NYS Exposed: New York State taxes you when you die

November 15, 2017 12:14 AM

Even after you die, New York State has found a way to tax you. Think of it as a condo fee for your remains. 

But in his grief, one local father questioned where the money was going.

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Ed Dobrowski's son died suddenly and in the emotional days after, he didn't pay close attention to the cremation bill. But when he found the paper work recently, he saw that he had to pay a state fee to say goodbye to his son. 

Every chance he gets, Dobrowski comes to Powder Mills Park, grabs a yellow rose and tosses into the creek. He does it for his son Jason Dobrowski. 

It was October 2014. Jason was doing what he loved, fishing along the creek in the park. An undiagnosed heart condition made him pass out. He fell into the water and drowned. 

Ed Dobrowski, son died at 29: He was a gentle giant. A strong guy. And people loved him.
This year, when Ed was going through his files, he found Jason's cremation certificate and on the bottom left corner he saw; "New York State Vandalism fee collected."
Ed Dobrowski: I thought it was a red flag because of the fact that it was at the base of the document.
This is what it is. 
It's a $5 fee for every burial and cremation in the state. The money goes into the New York State Cemetery Vandalism Fund and that money is used to help state-regulated cemeteries repair damage from vandalism or accidents. 

Gary Stockmaster, Director, Maplewood Cemetery Association: We get assessed a $5 vandalism fee for every internment that we have here. 
Gary Stockmaster is the Director of Maplewood Cemetery in Henrietta. On a clear day in the summer of 2016, a box truck ran off the road and plowed into some of the oldest headstones in the cemetery. The cemetery's insurance doesn't cover the headstones. 

The damage was about $10,000. Stockmaster applied to the fund. The state investigated and gave the cemetery the money. 

Stockmaster: Yeah, we always question what are we paying for but I don't know what we would have done if we didn't have that fund to cover us.
The fund was created in the late 1980's after a string of vandalism in cemeteries. Over that time it's collected millions of dollars. 

But here's the thing. 
At the end of the year, the vandalism fees that didn't get used got transferred into the state's general fund. That's the state's checking account and it's money used to pay for everything from state salaries to road repair. 

David Fleming is Executive Director of the New York State Association of Cemeteries. 
Brean: Sweeping money from the cemetery vandalism fund into the state general fund is what?
David Fleming, NYS Association of Cemeteries: Well it's extremely unfortunate and dangerous for the future of local taxpayers.

Fleming says, by law, if a cemetery association cannot repair damage or abandons a cemetery, the city, town or village where the cemetery is located is financially responsible for the maintenance of the cemetery. 
Here's what an audit by the New York State Comptroller found. 
Between 1988, when the fund started and 2004, the year of the audit, the vandalism fund collected $6.5 million. It paid out $1.7 million. 
The remaining $4.8 million was "swept" into the state's general fund. 
As of 2009, the State Comptroller's reports say that number jumped to $5.6 million. 
Under Governor Andrew Cuomo, the state is actually spending more on cemetery repair than the fund takes in. 

But in 2013, the state legislature passed a bill taking control of the money away from the New York State finance department and giving it to the state Cemetery Board in the Department of State. 
It would have created a trust fund that the government couldn't touch.
But Governor Cuomo vetoed the bill. 

Parents like Ed Dobrowski just want to make sure the money is going to the right place. 

Ed Dobrowski: There's a lot of sorrow behind that money. Every dime, every penny should go into vandalism, where it was meant to go.
In his veto, the governor said "this bill would not achieve its stated purpose, which is to improve the operation... of the vandalism fund." The Governor also said "it would create significant confusion as to who administers that fund."

There's a new bill your state assembly member and senator will vote on next spring. It is effectively the same as the one the governor vetoed.


Berkeley Brean

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