Riverhead Board of Education President Laurie Downs at the Riverhead Town Board meeting July 20. Photo: Denise Civiletti

The Riverhead Central School District wants its tax money.

School board President Laurie Downs went to Town Hall yesterday to ask the town to remit the school tax revenue that was due to the school district on June 30.

The district has emailed the town but got no response, she said. So she went to the podium to ask in person.

There was still no real response from the town.

“When will the town release the tax money to the school district that was due by June 30, 2021?” Downs asked.

The question was met with silence from the board. Deputy Supervisor Devon Higgins then asked, “Do you have any further comments, Ma’am?”

“I’d just like an answer,” Downs said. “The district had sent an email a couple of weeks ago to you, Madam,” Downs said, addressing the supervisor.

Councilwoman Catherine Kent started to ask Financial Administrator Bill Rothaar to respond. The supervisor cut her off.

“To the board, to the entire board,” Supervisor Yvette Aguiar interjected, responding to Downs. “We are going to answer your question but this is just the comment section, just so you know.”

Town Attorney Robert Kozakiewicz cut in. “Just briefly, there is an ongoing lawsuit, as the board president knows,” he said referring to the notice of claim filed by the district last July. Kozakiewicz said he spoke with the district’s lawyer last week and agreed to call him back by the end of this week. Kozakiewicz said he has a meeting scheduled with Rothaar on Thursday to discuss the matter and intended to call the district’s lawyer on Friday.

See prior story: “Riverhead school district to file notice of claim against town over tax money” (July 22, 2020)

“As you know, under the Suffolk County Tax Act, when we have a shortage or a deficiency in a warrant — and this is kind of a roundabout answer to your question — we rely upon the County of Suffolk to reimburse us. And that is part of the process under the Suffolk County Tax Act,” Kozakiewicz said.

He said he didn’t want the town board to discuss the matter with the board because what they say “can be used against us in the suit.”

Downs said the district is fully aware of the Suffolk County Tax Act, which she said provides for reimbursement to the town. “But you can’t be reimbursed when you haven’t put out yet,” Downs said.

The town collects property tax revenues on behalf of the school district and all other special districts, then disburses the funds to the districts. The property taxes for the entire tax year — which runs from Dec. 1 through Nov. 30 — are payable in two halves, which are due Dec. 1 and May 31.

According to district officials, the town has not remitted more than $1.2 million in school district property taxes.

The school board president said that other towns collect school taxes on behalf of the Riverhead Central School District and they remit the taxes by June 30 as required by law. “And they also have to wait” to be reimbursed by the county, she said.

Downs said when the town does not remit the school taxes to the district, the district has to borrow money to meet its own expenses, costing taxpayers money in interest and fees on tax anticipation notes.

“I understand that this is something that’s been going on for a long period of time, many years,” Downs acknowledged. “However, we have come to the supervisor and spoken to her numerous times, at least three times during the last school year, to try and straighten this out, because she does want to work with the school district,” Downs said. The school board believes that past practices can’t be allowed to stand anymore, she said. “Things have to be corrected.”

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.