A review of county and state laws shows that Suffolk officials are required to “negotiate and enter an agreement” with the Department of Motor Vehicles before it can implement a surcharge on auto and truck registrations.
But Bellone administration aides say the rule applies only to the mechanics putting the fee into effect, not the rate itself.
The details of the legislation came to light Wednesday after county officials disclosed that the surcharge, approved by the county legislature Nov. 25, was never implemented by DMV. The delay has cost the county $6.3 million in lost revenue, losses that could mount to nearly $10 million by the time higher fees are expected to go into effect in June.
“It’s another example of how we’ve gotten to where we are today by mismanagement and not filing the proper paperwork,” said Legis. Kevin McCaffrey, the leader of the Republican caucus.
“It’s a red herring,” said Deputy County executive Jon Schneider, noting the required agreement deals only with issues like “the method of collection, custody and remittal of the proceeds” as well as payment to DMV for “reasonable expenses.”
He said since an agreement was put in place when the surcharge was first added in 1991, there was no need for a new one simply because the fees were being increased. He added state DMV officials have not stated any need for a new agreement in discussions with the county.
Bellone administration aides had filed the bill with the secretary of state’s office in November but never informed DMV officials until earlier this month, after they realized that the approved fees had not produced additional revenue.
However, Bellone aides acknowledged legislation dealing with county sales tax increases does require the county directly inform the state Department of Taxation and Finance of any rate change. The county had also communicated directly with DMV officials in 1991 when the surcharge was first imposed because they were required to make an agreement, avoiding delays.
The change in the surcharge, from $5 to $15 for cars under 3,500 pounds and from $10 to $30 for those more than 3,500 pounds, was expedited last fall after the county received news of faltering sales tax receipts. Officials had hoped to get the new fee in place for collections to begin Dec. 1, projecting an extra $1.584 million before the end of 2015.
County officials now also concede they were unaware of a 45-day comment period that is required after the higher rates plan was published in the state register Wednesday. Aides to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo have said the state will help the county mitigate revenue losses due to the delay but have provided no specifics.
In retrospect, Schneider said he wishes the county had made direct contact with DMV immediately.
“Now and forever, we will make sure to contact whatever agency is involved and make it standard operating procedure,” he said.