As school funding runs dry, Riverhead residents call to shut down economic development org

October 11, 2023

New York Focus: As School Funding Runs Dry, Riverhead Residents Call to Shut Down Economic Development Org

New York Focus reporter Arabella Sanders took a deep dive into a community’s efforts to roll back the use of economic development incentives in the town of Riverhead. Residents have called on the Riverhead Industrial Development Agency, a quasi public agency, to stop giving private developers tax breaks that come at the expense of public school funding.

From the article:

“Over a hundred similar bodies operate across the state. New York schools lose far more than those of any other state to corporate tax breaks — at least $1.8 billion in fiscal year 2021, according to an analysis by the watchdog group Good Jobs First. The process by which that money is doled out tends to be obscure. But in Riverhead, it has sparked a war.

A growing faction of local leaders and residents is calling for the IDA to be dissolved. They complain of unnecessary tax breaks, failure to publish basic information required by state rules, and the financial squeeze on schools. The controversy has spurred the formation of civic groups, standing-room-only meetings hosted by formerly low-profile town bodies, impassioned debate on social media and government forums, an altercation between an aquarium owner and a resident, and the appointment and resignation of an outspoken critic to the IDA’s board.

“This is uniting the community more than any other event in the past decade that I can remember,” Moore said.

The latest battlefront: pushing the agency to stop exempting school property taxes.

In late August, the Riverhead Board of Education sent a letter to the IDA about the “extreme financial burden” tax breaks have put on the school district.

The school board expressed concern that a fresh round of subsidies could be awarded to the developers of 650 new apartment units slated for Riverhead, which they point out will come with more students. “Over the past decade this practice has robbed the Riverhead School District of over $15 million in school revenue,” the board wrote.

Colin Palmer, the school board’s president, says the local battle has broader implications.

“Personally, I think that not only should our town IDA be disbanded, but I think that the law needs to be repealed, and all IDAs in the state should be disbanded,” he said.

Read the full story at New York Focus.