BY DYLAN SKRILOFF
Are you paying enough in county taxes? Sales tax? Property tax? Mortgage tax? Do you think the county would charge you enough tax if you sold your house?
Hopefully you feel like you are underpaying, because Rockland is about to be walloped by a flurry of new taxes.
Rockland County government will be vastly increasing its tax collection in 2012 and beyond, as on Tuesday the legislature passed a budget that includes a 30 percent rise in county property tax, a decade-long 3/8 percent of an increase in sales tax to pay off a $60 million bond on the county’s budget deficit, a new cellphone tax, a mortgage tax, a 3 percent motel/hotel occupancy tax, and a 0.4 percent transfer tax should you sell your home.
The legislature kept all of C. Scott Vanderhoef’s proposed new taxes, but decided to make his proposed one-year tax surcharge permanent and decided to roll back many of his budget cuts. They also added the aforementioned sales tax.
In the end the new budget passed 12-4 with Gerold Bierker absent due to health issues. Legislators Joseph Meyers (D), Frank Sparaco (R), Ed Day (R), and Patrick Moroney (R) voted against the budget. Breaking ranks with other Republicans and voting for the bill was Douglas Jobson and John Murphy.
Explaining his no vote on the budget, Meyers said he agreed that revenues needed to be raised but said the lack of emphasis on budget cuts left him believing that a new budget deficit would grow. Day said, “Filling a bucket makes sense, but only when you make sure the holes that were there are fixed first. Government should not be a drain on us, it should be a servant to us.”
The Democratic majority however said that county services needed to be preserved both for the good of those that benefit from them and for the overall health of the Rockland economy. Several Democratic legislators, as well as outgoing Sheriff James Kralik (R), waxed poetic about the great positive impact county government has on the local economy and local society.
Meyers and Day both had offered alternative plans to the cuts that Vanderhoef had proposed, which targeted anti-crime units in the Sheriff’s Department, as well as sought to defund the county hospital by August. The loss of crime prevention concerned many Rocklanders and consultants told the legislature that the county hospital, Summit Park, could not be defunded by August, but would rather take at least 18 months to be wound down.
Legislator Alden Wolfe (D) and other Democrats said during final comments that just because Summit Park is “losing money” does not mean it should be shut down. Since it is a function of government, it’s job is not necessarily to turn a profit, Wolfe said.
Vanderhoef had tried to sell the hospital to a Public Benefit Corporation this year and failed. On a close 9-8 vote the legislature had voted last year to float an $18 million deficiency bond, anticipating the sale of the hospital. When that failed, Vanderhoef intended to pay for the $18 million through a one-time tax surcharge of around 28 percent of county property tax.
The Democratic-controlled legislature, fresh off of sweeping electoral victories all over Rockland both in county races and town races, decided the 28 percent number should arbitrarily be rolled into a permanent tax increase of 30 percent. (Vanderhoef had proposed a 2 percent property tax increase in addition to the one-time surcharge). The increase in property taxes will represent an average of $160 – $200 per household annually. The other taxes hikes will represent another $200 – $300 per year per Rockland resident, although those selling a home will be hit hardest. If you sell a home for $300,000, the county will take $1,200 out of your pocket.
The county’s Department of Tourism was abolished in the budget and current Tourism Director C.J. Miller will remain a tourism booster, but officially within the Department of Budget and Finance.
The legislature fully restored the position of investigator for the Human Rights Commission even though the Human Rights Commission had said they could live with the position only half-restored. Many conservatives in Rockland believe the commission is redundant with the state commission and could have been cut even more than Vanderhoef proposed.
Over 560 other jobs were also restored, the majority of which were connected to the county’s hospital Summit Park. Legislators warned however that the hospital’s long-term fate is not guaranteed. Consultants will be producing a report early in 2012 recommending a downsize of the hospital and a sale to a PBC or a private entity is still possible. Outright closure of the hospital looks unlikely at this time.
Vanderhoef has written into his budget over $17 million in union givebacks that still remain to be negotiated. He proposed two week furloughs for hundreds of employees.