New York Post | October 24, 2017 | Editorial Board
How do pols raise taxes without folks noticing? By disguising them as “fees,” even if they’re exorbitant. And that’s just what Suffolk County has done, according to a lawsuit that’s demanding millions in refunds.
The suit, filed by a new watchdog group, the Government Justice Center, on behalf of five plaintiffs, accuses Suffolk of hiking fees to file mortgage documents from $60 to a whopping $500 — even though it only costs the county about $10 to do the work.
As a result, the county agency that provides the service is set to haul in $66 million this year, while chalking up just $1.2 million in expenses. Suffolk will use the nearly $65 million “profit” to cover general expenses.
That’s not just deceptive, it may be illegal: State law deems fees used that way “unauthorized taxes.” And officials apparently knew it.
Indeed, the Suffolk legislature’s own lawyer warned that fees “are supposed to be commensurate” with costs. GOP lawmaker Rob Trotta argued “this is nothing more than a tax disguised as a fee” and asked what would happen if someone sued. Oops.
Another lawmaker claimed the county had to hike the fee or face “a huge deficit” that would worsen a “very serious” budget crisis, raising the specter of cuts to vital county programs. Still another argued that folks who pay closing costs on a house, often thousands of dollars, wouldn’t care about an extra $500 fee. (Talk about cynical!)
Yet some folks need two mortgages, meaning $1,000 in fees. And the charge also applies to lien releases, such as when closing out a home-equity loan or mortgage.
County spokesman Jason Elan pooh-poohs the suit as “politically motivated,” noting that taxpayers will now be saddled with the cost of fighting it.
Sorry: Suffolk could’ve cut spending or raised taxes openly. But to avoid paying a political price, it chose instead to jack up fees way in excess of costs.
No wonder folks distrust government.