BUFFALO, NY-- Erie County’s Comptroller is charging the administration of County Executive Mark Poloncarz of “cooking the books” and thereby failing to comply with the NY State Property Tax Law.
Stefan Mychajliw says, as a result, not only were certain taxpayers wrongly charged for their sewer bills, but others are in jeopardy of losing the benefits of a state tax rebate program based on their local municipality’s compliance with the law.
Mychajliw said that by flipping the words “taxes” and "fees", the administration is conducting a “deliberate dodge” that has resulted in the county being $24 Million over the tax cap mandated by the state.
He further said the administration was deliberately trying to make it appear as though the county government was under the tax cap.
The “scheme”, as Mychajliw called it, involved changing the word “taxes” in sewer district budgets to “fees”, to stop those revenues from being counted toward the amount of taxes being collected to comply with state required tax cap
By reporting what is essentially a “tax” as a “fee” instead, according to Mychajliw, the county could (falsely) demonstrate being under the tax cap, because the amounts collected wouldn’t count toward the tax cap.
The problem is that the “fees” being charged, aren’t based on usage--as a fee normally is, but rather on the assessed valuation of the homeowner’s property—much like a property tax would be.
In addition, Mychajliw says millions of dollars of state rebate checks to homeowners could be placed in jeopardy.
Homeowners in New York State can receive the checks if their municipality complies with state requirements to stay under the tax cap, while putting in place an approved efficiency plan for further savings.
Now, Mychajliw is raising the question of whether those tax rebates would be extended by the state, if state officials agree with him that the county is indeed over the cap.
"This is not an oversight, they did not follow the law. And they broke the law to the tune of being over the property tax cap by 24 million dollars and did not report it correctly, not only to the taxpayers, but to the state of New York," said Mychajliw.
This change of words from tax to fee effects three of the seven sewer districts in Erie County.
"The Comptroller is clearly misunderstanding the tax and sewer bills," said the County's Deputy Director of Budget Timothy Callan. Callan also served as a Deputy Comptroller under Poloncarz , when Poloncarz served as the Comptroller prior to his election as County Executive.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz (D) responded to Mychajliw's claim in two tweets:
Unfortunately, as usual, the comptroller is grandstanding on a topic and is wrong. He does not understand how sewer district rates are set.— Mark Poloncarz (@markpoloncarz) November 1, 2016
As the former comptroller it pains me to say it but a blank piece of paper has more substance on it than a report issued by this comptroller— Mark Poloncarz (@markpoloncarz) November 1, 2016