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Proposed $300 mortgage fee draws opposition in Suffolk

Suffolk Legislature's Presiding Officer Duwayne Gregory listens to

Suffolk Legislature's Presiding Officer Duwayne Gregory listens to testimony from real estate professionals who are protesting a proposed increase on mortgage fees on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016, in Smithtown. Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Real estate professionals urged Suffolk County lawmakers Thursday to block a new $300 county fee on mortgage recordings that they said would drive residents off Long Island and hit seniors and first-time home buyers hardest.

The proposed fee increase, included in the 2017 budget, comes a year after the county instituted a $200-per-parcel fee on mortgage recordings.

“Passing this legislation would be a huge mistake and unfair burden on average county residents,” real estate attorney Wendi Stranieri of Huntington said. “It’s a punitive measure for the average taxpayer.”

Despite the criticism, the legislative Ways and Means Committee voted 4-3 to recommend the fee. The full legislature is scheduled to vote on it Tuesday.

The proposed fee on new mortgages, refinancings, lines of credit, second mortgages, satisfaction of mortgages and other instruments will raise an estimated $33.3 million a year.

Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said the county’s $500 total fee on mortgages still would be below Nassau County’s $655 under its approved 2017 budget.

“At the end of the day, we do need some revenue in order to provide critical services,” Schneider said.

Democrats on the committee said the fee is needed to help pay for county services.

The county has made cuts, including reducing the county workforce by 1,300 employees and eliminating bus routes, but still faces large deficits.

“I’m not a big fan of having to vote for this, but it’s something we have to do,” said Legis. Robert Calarco (D-Patchogue), noting the fee increase is necessary to balance the already approved county budget.

Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore), Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) and Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) voted against the proposed fee.

“People can’t afford to live here. They’re leaving Suffolk County, leaving New York,” Cilmi said.

“We all sit here and say we’re trying to keep young people here — ‘Stop the brain drain.’ This clearly doesn’t do it,” Trotta said.

Marie Zere, a Ronkonkoma real estate broker, said fee hikes and high taxes are driving residents out. “I’m saying goodbye to friends moving out of state. I’m fighting to keep nine grandchildren on Long Island,” she said.

The county-approved budget has a total of $41.7 million from fee hikes. They include the mortgage fee, and an increase in the administrative charge on traffic tickets from $55 per ticket to $110. A public hearing on the ticket charge will be held Tuesday.

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