Pyramid's 'Palisades Promises'

Palisades Taxes Down? Homeowners' Taxes Up?

Back on April 1, 1990 the New York Times wrote that for the partners of the Pyramid Companies, the largest shopping-mall developer in the Northeast, no site is too complicated, no downtown too powerful, no citizen opposition too strong, no environmentally sensitive area too sensitive to deter Pyramid from a site on which it wants to build.

On April 23, 2012 the Journal News wrote that the Town of Clarkstown would go to court because the now-built Palisades Center mall doesn't like its current assessment of $253 million and is requesting a two-thirds reduction for the years 2008 and 2009. The mall pays $23,477,500 in property taxes annually, of which $15,165,00 goes to Clarkstown schools, $1,332,500 to the county, $5,635,000 to the town and $1,345,000 for special fire, ambulance and sewer districts.

Apparently no Town government is too strong to deter Pyramid from not paying its property taxes and Clarkstown will now rack up the Town's legal expenses to try to force it to do so as Town Attorney, Amy Mele, has headed to New York City and retained the Law firm of Kaye Scholer L.L.P.  

This legal action does not bode well for what Pyramid will wish to pay in property taxes for 2010, 2011 and 2012 and makes one wonder where the of the newly retained, but totally inexperienced , Jay Savino will be needed?   If he is not to be the 'Go-To' person on tax certiorari matters for his $87,000 per year 'retainer fee' perhaps he will at least be the 'Go-For' person and bring the Kaye Scholer legal team their daily coffee on one of the Clarkstown taxpayers' silver platters?

Remember when the Palisades Center was proposed in 1985 the Town was made a promise that sales tax dollars would no longer slip across state lines into New Jersey. I guess that may still be true - I can't see that the State is going to let Pyramid off the hook for the $40MM plus it pays in sales tax - it's just that Pyramid didn't promise it would continue to pay the property taxes.

Clarkstown is already one of the highest taxed Towns in the country yet we continue to use our Triple A bond rating to rack up more debt. At the last Clarkstown Town Board meeting Highway Superintendent Wayne Ballard sought for additional projects and equipment purchases. Note the word 'bonding' which means the Town can't afford to fix our roads with its current income and is racking up more debt to be paid for in the future by Clarkstown's already 'highest-taxed' citizens. Borelli noted the town currently has .

“We have to be very careful where were going with our debt,” he said. “We’ve got to watch everything.”

With $95 MM of debt Clarkstown must be racing to catch up on the Rockland County Legislature which is already on a ride towards .  As the Journal News reported:

"Rockland leaders have cooked up elaborate but familiar plans, including added taxes and more borrowing, to address a projected $80 million deficit. As alarming as that figure is, the harsher reality is this: There are scant assurances that the contemplated remedies will get the county out of its bind".

Meanwhile Supervisor Gromack  Clarkstown's AAA bond rating as Clarkstown's greatest strength. Put simply what he is hawking is the Town's ability to put Clarkstown's residents into more debt and to have the bill paid when the present Town Board members are no longer around to deal with the mess they are creating today. 

Elsewhere, the School Board huffs and puffs and against one another while it produces a  by digging into its 'reserves'.  

"According to the District’s Assistant Superintendent for Business, Facilities and Fiscal Management John LaNave, the owner of a home with a market value of $525,000 and assessed value of $160,000 would pay about $190 more in property taxes under the proposed budget." 

What happens if these reserves are not deep enough to make up for the loss in revenue when Pyramid wins its request to pay less?  Overtaxed homeowners will pay with more taxes, either now or in the future, as the Town does more 'bonding' in the hope that nobody will notice.

To give Councilwoman Lasker her due she did say many years ago that she felt like Pyramid was coming in and raping the community

"We've been sold out by our local elected officials.'' she said. 

Councilwoman Lasker may have been decades early with this prescient statement but now that she has attained the status of a 'local elected official' the onus is on her and her fellow Board members to ensure that the rape of increased taxation on homeowners, additional Town debt being bonded for future generations to pay, rising benefits and wages being given to unionized employees, etc. does not continue.

“We are going ahead and preparing for trial,” said Town Attorney, Amy Mele, in the Journal News. “I’m very confident in our trial counsel. I think they’ll do an excellent job.”

Wishful thinking, methinks!  My fear is that Pyramid will win this case as the Palisades Center mall is in trouble.  The "high-end" stores that were to attract "big spenders" see mostly teenagers hanging about waiting to get in to see the latest trash movie.  The cost to lease a store at the mall is becoming prohibitive.  Pyramid has to reduce its costs or the mall will go out of business just like one it previously killed in Nanuet.

