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The secret behind the highest taxed place in America

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The Hidden Roosevelt Island RIOC Tax

The Roosevelt Island RIOC Tax…? You’ve never heard of it, but it’s real. And effectively hidden. All residents cough it up, every year. That’s on top of federal, state and city taxes.

By David Stone

Roosevelt Island Daily News

An Introduction To the Hidden RIOC Tax

All things considered, Roosevelt Island may be the most heavily taxed community and least democratic in the United States. And probably get the least bang for their buck.

Roosevelt Island’s a great place to live, but who pays?

How many Roosevelt Islanders, in any of the seven complexes, know they are the most heavily taxed in the United States? Not many do because they never see it when filing their taxes, but it’s just as real, just as much of a burden.

But here’s the thing. It’s the most undemocratic too because you have no say in how much, who collects or how it’s spent. You just pay, and that’s it.

Living in New York City, Roosevelt Islanders already pay federal, state and local income taxes. Per person, the city is the highest taxed in the United States, and second place isn’t close.

But if you live on this narrow slip of East River rock, you pay all of them plus an extra tax that goes into RIOC‘s bank account.

Many, especially newcomers, assume the state funds its own agency, but New York doesn’t contribute a dime. Almost all operating expenses come straight out of community pockets. How New York Screws Roosevelt Island With Taxes Without Benefits

Without consent and without accountability.

The Roosevelt Island RIOC Tax is substantial, and as an added frustration, those who pay get virtually no say in how much they’re charged or how it’s spent.

What Is The Roosevelt Island RIOC Tax?

RIOC’s budget reports taxes in three ways, none of which include the word “tax…”

  • Residential Fees
  • Ground Rent
  • Public Safety Reimbursement

Don’t be fooled by alternative names for taxes because that’s exactly what they are. They serve exactly the same function as all the others, that is, funding the government.

The total varies slightly from year to year but is consistently over $20 million. That’s over $1,700 collected for every man, woman and child in town, although it varies from complex to complex.

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The $1,700* hit is hidden in your rent or maintenance, and your complex’s manager hands it over to RIOC. Sadly, you have virtually no say in it, and most never even know about it. Normally, a state funds its own agencies, but this is the exception.

*Figure based on 11,000 residents. Most recent data shows about 11,700 residents, but 350 plus in Coler and several hundred more living at Cornell Tech do not contribute to the RIOC Tax.

The State of New York taxes Roosevelt Islanders just like anyone else but does not send back a dime for RIOC operations.

In other words, we pay for RIOC out of local assessments, but our New York taxes go to the rest of the state, from Montauk to Buffalo. Similarly, our city taxes go mostly to other neighborhoods.

It is secret and hidden, but it hides in plain sight. It never comes up when leases are negotiated.

Rather than consult with residents, RIOC simply makes a deal with landlords and sucks up the cash without a hint of accountability, and neither informs nor asks residents about it.

A skeleton in the closet…

Another item of which you’re probably not aware is the $170 million RIOC owes the Urban Development Corporation. That debt covers investments in building out Roosevelt Island, back in the ’70s and ’80s.

That’s nearly $15,000 in debt for every resident, and it accumulates at a whopping 5% interest.

When Frank Farance appeared before the RIOC board in 2018, appealing for the corporation to deal with the escalating threat, the spineless chair-fillers answered with stony silence.

Because RIOC has never paid a dime toward this indebtedness in nearly 40 years, it comes due by 2068, and RIOC has only local resources to draw on. That means higher future rents.

It’s hard to imagine RIOC, which grows more bloated every year, going on a diet.

Taxation Without Representation

It’s as un-American as the Chinese rice harvest.

“Taxation without representation” was a rallying cry for the Revolutionary War.

But poorly informed Roosevelt Islanders live with it, secrets making them the highest taxed in the land. Few, if any, other communities in America get slammed with double local taxes, and that may explain why it’s hidden.

And parades under aliases… Ground Rent, Residential Fees, Public Safety Reimbursement…

This matters even more than you may already think because the tax supports a spendthrift budget for a state agency that doesn’t consult with residents or care much about what they think.

Does the Roosevelt Island RIOC Tax Support Bloated Bureaucracy?

Why does RIOC need over 20 people earning six-figure incomes on its payroll? The president/CEO pulls down over $200K, plus benefits beyond the wildest dreams of most of us.

That’s right. In the last budget’s final version, 22 people were shown to earn over $100,000 per year. Plus generous benefits and a pension plan better than anything most of us will ever see.

There’s even a “warehouse manager” topping the six-figure threshold. What warehouse? you might wonder.

How many of them live here and pay the RIOC Tax? None that we’re aware of. Never have.

Public Safety Reimbursement

When I ran into my friend Victoria, a few weeks ago, her immediate reaction was to throw her head back and say, “Fifty?”

Yes, that’s how many Public Safety Department employees there are. Well, not exactly. There are actually 55, according to a RIOC source.

What do they do? Where are they?

Although RIOC claims that PSD enforces state and local laws, that’s not true. As has been shown repeatedly, they aren’t even up to dealing with the daily flood of bikes, both peddle and electric, running stop signs, speeding and scattering pedestrians in crosswalks.

And although notified, they look the other way when restaurants open without Dept. of Health licenses, and they blatantly allow construction without Dept. of Buildings permits.

A hefty $4 million taken from the community goes to a Public Safety Department where the main work seems to be keeping each other company.

In perspective

This is not to say RIOC doesn’t play a useful role on Roosevelt Island. It does, and we benefit in ways other communities don’t. Generous green space and free transportation come to mind right away.

But after already paying a fair share of state and local taxes, should every Roosevelt Islander, young or old, also pay $1,700+ for what amounts to basic services?

Why aren’t these things covered in other taxes? Why doesn’t New York State fully fund its own agency?

And if residents are forced to pay for it, why are they never consulted? On how much or how it’s spent?

And here’s the real kicker… Since residents pay for the bulk of operations, why does RIOC act without consensus on issues like reinventing Southpoint Park?

Who gave them the green light for an endless war against, of all things, cat sanctuaries?

Residents don’t get a vote in who runs RIOC, its board or its administration. Why then is every man woman and child tapped for $1,700+ every year?

Is this the American way?

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