BY PUBLISHER EMERITUS ARMAND MIELE
Last week, we reported in this paper that Ramapo Central’s proposed $128.58 million budget will, if passed, raise taxes by 2.86 percent, a good deal higher than Governor Cuomo’s 2 percent tax cap that was supposed to apply to all local taxing bodies. Supposedly the .86 percent excess is justified by permitted “exemptions.” What I’d like to ask taxpayers is, did your salary go up by nearly 3 percent this year? If you are a small business owner, did your income increase by that much? If not, then why should district-papered “exemptions” justify flipping off the governor’s tax cap?
I’ve published the following musing many times, most recently in my book, “Born Minus: From Shoeshine Boy To News Publisher, An Italian-American Journey.” But it seems it can’t be said often enough: taxing property-owners exclusively to fund schools is grossly unfair, and allows the schools, especially, to take advantage of taxpayers who have invested their lives and community goodwill in their homes and businesses.
And I won’t go into it in depth here, but taxpayers should never forget that Rockland continues to participate in the MTA, with no end in sight. The MTA is a quasi-government body, with authority to impose taxes on Rocklanders, without being obligated to benefit Rockland commuters. We have one-quarter of one vote on the MTA board. It’s only another example of how the needs of us working taxpayers, who only want to keep our families healthy and provided-for, are ignored over and over by politicians and lobbyists alike.
Incidentally, if the MTA is going to tax us without giving us better service, why don’t they throw a few million of our tax dollars to Rockland County schools each year?
Why did a year of education in the Rockland County public schools cost more than $18,000 per student in 2009? Why does this number increase every year? Why did Rockland school taxes increase by 60 percent from 1995 to 2005, while the inflation rate added up to only a 28 percent increase in the same period? Why are our school taxes 29 percent higher than the national average? Why don’t we do something about it?
There are six urban areas in New York State that have no school taxes on homes: New York City, Yonkers, Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester, and Albany. School budgets in these cities are calculated by professionals; these people have recognized that there are more equitable ways to fund schools. Many years ago, before sales or income taxes, property owners were taxed because they were the only ones on record. This is no longer the case. Everyone pays taxes. Everyone benefits from our public schools. Why shouldn’t everyone share the cost? We should have a system in place where everyone contributes to school funding.
In those six cities, everyone pays for the schools, and this system is working. There are many different taxes collected, and the schools get a cut of the combined taxes. They also share state and federal aid equally. In Rockland, the state aid is divided eight different ways, with each district receiving a different amount, based on the opinion of the New York State Department of Education’s State Aid Office. How do they decide who gets more and who gets less?
Should the value of a house measure the wealth of its owner? In the 1960s through the early 70s, during their income-producing years, a Rockland County couple could buy a house for $40,000. If the value of their property increased because of the proliferation of neighboring McMansions valuing $800,000 and more, why should the assessment go up on the older house? New home assessments should not change the old homeowners’ assessments. In California, they have it right: any house, whether new or old, is assessed based on the purchase price at the time it is bought. The assessments of other homes in the area cannot raise a previously built home’s assessment by more than 2 percent.
Why doesn’t the Rockland County Legislature follow the six big cities in New York State and take over the budgets of all eight school districts in Rockland County? I want to stress that we can make this change without hurting our schools. The legislature can see to it that all school districts get an equal share. Keep all of the superintendents in their eight school districts, and put a county chancellor in charge of a county board of education. We can have a dedicated income tax, and rid ourselves of these dysfunctional real estate taxes. We can consolidate the eight separate school budgets. Incidentally, these budgets are typically voted on by no more than 10 to 20 percent of eligible voters. Low voter turnout is the reason they pass these crazy budgets.
People reading this article will say that Mr. Miele’s been singing his song for a long time. Yes, I have, because I believe in keeping hard-working taxpayers in Rockland. Our property taxes are driving out good people. They are spending their pension money in other states, because of the property taxes here. We shouldn’t forget the senior citizens, the handicapped, the sick, and retirees on a fixed income. They are the foundation of our communities; honoring them supports family values and respect.