Mortgage Tax Income Soars for Philipstown

Putnam legislators OK arts grants, equipment bonds, security cameras 

As COVID-19 surged in Putnam County, so did municipal income from the mortgage tax on home sales, according to data reviewed by the Putnam County Legislature on Tuesday (May 4).

Convening by audio connection, the legislators unanimously approved disbursement, countywide, of the $3.2 million in revenue generated between Oct. 1 and March 31. Philipstown, Cold Spring and Nelsonville will receive nearly double what they got for the same period in 2019-20.

Mortgage Tax Jumps

In Putnam County, the county and state tax on mortgages totals $1.05 per $100 of debt secured; the revenue reflects a growing number of homes and commercial buildings changing hands and/or larger mortgages.

The county total “is a significant amount of money for a six-month period,” noted Legislator Joseph Castellano of Brewster, who chairs the Audit and Administration Committee. “It shows we’re doing the right thing in Putnam. People are trying to move up to this county.” 

The legislators also voted 8 to 0 (one lawmaker was absent) to approve $13,000 in grants for 12 arts/cultural organizations, including three in Philipstown.

Recommended by the Putnam Arts Council, the recipients included the Butterfield Library in Cold Spring, which received $800 for a yearlong series of events such as Writers Reading at the Library; $1,500 to the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival for its community playwriting program; and $1,200 to Manitoga in Garrison for an installation and acoustic performances.

In addition, the Doansburg Chamber Ensemble of Mahopac, which performs at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Cold Spring, was awarded $1,300; the Tompkins Corners Cultural Center in Putnam Valley received $1,000 for a theater production; and Collaborative Concepts, which held its outdoor sculpture exhibition in Garrison before moving it to the county’s Tilly Foster Farm near Brewster last fall, will get $1,000. 

“It’s nice to see the investment in the arts, even if it’s a small” amount per group, said Legislator Nancy Montgomery, who represents Philipstown and part of Putnam Valley. “In Putnam County alone, arts and cultural organizations inject over $6 million into the economy annually.” In fact, the arts account for “way more than they’re given credit for,” Montgomery said. “It’s a huge industry in our region, some would say the only industry we have in Putnam County, certainly in my district.” 

The legislators also unanimously approved the Sheriff’s Department plans to spend $43,010 to replace patrol car cameras and to use income from the inmates’ commissary to buy oxygen tanks ($885) and upgraded trauma-first aid kits ($2,712) for the jail and vehicles; computer accessories ($784) for the inmates’ law library; and 15 televisions ($485 each) for inmate viewing (the sheriff had wanted 30).

They similarly concurred on a Health Department reshuffling that will enhance environmental health efforts while saving $16,000 yearly. Montgomery observed that it is the third recent Health Department reorganization. Nonetheless, she added, “we’re beginning to give the Health Department the resources they need.” She said the department’s push to vaccinate residents against COVID-19 demonstrated “when they’re given the resources how successful they can be.” 

Montgomery and her colleagues parted ways when it came to issuing $500,000 in bonds to cover most of a $668,500 price tag for a Highway Department brine tank and vehicles. Putnam expects New York State to contribute the remaining $168,500. The equipment is part of a program to upgrade such county roads as Snake Hill and the short stretch of Cold Spring’s Fair Street that extends beyond the village border.

“I’m really in support of infrastructure projects and improvement,” Montgomery said. Yet, “I don’t know why we have to bond for them. If we were better fiscal managers, we wouldn’t have to bond,” or borrow the money.

“It’s going to be a savings in the long run,” Castellano replied. 

Montgomery also objected to allocating $35,000 for security cameras in county office buildings. Legislators in 2017 approved $82,537 for the system and appropriated $75,000 more in 2020. Their latest resolution limits the maximum outlay to $192,537.

“It seems a little excessive,” Montgomery said, before casting the lone “no” vote. “That money could well be put to use elsewhere.”

3 thoughts on “Mortgage Tax Income Soars for Philipstown

  1. The vote on road projects is not accurately presented here. The piece implies I voted against an infrastructure project in my district, and that could not be further from the truth.

    For clarification, there were two separate bonds before the Legislature on May 4. One was for actual road repairs in District 1, including Snake Hill Road and a portion of Fair Street. I voted yes for these much-needed infrastructure improvement projects.

    I voted no, however, on the requested 15-year, $500,000 bond for the purchase of highway vehicles, in large part because the need for the vehicles was not clearly identified. Further, I don’t agree with the Legislature’s approach to funding equipment purchases. We frequently bond for equipment purchases. Highway vehicles take a lot of wear and tear and their lifespans can be shorter than the bond period. Taxpayers can end up paying off bonds for vehicles no longer on the road. Bonds are for major projects with long-term public benefit, not buying trucks, snowplows and the like.

    I continue to press the Highway Department and my colleagues on the Legislature to develop a planned equipment replacement schedule, appropriately funded from the general fund. Without such a plan, the taxpayer doesn’t have a good sense of just how much they may be overpaying for debt service on vehicles. Not for nothing, all of my colleagues who voted to borrow and spend will be out of office before this vehicle bond is paid. The taxpayer will be left holding the bag.

  2. Legislator Montgomery is right in saying the vote against the $500,000 vote for road equipment should not be construed as a vote against infrastructure projects in Philipstown. The vote was for using more bonds (i.e., loans incurring debt) to buy the road equipment. As she pointed out during the meeting and in her comment, reliance on bonds for financing can be questioned and she is not the only legislator over the last decade to do so.

    The story reported on her “no” vote using bonds to obtain the equipment. It did not say that she opposed fixing Snake Hill Road and the extension of Fair Street. And it quoted her advocacy of infrastructure projects. Later in the meeting, as Nancy also points out, a second resolution came up for a vote. This one was on an amendment to the 2021 budget to finance infrastructure projects, across the county, using money that included funds from the bond-letting authorized earlier in the evening for equipment acquisition. (To complicate matters, it appears to have included money from other bond-letting, as well.)

    Back-up materials on this second vote included the list of road equipment to be acquired through the equipment-acquisition bond as well as the list of roads to be fixed, such as Snake Hill and the Fair Street extension. Thus the bond-issuance for equipment purchases and the road projects were clearly linked. By this second vote, the county Legislature announced that it was OK to proceed and undertake these projects. Nancy voted “yes” on the second, go-ahead vote.

    Given the space limitations of news articles and the complexities of the process, I did not mention the second vote because it seemed to me the real issue was relying on $500,000 in new bonding to acquire highway equipment, instead of paying for the equipment by dipping into existing county accounts.

  3. The mortgage tax was one of the most infuriating taxes in New York. When we bought our first house in New York — in Putnam Valley — a couple of years ago, I felt penalized for our inability to buy with cash. It seemed like one more tool to keep the rich richer. And I’m not one to be anti-tax just for the sake of it; I only saw this as an unequal tax. [via Facebook]