The citizens of Clarkstown can take cold comfort in the knowledge that if the Town loses this case Clarkstown's tax collector will send out to come in and again be plucked. 

My goose is already honking but Supervisor Gromack is looking the other way.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

VinnyfromCongers April 27, 2012 at 11:36 AM
I like your commentary. Don't just blame Mr Gromack. He can't spend the money by himself. The town board says yes to everything involving money. Was I surprised that Mr Borelli voted NO on something? YES! It's about time someone had second thoughts about spending taxpayer money. Cynic that I am, I'm just wondering what the real motive is?
Watchdog April 27, 2012 at 12:14 PM
AND Clarkstown cops still get 81 days off a year with salaries averaging $160,000/year. If you include weekends, Clarkstwvn cops are 'on the job" less than 50% of the time every year, the rest of the year they are within a few minutes of their homes. Seniors are already being taxed out of their homes and Gromack wants them to take on boarders and increase their annual tax bill by $1000 in the process, hoping that two people who cannot live in their homes because of high taxes will be able to live in one home and pay even higher taxes on that home. Sounds like a Win, Win ,Win for the cops, the Town and Gromack and a Lose, Lose for seniors who get no relief unless the go into the Barding Home business. .
Watchdog April 27, 2012 at 12:22 PM
It would've interesting to see what the bonds still on the books actually paid for in the first place and what the remaining useful life,is compared to the time left to mature on the bonds. Do we finance equipment with a useful life of ten years over a thirty year period? What is the current value of this equipment compared to the remaining value if the bond?
Maureen April 27, 2012 at 01:00 PM
Gromack MUST be held responsible.  He is the CEO of the Town Board.  He sets the direction and the goals.   Borelli went after Ballard hard but from what I gather Ballard seems to be totally conversant with his job responsibilities and it is his job to tell the Board which of the town's highways are deficient. It's the board's job to set his budget priorities.    Borelli has promised to go after Lettre who seems totally incapable of putting together a work plan with a budget than anybody but Gromack and Lasker would support.  The problem the Board has with Lettre is that he allegedly controls an election line that they all run on and so as he looks at them pleading for money without an itemized spending plan they all know the card he has in his back pocket.  It's not an ACE, it's the JOKER!    Someone tell me what his raise was last year.  I know from 2010 to 2011 it was about 11%.   Taxpayers go figure!   If Gromack can eliminate the job of another election line provider, Marsha Coopersmith, he could eliminate the job of the JOKER and give it to Ballard!  But will he?  Of course not! Keep wondering about the real motives!
Jerry April 27, 2012 at 07:30 PM
All increased tax collections for the town and county from Palisades Mall have ended up in increased public servant salaries. It would be interesting to graph the average public employees salaries in the 15 years prior to the the Mall and than 15 years since it was built. The end result.....we are stuck with a substandard Mall and higher priced government and pension costs.
Mike Hirsch April 27, 2012 at 11:54 PM
Thank you, Michael. You are a gem. You should do a weekly radio show.
Phil Leiter April 28, 2012 at 12:44 PM
This situation illustrates why there is no comfort in the 2% tax cap. The cap is on the tax levy, not the tax rate. If Pyramid wins a substantial reduction, it is almost certain that the Town will impose significant tax increases on homeowners to make up the difference. We should all share Mr. Hull's concern on the Town's ability to defend itself against what are certain to be top-notch attorneys arguing for Pyramid.
Watchdog April 29, 2012 at 12:56 PM
We have to stop looking at the REVENUE side and look at the EXPENSE side. If you do, three items stand out....SALARIES, PENSIONS AND MEDICAL BENEFITS, the latter two being the biggest culprits. Until you address these items we will continue our path towards DOOMSDAY.
stephany May 09, 2012 at 03:49 AM
Am I wrong in thinking our taxes would have been much higher had Lasker got her way and the mall was never built.I don't believe the King Pin was paying even 1/2 that much. I mean where would the 23.5 and all the taxes they paid from every other year come, or would cops and teachers be working for rent money. Like the mall or not, it brings in out of town revenue and pays a lot of taxes we would otherwise have to pay if the costs to run this place remained the same..The 60 thou or so Lasker costs the town is seeing a piece of that tax revenue too. I say thank God Lasker lost because the Mall is more responsible for the quality of life and the schools than Lasker and the rest of the town board is for sure. They just spend it. the mall pays it


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