Ramapo Central school officials are backing a proposed state law that would allow districts to collect their own taxes, which officials say could potentially save residents thousands of dollars
Ramapo Central school district attorney Stephen Fromson said under the current system, the town of Ramapo charges taxpayers 1 percent of the tax levy to collect taxes, which amounted to about $900,000 for the 2015-2016 school year. For a Ramapo Central resident with an average school tax bill of about $10,000, this would mean a $100 fee.
Fromson said the district could accomplish the task itself for one-third the cost.
Under current law, school districts can only collect their own taxes if the municipality gives them permission.
But under a proposal that passed both the state Assembly and Senate, the districts could make the decision themselves. The measure, which was sponsored by Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee and Sen. David Carlucci, is under review by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office but hadn’t yet reached his desk.
“If given permission to collect our own taxes, we could do it much less expensively and save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Fromson said.
Ramapo Central school board President Theresa DiFalco supports changing the law.
“As a school board we are charged with being good stewards of taxpayer dollars and in doing that we look in many areas to see where we can cut costs,” DiFalco said. “When we saw that 1 percent town fee for the collection of school taxes, we saw that as a way to actually save the taxpayer money.”
But Haverstraw Town Supervisor Howard Phillips said the fee collected by his town was vital in maintaining the integrity of the tax roll. That money goes into funding the town tax receiver’s office and costs related to determining and defending the value of the town’s assessed property against challenges. This involves the town assessor, town attorney and assessment consultants, he said.
“They’re just looking at collecting taxes, they’re not looking at the cost of defending the property tax assessment rolls,” he continued. “They’re concerned with removing it from the school tax bill and pushing it onto the town tax bill.”
Phillips noted that the the school district is the biggest benefactor from the town’s efforts to maintain the value of its assessed property.
Tax collection fees
Besides Ramapo Central, taxpayers in the East Ramapo and North Rockland districts were charged 1 percent of the tax levy for the collection. In East Ramapo this added up to an estimated $1.2 million for the 2015-16 school year; North Rockland taxpayers were on the hook for an estimated $1.3 million, according to figures compiled by Ramapo Central.
By comparison, the town of Orangetown charges the Nanuet, Nyack and South Orangetown school districts one-eighth of 1 percent of the district’s tax levy for tax collection, according to figures provided by Ramapo Central. Pearl River taxpayers were charged $60,000. The Town of Clarkstown does not charge a fee.
In 2015, Ramapo Central sent out a survey to school districts statewide; about 90 districts responded. Just over a third reported collecting their own taxes. Among seven of those districts that listed their fees, costs ranged from $1,500 in Garrison to $11,500 in Rye City.
Of the 42 districts that reported having their taxes collected by municipalities, 25 were not charged. Among the 17 districts outside Rockland that were charged fees by their municipalities, costs ranged from $1 in White Plains to $42,500 in Rome, New York.
“The 1 percent figure that’s in place for the town of Ramapo and the town of Haverstraw was significantly higher than virtually every other jurisdiction we found,” Fromson said.
“When a taxpayer writes out their check to pay their school, taxes, they assume the entire amount is going to the school district,” he said. “In fact 1 percent of that in Ramapo and Haverstraw is going to the town, not the school district.”
“The taxpayers have a right to know to whom their money is going and for what it’s being spent,” Fromson added.
East Ramapo is currently reviewing the proposed law, according to a district spokesman. The North Rockland school district is expecting to discuss the legislation in the near future.
Peggy Zugibe, area representative of the New York State School Boards Association, said she agreed with the association’s position in support of the proposed law.
“I believe it offers the taxpayer transparency as to where their tax dollars are going,” Zugibe said. “I think people deserve to be able to follow their tax dollar.
“It doesn’t force a school district to afford themselves of it, it gives them the option if they would want to,” she said. “I would imagine most school districts would evaluate their ability to collect their taxes for less. They’ll want the lesser amount. I think this allows just a better usage of the people’s tax dollar.”
South Orangetown passed a resolution supporting the proposed law last year.
The Ramapo Teachers Association has come out in support of the law as a means of “eliminating a towns’ ability to exploit taxpayers,” according to a letter sent to The Journal News.