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UPDATE: Clarkstown Plans Surcharge For School Districts

The Town of Clarkstown plans to charge school districts a one percent surcharge for collecting their taxes.

UPDATE 8/31/12—4:36 p.m.

There was a discussion between the Receiver of Taxes, Town Comptroller and Town Attorney on the issue, which was then communicated to the Supervisor, who prepared a memo to the Council Members on May 3, 2012, according to Clarkstown Supervisor Alex Gromack.

"Clarkstown was the only Town of the five Towns in Rockland County that did not charge a processing fee," said Gromack. "Upon researching the issue we realized New York State mandates we collect the 1 percent fee unless the Town Board takes affirmative action to rescind it. With the Town facing over $3 million in costs being shifted from Rockland County Government to the Town, the Town Board decided to do what New York State law mandated us to do and collect the 1 percent processing fee."

There is an upcoming Town Board meeting on Sept 4, during which the processing fee is not one of the topics on the agenda. This surcharge does not need to be passed by the Town Board. The surcharge will go into affect the next school district tax collection cycle (Sept 2012/2013), according to the attached memo.

In a memo dated Aug. 21 from Clarkstown Attorney Amy Mele to Receiver of Taxes Loretta Raimone, it states that a town law authorizes the town board to impose the processing fee "of up to 1 percent of the amount of all school taxes assessed and levied as compensation for the services rendered by the Receiver of Taxes to the various school districts ... unless the town board passes a resolution waiving said fee."

Gromack added that the school districts that will be affected are Clarkstown, Nanuet, Nyack and a small portion of East Ramapo and that he, on behalf of the Town Board, personally contacted the Superintendents of Schools for Clarkstown, Nanuet and Nyack to inform them of this action.

Both the memo and the NYS law regarding this surcharge are attached to this article as PDFs.

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The Nanuet Board of Education released a letter late Wednesday afternoon objecting to the Town of Clarkstown’s proposed one percent surcharge for collecting school taxes. Nanuet school officials learned about the surtax on Tuesday, Aug. 7. Clarkstown School Board President Joe Malgieri said he was unaware of a proposed surcharge for the district and would look into it. A message was left for Clarkstown School Superintendent Dr. Thomas Morton for comment. Clarkstown Town Supervisor Alex Gromack could not be reached at this time for an explanation of why the surcharge was being imposed.

According to the letter, Nanuet School Superintendent Dr. Mark McNeill was contacted by Town Supervisor Alex Gromack in early August and told about the pending one percent surcharge for the four school districts within the town. The letter criticizes the surtax, which would have the impact of raising Nanuet’s school taxes by one percent.

It points out the timing of the notification makes it extremely difficult for the Nanuet School District to implement any possible alternatives that could reduce the processing fee. The letter questions why Clarkstown would charge a one percent fee when a similar measure implemented by the Town of Orangetown last year, resulted in a surcharge of just 0.125 percent for collecting school taxes.

The Nanuet School District sent the following letter to Gromack and the town council speaking out against the surcharge. 

Dear Supervisor Gromack and other Members of the Town Board:

This letter is a response to the call Supervisor Gromack made to Dr. McNeill announcing the Town’s intention to impose a 1 percent surcharge to every school tax bill. The Nanuet Board of Education is extremely disappointed with this plan because it has the effect of increasing the school tax by 1%. This surcharge comes at a time when Nanuet taxpayers are already suffering due to the partial closing of the Pfizer facility.

Over the past three years, the Nanuet Board of Education has made painful decisions as a result of the Pfizer closing. We have downsized our programs through significant cuts in the budget which included reducing our teaching staff by 8 percent. As a result, the 2012-13 Tax Levy remains below the 2010-11 Tax Levy of two years ago. This was done so that any tax increases would be wholly attributable to the Pfizer closing (or other assessment reductions). For the Town of Clarkstown to impose a 1 percent surcharge, calling it a “processing fee” on school taxes undermines the goodwill that should exist between municipal governments and school districts – on behalf of the taxpayers. We have supported your efforts regarding the County’s attempts to impose fees on the Towns yet this is exactly what is now happening to our taxpayers through the imposition of this surcharge.

With this late notification of only a few weeks before tax bills go out, it is virtually impossible for the Board of Education to seek options that can minimize the fee for processing school property tax bills. If the Town wishes to impose the actual cost of processing the taxes, that should be the limit of the fees imposed. It is our estimate that the total fees under this plan, from all four school districts within the Town, will be 1.5 million dollars a year. Because the Town already has an infrastructure and outside contractors/consultants to collect taxes for itself, the actual cost of collecting taxes for school districts is relatively minimal.

While it is probably too late to seek an alternative to the Town’s processing fee that better serves school district residents this year, we have an obligation to seek means to minimize this cost in the coming years by having the School District assume the responsibility of collecting taxes itself. If the current law does not allow this, we would seek legislative help to relieve this burden on the taxpayers.

We urge you to reconsider the imposition of this surcharge. As you know, Orangetown considered the same proposal last year and concluded that a ¼ percent surcharge was sufficient to compensate it for the collection of taxes. It will be extremely difficult to explain to our taxpayers why Orangetown can collect the taxes for ¼ of the fee that Clarkstown will charge. If it is truly a service fee, then there is no reason why the Clarkstown fee should be higher than Orangetown’s.

