December 29, 2017 - In an effort to clarify misinformation and grossly inaccurate statements made by members of Gov. Cuomo’s administration regarding the pre-payment of property taxes, Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino is inviting the governor on WOR Radio on Friday morning to set the record straight.

Astorino’s invitation comes as Cuomo and New York State Budget Director Robert Mujica issued inaccurate and misinformed statements about Westchester’s role in allowing the prepayment of property taxes. Astorino is guest-hosting The Len Berman Show from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Friday on 710 WOR.

“It is shocking how little the governor and his state budget director actually know about tax collection in Westchester,” Astorino said. “They are clearly misinformed. To peddle such misinformation is not only political pandering, but irresponsible. Let’s set the record straight, governor. Just the two of us. What do you say?”

Earlier this week, Gov. Cuomo issued an overly vague and potentially impermissible Executive Order allowing counties to issue tax warrants early so that property owners could deduct 2018 property taxes in 2017. Today, the budget director “condemned” Westchester County for what he says is the county’s “refusal” to allow property taxpayers to prepay their 2018 taxes.

“That’s completely false,” Astorino said. “We are not refusing to allow people to prepay their taxes.”

It is important to note that in Westchester County, unlike other counties throughout New York State, the collection of taxes is the responsibility of local cities and towns – not the county.

A number of municipalities have said people can pre-pay their 2018 property taxes based on their 2017 bills and reconcile any discrepancies next year. But ultimately, the matter of deductibility is up to the IRS. There is still uncertainty as to what payments will actually be deductible under IRS guidelines, Astorino said.

The county’s only role here is the preparation of the county’s tax warrants, which is the bill municipalities send to their property owners to cover their share of county expenses. The process for preparing the warrants is complex and requires accuracy. The calculations must take into account 259,034 parcels across the county as well as 17 special districts with their own boundaries and produce a single warrant or bill for each city and town. Each municipality can only get one warrant under the law as the county tax levy and special district taxes must be calculated into a single bill.

Normally, the process of sending out warrants takes four to six weeks. By law, the county must send warrants to the Board of Legislators for review in February and to the municipalities in March.

“To prepare warrants and send them to municipalities in a matter of days would have simply been irresponsible,” Astorino said.

The county portion of a tax bill is typically about 15 percent, with school taxes making up 65 percent and local municipal taxes 20 percent. In other words, the county’s subordinate role only pertains to a relatively small fraction of a person’s tax bill.
Astorino also noted that the legal premise behind the Governor’s Executive Order is dubious at best as it is based on a section of state law that deals with “disasters” such as fires, floods, hurricanes, landslides, terrorism, nuclear releases, drought, blight, and other similar events posing “imminent threat of wide spread or severe damage, injury or loss of life or property.” To add the inability to prepay local taxes to the list is such a stretch that it throws the legality of the order into question.

Since taking office in 2010, Astorino has been committed to holding the line on taxes. During his tenure, in fact, the property tax levy actually decreased by 2 percent. The savings to taxpayers has been substantial. If the county had raised the tax levy just 2 percent, the level allowable under the state’s tax cap, the cumulative cost to Westchester taxpayers since Astorino took office would have been $522 million or $1,700 for the median homeowner.

In the eight years prior to Astorino becoming County Executive, Westchester’s tax levy actually went up 60 percent.