Dispute over $11M in taxes could force Mount Vernon schools into budget crisis

School officials are now calling on the city to transfer that money over immediately or for the state Legislature to step in and help.

News 12 Staff

Feb 1, 2023, 10:52 AM

Updated 478 days ago

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A battle over $11 million in unpaid taxes could force the Mount Vernon City School District into a budget crisis. 
School officials say they are pushing off critical infrastructure projects because the City of Mount Vernon has not transferred the roughly $11 million it owed in school taxes.
City Comptroller Dr. Darren Morton acknowledges that number and said it has not been sent over. That's where the two sides stop seeing eye-to-eye.
"That money had never been really sought after by the previous comptroller and so, therefore, it remains on the books as being owed," said Dr. Morton.
The district says this money dates back to taxes it levied between 2017 and 2019 under the watch of the previous comptroller and administration.
Without the money, the district won't be able to complete roof repairs, electrical work, and install new heating and ventilation systems among other projects. Cuts to jobs and programs could be necessary to balance the books, according to the district.
"What are we going to do next year if we don't have this tax revenue and how are we going to provide for the kids if we don't have enough money to get by," said Mount Vernon School District Assistant Superintendent for Business Ken Silver.
School officials are now calling on the city to transfer that money over immediately or for the state Legislature to step in and help.
State Sen. Jamaal Bailey, who represents Mount Vernon and part of the Bronx, said his office is monitoring the situation.
"Our top priority is ensuring the Mount Vernon school system is properly funded and working to look for solutions that ensure all impacted parties – especially our kids – get what they deserve," wrote Bailey in a statement.
The Mount Vernon Board of Education wrote state Attorney General Letitia James to investigate whether the city broke the law.
A spokesperson for the AG's office acknowledged receiving the letter and is reviewing it but wouldn't comment further. The Westchester District Attorney's Office declined to comment.
Morton has committed to pursuing the unpaid taxes as soon as the current collection cycle for the 2022-23 year wraps up on February 6.
"The path forward as I have explained to the school district is for us to then aggressively go after the taxpayers to have them pay their taxes that are outstanding," said Morton.
He said his office will be sending out arrears notices and intent of foreclosure papers to residents who haven't paid their taxes and will make it a priority to pay the district – but admitted the process could take years.
The district began collecting its own taxes starting with the 2021 school year following a lawsuit and frustration over getting paid by the city on time. The district says starting next month, the city will owe it roughly an additional $6 million in taxes for the 2020-21 tax cycle. 
Morton said the district has not submitted a certified list of outstanding money for 2020-21 or 2021-22 but will add it to the total money owed once the district files the proper paperwork.
The state Comptroller's Office released a report last week that found Mount Vernon was one of 14 districts in New York in fiscal stress. 
Mount Vernon was the only one in the more dire category of "significant fiscal stress."


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