Property taxes at town, school level plague Rocklanders

By Irving Feiner

(Original Publication: March 17, 2007)

Knock on any Rockland door and ask, "What is the biggest county issue?" Seven out of 10, if not more, will answer, "high property taxes." So how come County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef in his 10,235-word State of the County speech spoke not one word about "high property taxes?" But he did tell us, "Rockland County's economy, in general, is strong and getting stronger." He did not tell us for whom.

Vanderhoef was tricky: "We have kept property taxes flat with no increase in county taxes for the second year in a row. Property taxes are still 8 percent lower than they were when I took office 14 years ago." For heaven's sake Scott, why don't you share your perspicacious wisdom with our five supervisors, 20 town council members and all school board members? If you can keep, "property taxes lower than when they were 14 years ago" why can't they?

Thus Vanderhoef qualified his smarts by limiting it to county property taxes (3 percent of total property taxes). He neglected to tell us plain folks, "when I took office 14 years ago" county sales tax revenue generated $68.9 million. In 2007 it grew to $168.2 million. (Property taxes down 8 percent; sales taxes up 145 percent.) Is Vanderhoef bragging that his infectious charisma motivates shoppers?

Vanderhoef claims school taxes are not his job? Why not? If his constituents' most troubling problem is punishing school taxes shouldn't he search for a solution?

This is what's been plaguing Vanderhoef's constituents: In the last six years taxes in school districts other than North Rockland, have increased 40 percent to 60 percent. In the same time frame, town taxes have expanded: Ramapo up 56 percent, Clarkstown up 66 percent, Orangetown up 60 percent. While taxes were hemorrhaging, inflation grew 14 percent. So does Vanderhoef really think, "Rockland County's economy, in general, is strong and getting stronger" for the folks whose income increases, if any, were wiped out by tax increases. People are being taxed out of their Rockland homes, despite: "Property taxes are still 8 percent lower than they were when I took office 14 years ago."

(I did not include the North Rockland School District and the towns of Stony Point and Haverstraw because of Mirant.)

If I were county executive, I would get my state representatives, after convincing the County Legislature, to sponsor a Home Rule bill allowing Rockland to eliminate school property taxes on homeowners. School revenue will decrease $239 million, which equals homeowners aggregate school tax bill. We replace the $239 million with 3.5 percent surtax on Rockland's $8 billion in New York state taxable income, which raises $280 million. Go to line 37 of your New York state return to savor your savings. Ninety-five percent of Rockland taxpayers would save 35 percent to 50 percent. We must provide also, for renters to share in the savings. Renters are 24 percent of Rockland residents.

A March 8 Marist poll finds, "65 percent of New Yorkers think funding should be based on states income tax to achieve a more equitable contribution among taxpayers." Doing my plan throughout the state requires 4 percent surtax.

As for town taxes why not a single township/county? Get rid of the five towns and save $130 million in taxes. Who needs all this quintuplicate government and its equivalent battalion of office holders? It would make government a lot simpler and running for elective office a lot more competitive. There would be lot less positions for office seekers.

Vanderhoef's four-year term will expire in 2009. If nothing changes and Vanderhoef runs again and the Democrats endorse another "same old," I may be compelled in my 85th year to run. But I promise: I won't serve more than four terms. After 16 years and at the age of 101 it definitely will be time to hang up my gloves.

The writer is a Nyack resident.