We’ve all heard that old saying “there are only two things in life you HAVE TO do, die, and pay taxes”! Well, Rockland County continues to maintain its standing as the second highest taxed county in the United States just behind Westchester. And now, the Rockland County Legislature has until December 7th to adopt the 2019 Budget that would raise taxes by another 2.9%. County Executive Ed Day’s proposed $709 million dollar budget will increase property taxes by an average of $37.70 per family and are meant to cover contract salaries, health benefits and rising state government costs.

But looking at why Rockland County is second only to Westchester in taxes is not only infuriating when comparing the two, but baffling when compared to other middle class counties throughout the country. Traveling around Rockland you see a few charming villages, quaint suburban neighborhoods, and some lovely historic homes. What you don’t see in Rockland are grand, regal, gated estates surrounded by stone walls, meticulously maintained historic villages, and luxury high-end shopping centers. In Rockland, you don’t see horses grazing in wide open pastures next to picturesque private academies. In Rockland, trash pick up is extra, our roads are in constant disrepair, our utilities are expensive and unreliable, and public transportation basically . . isn’t. So what is it we are paying for?

In our May 2017 issue, Lisa Rinehart made reference to a study by the no-profit Pattern for Progress “A Crushing Burden: Why Is Rockland County So Heavily Taxed?" I urge everyone to take a look at that fascinating 66 page online summary because the statistics are simply too many to list here. The report gives an in depth look at the reasons for Rockland's high taxes. And while there is no single factor, among the driving forces is the combination of extraordinarily high salaries of public sector employees, large school districts which also support private schools, and an extremely high poverty level subsidized by social services.

It was reported in 2017 that several Ramapo Police officers were the highest paid in New ¥ork State, making well over $300 thousand, some as much as $440 thousand. And while no one should begrudge teachers their well deserved salaries, Rockland County school administrators earn some of the highest wages in the country. Over 65% of our taxes go to costs incurred by the school districts.

Another factor that contributes to Rockland's financial burden is the state mandated responsibility to cover Medicaid contributions to the federal program. One in three Rockland County residents receives Medicaid benefits, accounting for over 55% of the tax levy or $66 million dollars. Demographic changes in Ramapo makes it the fastest growing town in Rockland. With its poverty level nearing 25%, and a population growing at an unsustainable rate, Rockland taxpayers are required to make up the difference paid to the state. In addition, tax exempt land for religious and other purposes, 21% of which is in Ramapo, results in taxpayers bearing the financial responsibility to offset this tax burden.

To make things even worse, the federal tax bill passed last year has done away with most of the deduction for property taxes. According to the Government Finance Officers Association, three Congressional districts that include parts of Westchester, Putnam and Rockland counties have the highest average deductions for state and local taxes in the nation. As a result of the new tax law many people will pay significantly more federal taxes this year.

Rockland County has reached its breaking point. People are leaving, or planning to if things don’t change quickly. The County Executive has taken steps to slow and try to reverse some of these financial issues, but much more needs to be addressed. And it will take the voices and cooperation of taxpayers to make these changes happen.