Thursday, February 12, 2015

Equity Begins at Home

As a decision may or may not be made soon (two years later than I ever imagined) about the Cayuga Power Plant, AKA Lansing's #1 taxpaying unit, I thought I'd take a look at the Lansing superintendent's claim that losing the plant would be "too much to bear." I do not doubt for a minute that losing $1.25 million in revenue will hurt Lansing. Their projected budget for 2014-15 is $27,820,000, and they feel that they've already lost $100,000,000 through the Cayuga Plant PILOT, which decreases each year.

According to the department of assessment, school district taxable property in Lansing is currently valued at $776,851,895. If Lansing CSD figures are right, that's down from close to $876M or so. Enrollment at Lansing CSD (as of 2013-14) was 1,136. So the value of property per child is about $683,848.

Dryden educates 1,630 kids and has taxable property valued at $660,328,259, for around $405,109 per child. Newfield educates 752 students with taxable property valued at $281,584,724, for $374,447 per child.

Now, this may be an unorthodox way of looking at school finance, but it hints at why I seem so hardhearted when I hear people insist that the plant must be retrofitted to save the school. What schools don't get in state aid must be made up in property taxes (up to the cap); Dryden currently has the highest tax rate in the county, because it educates a lot of kids but has a minimal tax base.

Lansing is an outstanding school. It offers many things that Dryden and Newfield can only dream of—an enrichment curriculum, two foreign languages with AP courses in both, music theory, an orchestra and a strings program, Project Lead the Way.... Understandably, people in Lansing do not want to give up what they have. Dryden didn't want NYSEG to move out of its Dryden-based building and become a subsidiary of Iberdrola, either. Thank goodness NYSEG still pays taxes on its lines and land cuts, or both Dryden and Ithaca would have lost their #1 taxpayer. (The town of Lansing lists Pyramid Mall as their #1, since the power plant is now on a PILOT. But I believe that ICSD gets revenue from Pyramid and Lansing CSD does not.) As of 2013 assessments, Lansing had eight property owners with assessed value over $10 million apiece. Dryden had two.

If I were in Lansing, would I insist on the retrofit of the power plant? I don't know. I hope I would ask: "Is this the best thing for the region? Is it going to supply something that we need?" Instead, everyone involved seems to be asking, "Is this the best thing for me?"

1 comment:

Joseph said...

Hi Kathy,
You just hit the nail on the head. Thanks for the data which so convincingly makes your point.