Community college charge backs discussed for 2015

BY MICHAEL RICONDA

NEW CITY – Expenses related to Rockland Community College charge backs might be in order for Rockland’s municipalities in 2015, but not without a contentious fight between County Executive Ed Day and both county and local officials.

The possibility was raised during a recent meeting of the County Legislature, when it was stated by Legislative Chairman Alden Wolfe that Day had advised some town supervisors that the charge backs, a partial payment to students attending community college outside their county of residence, could be reinstated to the town possibly next year via executive decision.

Chargebacks to towns instead of the county were enacted by the Legislature in 2012, but only for one year. Day’s actions, which run contrary to a unanimous decision by the Legislature to repeal the chargebacks in the Fall of 2013, could provoke another conflict between the two branches. Wolfe stated he had “serious concerns” about any action performed without the approval of the Legislature.

“These types of tax shifting exercises are bad enough,” Wolfe said. “They are even worse when done unilaterally and without the consent of the County Legislature.”

If seriously pursued, the charge backs might even prove a legal tipping point for the body. Though Legislator Ilan Schoenberger stated he had not yet seen any written confirmation of the requests, he stated he had no doubt legislative approval of such a move was required by law and that unilateral action could provoke a lawsuit.

Day confirmed his administration had reached out to the towns and Legislature regarding the issue. According to him, a New York Court of Appeals decision authorized counties to pass community college chargebacks to the towns.

“This is simply an obligation to collect funds,” Day said. “The charges for community colleges are charges properly borne by the town”

The decision allows retroactive charges towns up to six years back. Day stated, however, that he decided against collecting six years’ worth of obligations because he felt it would be unfair. Day also left open the possibility of election-related charges to towns, but not for the current fiscal year.

Expenses from chargebacks have taken a small chunk from recent budgets on both the county and municipal level. In 2012, the towns paid about $1.63 million for the chargebacks, while the county picked up a $1.73 million tab the next year.

Chargebacks became a minor issue during budget season, when Day-allied Legislator Chris Carey proposed shifting $1.8 million in chargebacks back to towns as part of a compromise budget. His proposal was ultimately defeated.