Update: Rockland County Executive Vetoes Amended Budget Restoring $200 Deed Verification Fee

John Jordan | December 2018

HGAR Government Affairs Director Philip Weiden testified on Nov. 20 at a County Legislature committee meeting against the proposed deed verification fee.

NEW CITY—On Dec. 12, Rockland County Executive Ed Day used his veto pen on 95 amendments passed earlier this month by the Rockland County Legislature that restores back to the budget the controversial $200 deed verification fee that is expected to raise $1.2 million in revenue to the county.

The Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors lobbied County Executive Day and the County Legislature to eliminate the deed verification fee from the county budget. HGAR secured a victory when the Rockland County Legislature passed an amended budget on Dec. 4 by a 10-7 margin that did not include the deed verification proposal that was included in the proposed budget by County Executive Day.

The County Legislature had until Dec. 20 to override any of the County Executive’s vetoes, but needed a two-thirds majority  (12 votes). On Dec. 18, the Rockland County Legislature failed to secure the necessary 12 votes (10-8) to override the County Executive’s vetoes, including the deed verification fee. It should be noted that while the more than $1 million in revenues from the fee are budgeted, the County Legislature must pass a Local Law to put the program into effect.

“The majority’s amended budget would have been a return to the days of speculative revenue, over-estimating sales tax revenue and a refusal to modernize county government,” said County Executive Day. “In short, a budget like theirs could lead us back down the path of deficits and double-digit tax increases; a return to the sins of the past.”

In addition to the inclusion of the deed verification program, Day’s vetoes also involved legislative amendments that included $3.5 million in revenue and appropriations to fund employee contract settlements; increased estimated sales tax revenue by $647,500; eliminated new positions in multiple departments and what the county executive characterized as bypassing the county’s legally mandated process for procuring contracts.

County Executive Day proposed a $709-million spending plan for 2019 that included a 2.9% property tax levy increase, which is under the state mandated property tax cap. For the average Rockland residential property owner, taxes will increase just over $3 a month or about $37 a year.

“To make up for the shortfall created by eliminating the (deed verification) revenue, the majority simply increased the estimated sales tax revenue by $647,500, that amount of money is shockingly almost 30% beyond the highest projection proposed by their own financial consultant, and eliminated multiple new positions to make up the difference,” Day said “They simply went to their failed playbook from the past and increased sales tax rather than making realistic adjustments.”

The Rockland County Legislature, in a vote that went along party lines, approved on Dec. 4 an amended $759 million 2019 county budget that increases county taxes by 2.9%.

A major revision from County Executive Ed Day’s proposed budget was the elimination of a proposed deed verification fee of $200 for real estate transactions that was projected to bring in $1.2 million in annual revenue to the county. The Rockland County Legislature also added $3.5 million to the budget that would  be earmarked for employee contract settlements.

The Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors lobbied county lawmakers and County Executive Day against implementing the deed verification fee. HGAR Government Affairs Director Philip Weiden testified before the Budget & Finance Committee on Nov. 20 against the proposal. HGAR and other opponents of the fee noted that most of that deed verification work in the county is already performed by private title companies.

County government officials at the session pressed the committee that there is indeed an issue and a high cost associated with the county having to undertake verification of deeds and property maps.

HGAR Chief Executive Officer Richard Haggerty in a letter to County Executive Day described the deed verification proposal as “an unwise idea in principle.”

“The proposed legislation, as currently drafted, does not describe a public necessity for the fee or how it would improve upon existing legislation,” the HGAR CEO stated. “Likewise, there is no detailing as to how proceeds from the fee would be used toward staff functions within the County of Rockland Real Property Tax Services.”

Haggerty added that deed verification is already being performed by title researchers and closing attorneys. He noted that if the fee was enacted, it would increase the cost of the real estate transaction and also “hinder our overarching goal of advocating for homeowners in Rockland County and throughout New York.”

Day, who told Real Estate In-Depth in a recent interview that he was in favor of the deed verification fee, issued a statement highly critical of the amended budget passed by the legislature.

Concerning the elimination of the deed verification fee proposal, he stated after the legislature’s budget vote earlier this month, “The elimination of the deed verification service, which the County Clerk and all five Town Assessors strongly supported, will continue to lead to incorrect property descriptions that have caused many problems. The tax maps need to reflect the deed information as accurately as possible to ensure that the land a taxpayer owns is the parcel the taxpayer is assessed and billed for. It would ensure fairness in property taxes and would also have allowed us to better watch for illegal subdivisions and housing.”

Day added, “By refusing to pass the deed verification law they created a $1.2-million deficit in their amended budget and are engaging in fiscal gimmickry to cover it up.”

In terms of the overall amended budget, Day said, “The Legislative majority’s amended budget is an insult to all the work we have done the past five years to improve Rockland’s financial well-being. I refuse to allow us to return to the practices that led to the $138-million deficit that we had when I first took office.”

Legislature Chairman Toney L. Earl said, “As always, it took a lot of work to get to this point. A budget rarely pleases everyone on every front, but I believe we adopted a spending plan that meets the needs of county government and its residents. We saw last night that we still have work to do as a body to try to come to agreement on a number of issues. I hope we can do that in the coming weeks and in the new year.”

The $3.5 million in revenues to pay for the union settlement costs will come from the forfeiture of the down payment by the would-be buyer of Summit Park Nursing Home once his court appeals are completed. The proposed budget submitted by County Executive Day set aside $1.5 million to settle union contracts.

The adopted budget also increases the estimate for sale tax revenues by $674,550, slightly more than the legislature’s outside fiscal consultant’s suggested limit.

A total of 10 Democratic County legislators voted to adopt the amended budget, while six Republicans and one independent legislator voted against it.

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth