Pearl River resident Anne Byrne, president of the Nanuet Board of Education cited the struggles of local school districts in her remarks to the Orangetown Town Board Tuesday.
Rockland County School Board Association Executive Director Bryan Burrell, formerly a member of the Nyack School Board, challenged the reasoning for the town's proposed fee for collecting school taxes. He also asked the town to discuss the matter further with Orangetown's four school districts before passing any such resolution.
"I will do everything I can to educate the public and the press regarding this issue," Burrell said. "In the meantime, I have one question I hope all taxpayers will soon be asking. How much does it really cost to collect school taxes? And by the way, doesn't the town have to incur all those costs just to collect its own taxes."
Both were arguing against a resolution instructing 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 town board passed the resolution 4-0, with Councilman Michael Maturo absent from the meeting.
The fee was first publicly proposed at a special town board meeting to discuss the budget Nov. 14. It was included in the 2012 budget the board adopted Nov. 15.
"This action surprised me and each of the school districts that are a part of the Town of Orangetown," Burrell said. "This fee will generate over $200,000 in income to the town. I note for the record that the town receiver of taxes budget line is about $250,000.
"The resolution before you this evening states that the fee for collecting school taxes has been waived in the past. It intimates that it costs the town over $200,000 to collect school taxes. Is it reasonable to make this assertion? If so, show me the data."
Burrell acknowledged that the fee will have no impact on the school district budgets. It will not be counted against the districts' state-mandated 2% tax cap. His greatest concern is that the public will see this as an additional school tax, adding to the challenges the districts face in getting their own budgets passed. He argued that the town should have made it clearer that this is a way to gather revenue rather than just cover costs incurred while collecting for the districts.
In its discussions of the matter, the town board discussed the measure as a both a way to increase revenue and to cover tax collecting costs. By state law, the town could charge as much as 1% of the taxes collected on behalf of the schools.
"The property tax cap has forced all levels of government to become creative and still stay under the 2% tax cap," Burrell said. "It appears to me that this is one of those creative revenue streams. I request that the town release the total cost of tax collection for both town and school district taxes. I request justification for this fee. The Town of Clarkstown now plans to do tax collection without a receiver of taxes. It begs the question: How much money does it cost to collect taxes? It is a question that deserves an answer."
Orangetown Councilwoman Nancy Low-Hogan called for discussion before the vote, in part to allow Director of Finance Charlie Richardson to confirm that Clarkstown is now the only town in Rockland County that is not collecting a similar fee.
Byrne argued during her public remarks that she is used to seeing unfunded mandates from the state, but was disappointed to see something similar form the town. She pointed out that the town was already getting revenue through tax collection from interest and late fees collected by the town.
"I am begging you," Byrne said. "Don't pass this along to the school districts. The school districts are in dire straits. In Nanuet alone, in the last four years, we’ve lost eight percent of our staff. With the two percent tax cap, we're going to lose more this year."
The town board approved an additional $81,000 for the Orangetown Highway Department to keep on independent contractors to help clean up brush left over from the Oct. 29 snow storm.
Among other items the board approved were:
- Hire Bellavista Construction for curb and highway construction. Bellavista was the second-highest bidder, but Dean recommended hiring them due to concerns regarding low bidder Advanced Excavating and Construction. Dean said that Advanced Excavating and Construction has not done this type of work in the past and was slow to respond to questions regarding the project.
- Award chemical and fertilizer contracts for Blue Hill Golf Course, Broadacres Golf Course and the Orangetown Parks and Recreation Department.
- Appoint Mary Anselmi as principal clerk for the Orangetown Police Department.
- Awarded the bid for the Nyack Sewer Project to National Water Main Cleaning Company for $148,271.50
- Renew Stormwater II Education Program Agreement with Cornell University Cooperative Extension of Rockland County, costing $6,800.
Supervisor Paul Whalen recommended that the town board form two additional committees -- economic development and finance. Whalen stressed the need for improved economic development in Orangetown and expressed an interest in serving on that committee himself after his term as supervisor ends in December.
The town board set two public hearings for its next regular meeting Dec. 13.
- Proposed local law amending Chapter 27 of the town code relating to fees for road excavations, driveways and heavy hauling.
- A law changing the financial responsibility for Orangetown Pipe.