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British Columbia

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

A fight over $11 million in unpaid taxes could push the Mount Vernon City school district into a budget crisis.

School officials say they are delaying critical infrastructure projects because the city of Mount Vernon has failed to remit the roughly $11 million it owes in school taxes.

City Comptroller Dr. Darren Morton confirms this number and said it was not transmitted. This is the point where the two sides stop agreeing.

“This money was never actually claimed by the previous auditor and therefore remains on the books as owed,” said Dr. morton

The district says that money stems from taxes collected between 2017 and 2019 under the oversight of the previous auditor and administration.

Without the money, the district cannot complete roof repairs, electrical work, and the installation of new heating and ventilation systems, among other things. Cuts in jobs and programs could be needed to balance the books, the district said.

“What are we going to do next year if we don’t have that tax revenue, and how are we going to support the kids if we don’t have enough money to get by,” said Assistant Superintendent for Business for the Mount Vernon School District Ken Silber.

School officials are now urging the city to wire that money immediately or the state legislature to step in and help.

State Senator Jamaal Bailey, who represents Mount Vernon and part of the Bronx, said his office is monitoring the situation.

“Our top priority is to ensure Mount Vernon’s school system is properly funded and to work to find solutions that ensure all parties involved – especially our children – are getting what they deserve,” wrote Bailey in a statement.

The Mount Vernon Board of Education wrote to Attorney General Letitia James to investigate whether the city broke the law.

A spokesman for the AG office confirmed receipt of the letter and is reviewing it, but declined to comment further. Westchester District Attorneys declined to comment.

Morton has committed to tracking unpaid taxes once the current collection cycle for 2022-23 ends on February 6th.

“The way forward, as I explained to the school district, is that we then aggressively target taxpayers to make them pay their outstanding taxes,” Morton said.

He said his office will mail arrears and foreclosure papers to residents who haven’t paid their taxes and make paying the district a priority — but acknowledged the process could take years.

The county began collecting its own taxes beginning in the 2021 school year after a lawsuit and frustration at being paid on time by the city. The district says the city will owe it about $6 million in additional taxes starting next month for the 2020-21 tax cycle.

Morton said the district has not submitted a certified list of outstanding monies for 2020-21 or 2021-22, but will add it to the total amount owed once the district submits the appropriate documentation.

The State Comptroller’s Office released a report last week that found Mount Vernon is one of 14 districts in New York under tax burdens.

Mount Vernon was the only one in the worse “significant fiscal stress” category.

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