget, due on April 1.
    In a joint statement, Mayor Abraham Wieder and Board of Trustees of the Village of Kiryas Joel and the Board of Education of the Kiryas Joel School District said they were are pleased by the proposed legislation.
    “The Town of Palm Tree is a symbol of peaceful coexistence and mutual respect for our differences,” Village Administrator Gedalye Szegedin said. “It is only logical to permit the establishment of the new Town in January of 2019, instead of waiting until January 2020, in order to carry out the will of the people.”
    Added Joel Petlin, the Kiryas Joel school district superintendent: “We wholeheartedly back the Larkin-Skoufis bill so that Monroe-Woodbury can minimize the fiscal impact of their decision to shift their boundaries for the Town of Palm Tree. M-W has been a terrific partner in this process and should be given adequate resources to best serve their students.”
    Likewise, Supervisor Tony Cardone said he and the rest of the Monroe Town Board favor the proposals.
    Cardone said there are currently there is no agreement regarding anything associated with the separation. He added that Szegedin has expressed an interest in paying Monroe to perform the following:
    Services for assessments;
    Maintain 11 road miles for plowing in winter;
    Justice Court services;
    Dial A Bus Services; and
    Some other smaller aspects of drainage, water districts.
    The shift of the 200 acres from the unincorporated portion of the Town of Monroe into the Town of Palm tree will result in the loss of nearly $2 million in property tax revenue. The Monroe Town budget is about $9.3 million.
    - Bob Quinn