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.