A bipartisan group of county legislators, town supervisors and town council members came together Thursday morning in support of a proposed resolution that would put the burden of community college chargebacks on the county once again.
The county legislature passed a resolution on May 29 of this year to charge towns for the chargebacks, whereas the county previously covered the costs of out-of-county tuition for Rockland residents.
The upcoming resolution was introduced Thursday morning by Rockland County Legislators Ilan Schoenberger, Frank Sparaco and Alden Wolfe. They were joined by Clarkstown Town Supervisor Alex Gromack, Orangetown Town Supervisor Andy Stewart, Haverstraw Town Supervisor Howard Phillips, Stony Point Town Supervisor Geoffrey Finn, Ramapo Town Councilmen Daniel Friedman and Patrick Withers, Clarkstown Town Councilman Frank Borelli and Stony Point Councilman Jim McDonald. Schoenberger said Ramapo Town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence planned on attending the meeting as well, but couldn’t make it.
Schoenberger said part of the reason for introducing a resolution to reverse what was passed earlier this year is that the chargebacks didn’t produce what the legislators were told it would produce. The chargebacks were supposed to bring in about $1.8 million to the county.
The county’s auditor recently told the legislature that from Jan. 1 to Aug. 12 of this year, the chargebacks brought in $770,327.54. The county consultants projected that for the rest of the year, it would bring in about $395,000 for a total of about $1,165,000. The breakdown of how much each town has paid in chargebacks so far goes:
- Clarkstown - $279,394.75
- Haverstraw - $83,378.23
- Orangetown - $88,965.58
- Ramapo - $255,018.48
- Stony Point - $63,570.50
Schoenberger said if he knew those figures before voting on the initial legislation, he would’ve voted against it.
“In the end, it creates a lot of bad will, it creates bad will between the county and the towns,” Schoenberger said. “It creates bad will in the operation of government, and in the end, whether the county tax payers pay for it or the town taxpayers pay for it, it’s the same taxpayers. The question is whether it’s put on the county bill or the town bill, and if I had realized we were talking just over $1 million instead of close to $2 million, I would’ve said it’s not worth it.”
Schoenberger said the resolution to reverse the chargebacks will be introduced after the new year, most likely in January, February or March. No matter when it’s introduced, it will state that the county pays for the chargebacks starting on Jan. 1, 2013.
Wolfe said he felt charging the towns was distasteful, but added that it was done out of “sheer necessity” given the county’s financial state and that they didn’t receive the state help or deficiency bond they hoped for. Both Schoenberger and Wolfe voted in favor of the initial resolution back in May, which passed 11-6. Sparaco was one of the six to vote against it, and on Thursday said he was happy to see other legislators coming around to points he made back in May.
“I’m very happy that we could all work together and try to come to a peaceful solution. We have to listen to one another, which we’re proving that we do,” he said. “We can’t just force one branch of government. We always complain about the state forcing their mandates upon the county, and now we’re forcing something upon the towns. Instead of just complaining, a lot of politicians can just have press conferences over and over again, but they accomplish nothing. We need to all sit down and work together like we’re doing in this situation and get something done for the constituents.”
Gromack said the town supervisors didn’t understand back in May why the charges were being shifted to them and they’re happy the decision has a chance of being reversed.
The college chargebacks were one issue, along with others, that created some tension between the county and towns. Schoenberger called the proposed resolution the opening of a door to mend that relationship.
“You may have observed that during the last year, 2012 and maybe into the end of 2011, there was a somewhat contentious relationship between county government and the supervisors,” he said. “There were some disagreements between the county executive and the supervisors, and some of the legislators and the supervisors. It is our desire and our hope that by reversing this chargeback that we can bring everybody together — five town supervisors, the legislature, the county executive — to go forward in these difficult times.”
From the towns’ standpoint, the county taking back on the chargeback fees would certainly help repair the relationship moving into the future, where perhaps the county and towns could work together more closely on other issues as well.
“What we need to do is to continue to have more discussions in other areas where we can be partners,” Gromack said. “Look, the facts of the life are that come the end of 2013, there will be a new county executive for the first time in 20 years. It is a great opportunity to start that dialogue now with individuals on how we can do things differently, how we can have more cooperative meetings and talk about so many important issues where we’ve had partnerships in the past, but from my view, have gotten away from those in the last four or five years.”
Just last week, a bipartisan group led by Rockland County Legislator Ed Day introduced a five-point plan to revamp the chargeback programs and reduce costs for taxpayers.
Day argued that the plan his group suggested does more for taxpayers than the one introduced by Schoenberger, Sparaco and Wolfe
"I certianly appreciate the town supervisors' reaction," Day said. "Whatever the number is, this would remove it from their budget line. I understand they are happiest with that. The incontrovertible fact is that absent the other changes we recommended, there is no tax relief to taxpayers. The cost remains the same.
"One is a cost-shifting exercise and the other is a tax relief initiative. That is the difference between the two plans."
Schoenberger and others said they didn’t read too many details of the other and would rather focus on their own proposed legislation. Wolfe said he thinks the resolution will receive positive support from many other legislators so they can get the nine votes needed for it to pass. Schoenberger said that even if it passes and the county executive vetoes it, they’ll work to get the 12 legislator votes needed to override the veto.
State Senator David Carlucci expressed his agreement with the need to get away from the county simply passing expenses on to the towns.
“I am delighted that our County officials have recognized that it is wrong and misguided to pass their own financial obligations onto our Towns," Carlucci said. "From the beginning I have said that we need to change the way we pay for tuition charge-backs. I was proud to co-sponsor bi-partisan legislation (S.7152) in the Senate that would protect Towns from charge-backs and provide significant mandate relief from the State. Although this passed through the Senate Higher Education Committee, we need to do more. When the Legislature reconvenes in January, I once again look forward to pushing this common sense legislation that will protect local taxpayers and ensure that our students can afford a quality education.”
For more on the issue of chargebacks, see the following Patch articles and blogs:
- Legislator Criticizes Towns’ Attempt to Charge Road Costs to County
- Orangetown Resolution Would Bill County For Road Maintenance And Utilities
- Senator And Town Supervisors Push For State Aid In Covering Community College Costs
- County 'Charge-Back' for College Tuiton Makes No Sense
- Orangetown Blasts Rockland's 'College Charge-Back' Measures
- Orangetown Council Criticizes County 'Charge-Backs'
- Clarkstown Could Face $2 Million in Unexpected Expenses
- Special Legislative Meeting To Vote On Deficit Resolutions
- Towns Plan to Bill County For Road Maintenance
- War of Words over Rockland Roads Escalates
- Legislature Passes Multiple Deficit Reduction Measures