HULL’S BLOG: Living in the State of Denial

Whose heads are in the sand now that the Mall received a $20 million give-back?

“What state do you live in? The State of Denial” – Bill Watterson, The Essential Calvin and Hobbes

headinsandContinuing to vanish into the thin air are the past and forgotten Pyramid’s Palisades Promises. The Journal News has a comprehensive article in its July 31, 2013 issue on the Palisades tax certiorari settlement in which we read:

Clarkstown taxpayers are trying to gauge the impact of a $20 million tax refund to the Palisades Center, and wondering how lower taxes from the mall in the future will affect their own property taxes. “There will be an uproar over this,” predicted Gerry O’Rourke, president of the Congers Civic Association. “The bottom line is it’s coming out of taxpayers’ pockets.”

As part of the agreement, the Palisades Center (will pay $2.4 million less per year) than the mall currently pays. The school district will fund its portion of the refund by withdrawing $13 million from its tax certiorari reserves, leaving just $1 million in the fund, said John LaNave, assistant superintendent of business, facilities and fiscal management. Superintendent of Schools J. Thomas Morton did not return calls seeking comment.

The Town Board voted unanimously to bond its share of the refund rather than withdraw money from its tax stabilization fund.  Clarkstown Supervisor Alex Gromack touted the town’s AAA bond rating, which depends in part on Clarkstown’s reserves. He acknowledged that withdrawing money from reserves could affect the town’s rating.

Anticipating taxpayer fears, Gromack said the settlement would have “minimal effect” on property taxes. “I would like to see the numbers,” said Judith Murray, a retired teacher and a 40-year Clarkstown resident who worried about rising taxes. “I don’t see how it could have no effect.”

Michael Hull, a Bardonia resident and frequent critic of town government, said the town’s decision to bond $5 million meant its reserves were so low that it couldn’t withdraw money. The only options it has now are to raise taxes or to bond (i.e. borrow) more. “The bills are just being kicked into the future. It will be tough for the future generation,” Hull said. “The next supervisor will be left with a pile of debt and a very angry taxpayer base.”

The spinning of the truth has thus begun.  We are being told that giving $20 million back to the mall and receiving $2.4 million less from the mall in coming years “makes a minimal difference to property taxes”.

Let’s call a ‘lie’ for what it is – a LIE.

Clearly, handing $20 million dollars back to the mall affects the mall’s tenants very positively or in political doublespeak could that be described as only making a minimal difference to them as well?  If $20 million constitutes just a “minimal difference” why will taxpayers receive a $1 million dollar plus legal bill from the town’s attorneys?

$20 million dollars will negatively affect the homeowners, who pay the County, Town and School Taxes and who had to pay the Town of Clarkstown an extra fee of 1 percent last year for Supervisor Gromack’s band of tax collectors to “collect” these taxes. They are so short of cash that we had to pay them to receive our taxes.

I thought the mall was supposed to solve all of the school tax problems when it was first proposed?  I heard a similar story years ago about the need for a State lottery and how that would solve all of our problems too but then education has never benefited from a Ponzi scheme. The school’s tax cert reserve fund is now depleted.

Superintendent Morton in a speech to the Bardonia Civic Association earlier this year gave a very dismal evaluation of what a settlement with the mall would mean. He reported that in the fall he would have to have “very difficult conversations with the town’s residents and taxpayers”. Surely if Supervisor Gromack is correct Superintendent Morton has misspoken and he may have meant very minimal conversations. What is happening now? Morton appears to have lost his tongue. When asked by the Journal News to comment on the tax settlement he “did not return their calls,” which means in simple English that he is hiding until he can get a plausible story figured out as to whether the conversation with the taxpayers will be “difficult” or “minimal”.

Is this acceptable from someone who is being paid a quarter of a million bucks per year to be out in front of such issues showing leadership?  Program and staff cuts are coming in the schools and homeowners’ school taxes are going up.

Superintendent Morton can return the Journal News’ call and deny that this is not true.

For his share of the give-back to the mall, Supervisor Gromack didn’t have the cash to pay for it and so he ‘solved’ the problem by adding more to the town ‘debt.’ Gromack, who is quoted as “yearning” for Legislator Schoenberger’s election as county executive, raised town taxes last year by over 6 percent while he depleted the town’s reserve fund to the now bare minimum. Clarkstown is insolvent – it doesn’t have cash on hand to pay unforeseen bills. The town’s reserves are so low Gromack couldn’t touch them lest he lose his touted Triple A bond rating that permits him to add to our debt. However, for an outlay of $75,000 he has received the support of erstwhile cameraman Frank Sparaco and his Independence Party and for $174,000 per year he has the support of King of the Diamonds Ed Lettre’s Conservative Party to run unopposed for reelection in the fall.

Supervisor Gromack can call the Journal News and deny that this is not true.

Last year County Legislator Schoenberger’s fiscal management skills reduced the County of Rockland to near bankruptcy despite raising taxes 18 percent last year and 30 percent the year before. Where he will get the $2 million the county owes to the mall remains to be seen. Perhaps by raising the county tax by 50 percent?

Legislator Schoenberger can call the Journal News and deny that this is not true.

Teachers may now be laid off but patronage employee, County Legislator Sparaco, will retain his job sitting around his office making surreptitious videotapes of Councilman Borelli negotiating with him to be given an even bigger patronage job.

Legislator Sparaco can call the Journal News and deny that this is not true.

Several months ago Borelli complained publicly that the town’s debt was nearing $100 million and “something should be done about it.”  His only proposal then was that $10,000 (ten thousand) be taken out of Councilwoman Lasker’s compensation to help pay for this multi million dollar debt.  Were he a better mathematician than he is an undercover negotiator, he might be able to figure out that the town’s bonded debt just jumped another couple of percent.

Councilman Borelli can call the Journal News and deny that this is not true.

The mall can now afford to do its renovations while the schools can not afford to fix their leaking roofs. Sparaco will stay hired while teachers will be fired; all of it paid for by inserting a credit card into the Town’s ATM machine, namely the single-family homeowners.

Happy days are not here again!

We are all being asked to live in the Town of Clarkstown, in the County of Rockland in a State of Denial.

Michael N. Hull is a retired senior citizen who writes opinion pieces on local political issues. He is presently a Director of Clarkstown Residents Opposing Patronage with Tom Nimick and Ralph Sabatini and is President of the Residents Association of Bardonia. Hull contributes periodically to the Facebook page Clarkstown: What They Don’t Want You To Know and he is assisting in setting up the ‘Preserve Rockland’ election line so that the electorate may be offered an alternative slate of candidates in the 2013 local elections for Clarkstown Town Supervisor, Town Board, Highway Superintendent, and for County Executive. 

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