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 then did 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."
He 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.
Last November, Anne Byrne, president of the Nanuet Board of Education, and other education officials, stood up and that would instruct the receiver of taxes to charge the Nanuet, Nyack, Pearl River and South Orangetown School Districts a 0.125% fee for collecting their taxes. The Orangetown town board passed the resolution 4-0, with Councilman Michael Maturo absent from the meeting.
Unfortunately, the Nanuet School District will have to repeat this fight.
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.
The town is allowed by law to add a processing fee for collecting school taxes. However it was never imposed. Now, residents will be receiving bills for higher amounts than they expected or had budgeted for.
The one percent surtax will collect approximately $355,000 from the Nanuet school district and $1.4 million from Clarkstown School District residents and business owners within the town's borders. It will bring in several hundred thousand dollars more from Clarkstown property owners within the East Ramapo School District and more monies from Nyack.
Although Nanuet School officials found out early August, other school districts were not as fortunate.
James Montesano, superintendent of Nyack Schools, said he first heard the news Wednesday over the phone, from Clarkstown supervisor Alex Gromack.
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.
“I just learned about it today (Thursday),” said Clarkstown School Assistant Superintendent for Business, Facilities & Fiscal Management John LaNave Thursday. “Mr. Gromack did confirm to me they were adding the one percent.”
East Ramapo Superintendent Joel Klein said he found out Thursday as well when he received an email from McNeill.
“The first I’ve seen (about it) was a response from another superintendent,” said Klein referring to the letter the Nanuet Board of Education sent to Supervisor Gromack and town board officials.
Calls to town officials asking for additional information and background on their decision and how the added revenue will be used have not been returned. According to Gromack’s office, there will not be a response until Town Attorney Amy Mele is available next week.
The town sends out the school tax bills from late August through early September and payment is due by late October. It is not known if an explanation of the one percent surcharge will be included with the tax forms.
The following is a letter from the Nanuet School District to Gromack and the town council speaking out against this 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.
Anne M. Byrne, President
Ron Hansen, Vice President
Editor's note, the letter is also attached to this article as a PDF.