Interim School Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich, left, with Board of Education President Colin Palmer and members Matthew Wallace, Virginia Healy, Erica Murphy and James Scudder at the Nov. 28 special meeting in the district office. Image: Screenshot from school district meeting video

An error in calculating school district property tax apportionments in the Riverhead Central School District was corrected by the Board of Education at a hastily called special meeting Tuesday evening at the district office.

The district’s total property tax levy was not changed, but how that levy is apportioned — or spread out — among the three towns comprising the Riverhead Central School District had to be adjusted to correct a previous error made by the district.

The district’s apportionment calculations essentially “undercharged” properties in Riverhead and Southampton towns, and “overcharged” properties in Brookhaven, according to Laverne Tennenberg, chairperson of the Riverhead Town Board of Assessors, who discovered the district’s error.

To correct the error, Riverhead Town’s share of the school district property tax levy was increased by about $250,000, Southampton Town’s share was increased by about $50,000 and Brookhaven Town’s share decreased by $300,000, Tennenberg said.

In an interview Tuesday, Tennenberg said she believes the district’s previous apportionment was calculated using the total assessed value of the properties in the district, not the taxable value.

“You can only levy taxes against what’s taxable,” she noted.

Tennenberg said she couldn’t fully ascertain exactly how the district arrived at the first apportionment numbers it submitted to her office. The equalization rates used also might not have been correct, she said. (Equalization rates are explained by the State Office of Real Property Tax Services here.)

The Board of Education adopted those apportionments at a special meeting on Sept. 26, amending a previous resolution approving apportionments the board adopted on Sept. 12. The Sept. 26 resolution also increased the total school tax levy to $104,311,496 from the $103,789,722 total levy approved by the board on Sept. 12. The increase was the result of a successful tax grievance lawsuit brought by Browning Hotels that reduced the payment due by the property owner. It is not clear whether the apportionments approved by the board on Sept. 12 were correct.

MORE COVERAGE: School district taxes will rise higher than budget projection, after court order reduces assessment of Route 58 hotel properties

Tennenberg said she concluded the apportionments for each town submitted by the district were wrong. She did her own calculations and then contacted Acting Assistant Superintendent for Business Marianne Cartisano about the error.

Without a correction made in time to be reflected in the 2023-2024 property tax bills, the incorrect appropriations would have to be corrected in the next tax year, and taxpayers in Riverhead and Southampton would see an extra amount tacked onto their tax bills for 2024-2025, Tennenberg said. She noted that a similar, though much larger, apportionment error was made about 20 years ago and taxpayers in the Southampton part of the school district had a significant amount added to their subsequent-year tax bills to correct the error. Taxpayers “went ballistic,” she recalled.

The impacts of a $250,000 boost spread out among all tax parcels in the Riverhead portion of the school district and a $50,000 boost on parcels in the Southampton portion of the district will be slight. An extra $300,000 on tax parcels in the Brookhaven portion of the school district this year would have had a much bigger impact on individual tax bills because the number of parcels in the Brookhaven portion of the school district is relatively small, Tennenberg said.

The school board corrected the errors at Tuesday’s special meeting, adopting a resolution setting the correct school tax levy amounts for each of the three towns. The resolution does not reference the prior apportionment or acknowledge any prior error, and the matter was not publicly discussed by the board before it voted 5-0, with two trustees absent, to approve the new apportionments.

Cartisano, who was appointed as acting superintendent for business as of Oct. 30, explained the need for the corrective resolution in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon.

“We updated the equalization rates and the apportionment percentages, which changed the three towns’ amount of money that they have to raise in taxes. So when we updated that information, we contacted Riverhead Town, Southampton Town and Brookhaven and said we wanted to update that information and correct it so that when the tax bills go out in December, we know they’re absolutely accurate,” Cartisano said. The adjustment will be very small on individual tax bills, she said.

The change had to be made by Nov. 30, which required the board to convene a special meeting, since the board’s next regular meeting isn’t until Dec. 12.

The first two apportionment calculations were made when Assistant Superintendent for Business Rodney Asse was the district’s business official, prior to Cartisano coming to the district as acting assistant superintendent for business on Oct. 30.

Asse apparently left the district in October, without explanation or even acknowledgment of his departure by district officials.

The school board has not taken any public action with respect to his employment, but it hired an Cartisano as acting superintendent for business on Oct. 24, the same day Asse told RiverheadLOCAL he was leaving the district. That was also the same day the school board, at a regular meeting, approved a separation agreement with the former superintendent, Augustine Tornatore.

MORE COVERAGE: Turmoil in Riverhead schools administration continues: superintendent resigns and top business official says he’s ‘leaving’

School district officials continue to decline to discuss Asse’s employment status.

Asked yesterday if Asse still works for the district, Cartisano said she could not answer the question.

“I think that information will become apparent in the next few days and weeks,” Cartisano said. “I think that the board has bought Cheryl and I here to make some meaningful positive changes, and to do some healing and establish new relationships,” she said.

Interim Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich, who sat in on Tuesday’s phone interview said also offered no comment on Asse, but said, “Marianne and I are very transparent. We’re really looking to move the district forward and work with all the constituents.”

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