Rockland lawmakers OK motor vehicle fee

Lawmakers debate budget proposals at a Rockland County Lawmakers debate budget proposals at a Rockland County legislative meeting in the Allison-Parris building in New City. (June 12, 2012) Photo Credit: Faye Murman

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Rockland County residents will pay more for registering their cars, trucks and SUVs under new fees approved Tuesday night by the county Legislature.

The legislation, which goes into effect immediately, requires county residents to pay an additional $10 fee for registering or renewing vehicles under 3,500 pounds and $20 for vehicles over 3,500 pounds and for commercial vehicles such as trucks and buses.

The vote was 14 to 3, with only a handful of Republican lawmakers opposing it.

"I feel this is the wrong direction to go," said Legis. Frank Sparaco (R-Valley Cottage), who voted against it, citing a litany of taxes and fees paid by county residents.

Only two people spoke against the measure at a public hearing before the vote. "There are too many taxes, especially on the working poor, and people can't afford it," county resident Michelle Sternheim told lawmakers.

County officials project the new fees will generate nearly $1 million a year, money that would be deposited in the general fund toward reducing the county's deficit, estimated at more than $21 million for the year. The county also is awaiting approval from the state Legislature this week to borrow up to $80 million to pay down its cumulative budget shortfall.

"These are rough estimates," said Stephen DeGroat, the county's revenue and finance commissioner, about the revenue expected from the new fees. "We don't really know what the cycle is for renewing vehicle registrations, how many people will be renewing this year or next."

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DeGroat said that, if the new fees are approved, the county likely will start receiving revenue in several months.

The motor vehicle fee is the latest in a series of revenue-generating measures offered by County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef.

In recent weeks, county legislators have approved the layoffs of 102 employees, reinstated a 4 percent residential energy tax that goes into effect Sept. 1 and voted to pass the costs of running elections and educating college students to the towns.

On Saturday, two bills were introduced that would allow Rockland to borrow up to $80 million with a 10-year repayment plan; the county's budgets would require state approval until the bonds are repaid. The bill, if passed, would need to be signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Rockland officials signed off on Tuesday agreeing to the plan for borrowing the money.

Additionally, the county recently had its bond rating downgraded by Moody's to the lowest investment-grade debt in the state.

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"It's not something that any of us are happy with," said Legis. Michael Grant (D-Haverstraw), about the new motor vehicle fees. "But it's something we need to do to close the gap ... and right the ship of Rockland County."

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