Clarkstown Board of Education President Joe Malgieri said the town’s unexpected addition of a to school tax bills makes next year’s budget even more difficult. The district kept to a two percent tax increase for residents but the town’s addition of a one percent collection fee brings the total increase to three percent.
“Because two percent for us becomes three percent for the taxpayer which means we have to look at keeping our tax base, our tax levy somewhere in the one percent range so the taxpayers are only seeing two percent,” said Malgieri. “It really hinders our capability to pass a school budget next year.”
The town will be keeping the added one percent surtax to offset the costs being passed along to it by Rockland County. The tax bill, which residents and businesses began receiving on Saturday, does not include an explanation just notes “Processing Fee” and the amount.
Clarkstown Assistant Superintendent for Business, Facilities & Fiscal Management John LaNave said school district officials spent a year explaining the budget and its two percent increase at senior citizen and PTA meetings. But when those residents open their bills, they will not see that two percent increase that stayed under the state property tax cap but a three percent increase. LaNave said voters would not support a budget next with a two percent increase and an additional one percent for the town’s benefit.
“I have no alternative but to try and spend the next year looking for some other way to get our school taxes collected and do it in a way that’s a lot more economical than the $1.5 million in processing fee that you folks are adding to the tax bill,” said LaNave.
Town Supervisor Alex Gromack explained that town officials started in May to look at the surcharge as a way of raising revenue. The discussions included the receiver of taxes, town board members, controller and town attorney. Since the town board had not passed a resolution waiving Clarkstown’s ability to impose the surcharge, it was put into place without requiring a board vote.
Although Gromack said he notified three superintendents out of the four whose districts, which are impacted by the surcharge, LaNave criticized the town’s handling of the fee.
“This change was done without any school board meeting, any communication with the people who voted for our budget, who took our word,” LaNave said. “And now they open the envelope and now two percent is now three percent.”
Parent and Congers resident Phil Leiter said he was extraordinarily disappointed with the town’s action to charge the collection tax and described the decision to charge the maximum fee permitted by state law as “underhanded.” He pointed out that Gromack said he was “appalled” when the county announced it was passing some of its costs onto the towns because of its budget deficit.
Gromack said the town had to find a way to maintain its revenue stream and pay for the shift of county expenses that were not included in this year’s budget. Costs such as tuition for out of county student attending a community college Rockland and for the board of elections are being passed to the towns.
“(We’re) Already up to about $2 million in costs in 2012 that we will have to absorb,” said Gromack predicting it could reach $3 million in 2013.
When Malgieri suggested the school district could begin to charge the town for use of its school building, Gromack proposed the two sides meet to find ways to continue working together.
Clarkstown residents and business whose properties fall within the Nanuet, Nyack and East Ramapo have also been charged the processing fee.
Editor's Note: The town's receiver of taxes says state law requires the one percent fee to be collected within 30 days or the month of September. According to the law, the one percent collection fee is waived for those paying their school taxes in October, because they are assessed a late payment penalty of five percent on their bill. Although a large percentage of the school taxes are paid in September, no specific figure for 2011 was available.