Reclaim New York Initiative Press Conference Remarks, Suffolk County Legislature, November 8, 2017

Reclaim New York Initiative press conference remarks, Suffolk County Legislature, November 8, 2017:

Mike Armstrong:

Thank you all for coming out today.

My name is Mike Armstrong, and I am Director of Field Operations for Reclaim New York Initiative.

That’s Reclaim New York Initiative. We are a non-partisan, non-profit, 501-c-4 advocacy organization. We work with citizens to make communities more affordable, to make government more transparent, and to remind elected officials that they work for the people.

We’re here as part of our Fight the Fees campaign as well, which is working with citizens to end illegal fees across the state.

Today, we deliver a clear and simple message to the county executive and county legislators before today’s budget hearing:

Illegal fees are theft. Stop stealing from Suffolk residents.

Suffolk County continues to abuse residents with revenue-raising fees.

These fees are illegal.

Under New York State law, it is unlawful for governments to use fees to generate revenue or to offset general expenses. Yet Suffolk is rolling in $102 million in ill-gotten revenue from fees.

These fees are abusive to Suffolk families and businesses who are struggling to afford to stay here and build a future.

These fees hit families who are buying a home, but face massive additional closing costs that threaten to crush their dreams.

These fees affect seniors on fixed incomes who find themselves paying more to close out a home loan, even though the county offered nothing more than a few minutes of service.

These fees do not work to fill long-term budget gaps – as they regularly fall short of revenue projections.

There is nothing to like about illegal fees unless you are a politician who is willing to break the law to avoid a serious conversation about a more than $3 billion county budget that has spun out of control. That’s larger than even Nassau County’s budget.

Instead of having an honest conversation with citizens about the county’s budget problems, and making tough, but necessary decisions on reducing spending or raising taxes, the county executive and many legislators keep finding new ways to patch a broken budget year-after-year.

This approach of “just getting by” only makes long-term prospects worse.

It is time for the responsibility-dodging to end.

When a family struggles to balance a budget, they either work extra hours or tighten their belt to cut costs. They don’t steal from their neighbor. Today, it is Suffolk County officials who will decide if they’ll continue stealing from their neighbors.

Here is a breakdown of county agencies and the fees they are illegally taking from Suffolk residents:

  • The County Clerk’s office is taking in $9.7 million more than its operating costs.
  • The County Road Fund, which administers the Motor Vehicle Registration Fee is grossing $23 million more than highway maintenance costs.
  • And last, but certainly not least. The Real Estate Property Verification Agency is taking in an absurd $68.3 million more than its operating costs.

If anyone should know the law, and know taking this revenue is illegal, it is our elected officials.

Sadly, instead of following the law, Suffolk officials have abused it.

They have created new fees to nickel-and-dollar residents and grab revenue to cover for their irresponsible budgeting.

They have rapidly, and cynically, increased these fees to grab even more revenue — even as residents, advocacy groups, and their fellow legislators have openly raised concerns about these illegal fees.

Now, they have been sued by the Government Justice Center and local residents who were finally fed up with paying illegal fees. Still, the County Executive is trying to ignore the problem, as his spokesperson ludicrously charged the lawsuit was “frivolous” and claimed Suffolk plaintiffs were “Albany insiders”.

Today, the county legislature should remove all $102 million in illegal fees from the county’s budget.

Don’t just go along with business-as-usual and keep stealing from your own constituents with illegal fees. You have been sued, you know these fees are illegal and wrong. It is time to stop this practice.

The clock is ticking. One day, the State Supreme Court will strike down the use of fees to illegally grab revenue and then the county will have no choice in the matter.

Now is your chance to lead, admit your mistakes, and end illegal fees on your own terms. It’s the responsible thing to do.

Thank you – now I’d like to introduce our new Regional Director for Long Island, Michael Watt. Michael will offer a few words for citizens on what they can do.

Michael Watt:

Thank you for the introduction Mike. I am Michael Watt, Reclaim New York Initiative’s Long Island Regional Director.

I appreciate the chance to introduce myself, and to offer an important reminder for Suffolk County residents who are seeing their friends and family leave, and their government respond with nickel-and-diming illegal fees.

Suffolk is only becoming more difficult to afford. It is our civic duty to stop our public officials from using fees illegally.

These fees hit residents of all political stripes, incomes, and neighborhoods.

Instead of cutting costs or looking you in the eye and raising your taxes, officials hunted illegal revenue. This practice can stop today, with your support.

Call your legislator and tell them to remove these illegal fees from the budget. If you live in Suffolk and have paid a hefty fee to the county, you deserve to know if it was illegal. Demand that your legislator prove that all fees are or will be made legal.

We are ready to help you Fight the Fees, but citizen-driven oversight is needed to keep county government honest.

Reach out to Reclaim New York Initiative at RECLAIMNYNOW.ORG and let’s fight the fees together.

Thank you – and with that I will turn it back.

Mike Armstrong:

I thank you again for coming out today and with I’m happy to answer any questions.