ROCKLAND COUNTY, NY —As school districts ask residents to approve property taxes and spending for next year and the Rockland County Executive convenes all the local taxing entities to figure out how to save taxpayers money, the question of how much towns are charging school districts to collect their taxes is again on people’s minds.
It’s particularly important for the taxpayers in the East Ramapo, Ramapo Central and North Rockland school districts, because the town of Ramapo takes 1 percent off the top of the annual tax levy. It’s a “fee” for the work town employees do collecting those taxes and handing the money over.
In 2016-17, the “fee” came to about $3.7 million. In other words, money meant for education instead provides the town of Ramapo with about 3 percent of its annual budget.
“Tax monies are being collected that far exceed the operating costs associated with this function,” said state Sen. David Carlucci, who with Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee has twice introduced legislation that would allow districts to collect their own taxes. “Nothing is more important than our children’s education and we need to make sure they get every dollar they are entitled to.”
Ramapo’s charge is far above what any other school district in New York is charged by towns — if those towns charge at all.
Locally, Clarkstown, does not charge the Clarkstown school district for collecting its taxes. In nearby towns that do charge, the fee is miniscule in comparison. For example, the Nanuet district is charged 0.0125 percent. The Nyack district is charged 0.125 percent.
Rockland County has just embarked on a new mandate from the state: to get all the taxing entities together and come up with ways to share services, even offices, in order to save taxpayers money. The Shared Services Initiative is required, but the mandate doesn’t include school districts even though most property taxes in Rockland go to education. Except for the education taxes that go to towns instead.
The mandate is a priority for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who visited Rockland to introduce the initiative. But Cuomo vetoed legislation in 2016 that was overwhelmingly supported by lawmakers in Albany, which would have allowed districts being gouged by their town tax collectors to collect their own taxes.
At the time, Cuomo said the proposal was potentially harmful to the towns that now handle tax collections, according to lohud.com.
That certainly could be true for Ramapo, whose financial problems allegedly included actions for which Town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence is now on trial. The former executive director of the Ramapo Local Development Corporation already pleaded guilty to fraud.
For the 2017-18 school year, East Ramapo’s tax levy is proposed to be $152,975,617. For Ramapo Central, the proposed tax levy would be $108,177,517. For North Rockland, the tax levy is proposed to be $141,361,457.
According to a State Education Department official, “the monitors are aware of the tax collection issue. At this time, however, the district does not have the database, security, training or expertise to collect taxes. The monitors will revisit this important issue in the future.”