By Jano Tantongco
Suffolk Legislator Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) recently announced he will introduce legislation aimed at capping fee increases by 2 percent, or the cost of living, similarly to New York State’s property tax cap.
Trotta said that the recent introductions and increases of various fees have amounted to a de facto increase in residents’ general fund taxes.
“It’s the biggest lie in the world. It’s the fees. They’re taxes disguised as fees,” Trotta said in a Dec. 19 interview. “They get to say, ‘I didn’t raise your general fund tax.’”
The Suffolk County General Fund Tax has been frozen since 2013. The 2016 general fund tax warrant on all residents of the county amounted to $49,037,038, costing an average of $87.28 out of the county’s total share of $1,060.80 from a homeowner’s property taxes.
However, a swath of new fees have emerged over the past year, including a burglar alarm registration fee, occupational certifications, and, most recently, a new $300 mortgage recording fee that was approved in December 2016.
Trotta said fees have increased by a total of approximately $46 million from 2015-2016, and are projected to take in $50 million during 2016-2017, nearly equivalent to the county’s tax levy.
“It’s the equivalent every year of a 100-percent tax increase. It’s nickel and diming you,” Trotta said. “We’re supposed to be making it easier for business and easier for young people. We talk about the ‘brain drain’ we’re causing. Anybody with a brain isn’t going to stay here.”
Trotta emphasized that such fees should go back into the particular matter they are earmarked for. He plans to introduce legislation in the early spring, possibly as soon as the legislature’s next meeting on Feb. 7, but expects the bill to be quickly killed in the legislature.
“I want the legislators to be held responsible to their constituents,” he said.
Robert Lipp, director of the county’s Office of Legislative Budget Review, said he could not comment on Trotta’s claims, but did say that revenue from the fees is “fungible in a certain sense.”
Lipp pointed to the motor vehicle registration surcharge, which went up last year by $40, according to an April 2016 report by Newsday. He added that the county’s Road Fund is supported by the General Fund, but less money from the latter is needed to bolster the former.
“The General Fund doesn’t have to subsidize the Road Fund so much anymore because of the increase in that fee,” Lipp said. “Basically, you’re paying a higher fee on your registration, which enables the county not to increase your property tax.”
A spokeswoman for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone did not return calls for comment before deadline Wednesday.