Legislature revives talk of mandate explanations on tax bills

BY MICHAEL RICONDA

NEW CITY – During its last meeting of 2014, the Rockland County Legislature indicated a desire to bring back information on state-mandated expenses on tax bills, an issue which had been subject to some confusion in the past.

As part of a discussion of routine votes to finalize the county’s tax levies, the issue of the 2014 bill was brought up. Several legislators indicated that though the time had passed for a disclosure statement on the 2015 tax bill, they still wished to get the information out to educate the public on the impact of state mandates on county taxes.

In 2014, the property tax levy was split into two separate lines, one to delineate the county’s Medicaid obligations to the state and another for the entirety of the property tax. Though the addition was merely a disclosure statement and there was no change from the announced tax levy, the two lines confused and frustrated taxpayers who had mistaken the additional line for a new tax and required assurances from the county that there were no last-minute charges to residents.

Legislators agreed the information was important for the public to understand, but needed to be presented in the proper fashion. Legislator Michael Grant stated that simply singling out one revenue item as a source of state-mandated costs over-simplifies the complexity of the county budget process.

“To say that any single item is a portion of the property tax as a whole is just inaccurate, incorrect and unclear and just defeats the purpose of what we’re really trying to do,” Grant stated.

However, the exact strategy for public mandate disclosure will have to wait until at least 2015. Rockland’s towns-which are responsible for billing county property taxes-have already finalized their own tax bills, meaning the addition of the disclosure statement by the county could delay and complicate the process.

“To make any changes today would cause a great deal of disruption among taxpayers and the towns,” Legislator Ilan Schoenberger said.

Toward the beginning of next year, the Legislature will likely discuss the tax bill and disclosure statements with town supervisors to determine where the information could neatly fit on a tax bill.

State mandated Medicaid charges to the county have been inching upward since 2007 and will total almost $80 million in 2015, while the property tax levy has climbed from about $46.3 million to about $108.1 million over the same period.