Yours truly,

Anne M. Byrne, President
Ron Hansen, Vice President
Charleen Caulk
Sarah Chauncey
Edward Dingman
Karen Franchino
Peter Whalen

Editor's note: the letter is also attached to this article as a PDF. 

John Krouskoff August 30, 2012 at 11:25 AM
This has always been an option for the town, but puts an undue burden on school districts' which already have a newly imposed tax cap. In whose mind does taking resources from students make any sense? Which of our representatives will have the moral fortitude to do what's right and work to refect this proposal? The town should not use the collection of school taxes--dollars earmarked for schools-as a revenue stream.
Michael N. Hull August 30, 2012 at 11:49 AM
Vanderhoef's County passes its 'road costs' to the Town to 'save' the County money. Meanwhile Gromack's Town passes its 'collection costs' to the Schools to 'save' the Town money. But in the end the bills end up in the taxpayers' mailboxes where they find that their 'costs of government' are going up and their 'savings' are going down. The solution is simple - either the taxpayers move out or the voters move this leadership out.
Tony T August 30, 2012 at 12:00 PM
Another stupid idea out of Town Hall all the school districts will do is add the tax surcharge to the School District Taxes and it will be charged back to home owner....who's idea was this??
Mike Hirsch August 30, 2012 at 12:56 PM
Alex, leave the schools alone. Balance your own budget without looking for more revenue. The Clarkstown Taxpayer group is at least partially responsible for over $6 million in savings to the town over the last three years. If you would take more of our suggestions you wouldn't have to be looking for more revenue from the schools.
RJ August 30, 2012 at 01:14 PM
Gromack wants this surcharge in lieu of an increase in town taxes so when he's up for reelection he can say taxpayers had a zero percent increase in their town tax. Voters, don't forget at the polls that while his claim may be true he would be directly responsible for an increase in school taxes should this surcharge stick. And folks, 1% is a lot.
Richard Delaney August 30, 2012 at 02:03 PM
One-quater of one percent is 0.25%. 0.125% is one-eighth of a percent. This is elementary school math; obviously the school board didin't have a sixth grader check their letter.
George Smith August 30, 2012 at 02:49 PM
this will just amount to a pass through to the taxpayers to pay additional taxes.
Robin Traum (Editor) August 30, 2012 at 05:28 PM
George If this is enacted it will affect homeowners who live in Clarkstown and send their children to Clarkstown, Nanuet, Nyack or East Ramapo schools. Two of the four school district superintendents, who were reached by Patch, say they did not receive formal written notice of the pending surcharge. Robin
Tom Nimick August 30, 2012 at 06:10 PM
I have attended all recent Town Board meetings and I do not recall that the Town Board voted on this issue. How can the Supervisor announce a surtax that has not been discussed and voted on by Town Board? The Supervisor needs to explain when this action was taken.
Robin Traum (Editor) August 30, 2012 at 07:47 PM
Tom That is one of the many questions we are trying to get answered by town officials. Robin
sad to say I have made many calls to maple ave..my idea to actually "collect more revenue was and is still ignored" make everyone pay for their extra garbage cans and the town gets 65.00 extra...so many houses have 3 and 4 and 5 containers all with no stickers...if clarkstown "enforces the container fees MANY MORE PEOPLE WOOULD RECYCLE ADDING MORE REVENUE SAD BUT TOO SIMPLE FOR THOSE SLEEPING AND LAUGHING AT US THEIR BOSSES..AS WE DO PAY THEIR SALARIES..IF GROMACK TRIED TO WALK OUT OF A STORE WITHOUT PAYING FOR A CANDY BAR HE WOULD BE BREAKING THE LAW FOR A 1.00 ITEM.. and here is a way to collect more revenue...THIS TOWN IS A TRAVESTY...CHAPTER 9 WOULD BE A GOOD SOLUTION..
simple way to enforce my idea...I THINK THE COLLECTION PICK-UP PEOPLE HAVE BRAINS TO PICK UP A GARBAGE CAN WITH A RED STICKER AND "NOT" COLLECT ONE WITHOUT ONE..
Robin Traum (Editor) August 30, 2012 at 11:30 PM
Needin Formation The one percent surcharge that the town is proposed will not come out of the school districts budgets. It is an added amount to the property owner's tax bill. Our followup story on the surcharge explains that the one percent surcharge is a processing fee does not fall under the guidelines of the two percent state tax cap. Robin
Mike Hirsch August 31, 2012 at 02:22 AM
Welcome to the Kingdom of Alex, Tom. With his skillfull manipulations of cross party endorsements paid for courtesy of taxpayer dollars in the form of patronage appointments, the King cannot be voted out and will continue to do whatever he pleases.
stephany September 01, 2012 at 11:00 PM
what is the processing procedure and what make it worth 1% of my bill. Is it more work to process a $5,000 bill than a $4,000 one and why aren't people with higher bills being over charged for the same amount of work. Sounds like discrimination to me. how much are people who live in apts being charged? Or is it free to them? more discrimination!!!

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