New York City

The Roosevelt Island RIOC Tax…?

The Roosevelt Island RIOC Tax…? The what? It’s no surprise you’ve never heard of it, but it’s real, and disguised. And residents cough it up, every year.

By David Stone

How many Roosevelt Island residents, in any of seven complexes, know they may be the most highly taxed people in the United States?

Living in New York City, you’re already burdened with federal, state and local taxes. But in addition, Islanders pay an extra tax for running RIOC.

Here’s an important point: That tax is substantial, and you get no say in how much it is or how it’s spent.

Roosevelt Island, Population 11,661
Roosevelt Island’s a great place to live, but who pays?

What Is The Roosevelt Island RIOC Tax?

In RIOC’s budget, taxes collected from residents are disguised in three categories:

  • Residential Fees
  • Ground Rent
  • Public Safety Reimbursement

The total varies slightly from year to year, but the total is consistently around $19,000,000 per year. And that’s over $1,700 for every man, woman and child, although it varies bizarrely from complex to complex.

You pay your $1,700* as part of your rent or maintenance, and your complex’s manager hands it over to RIOC.

*Based on 11,000 residents. Most recent data shows about 11,500 residents, but 350 plus in Coler and several hundred more living at Cornell Tech do not contribute to the RIOC Tax.

No one tells you about this, but it hides in plain site.

In addition to all the other taxes paid, federal, state and city, residents pay for RIOC on top of it.

Shouldn’t those living here have a say in the ultimate question of how it’s spent? That determines how much gets collected.

But rather than consult with residents, RIOC simply makes a deal with landlords to suck it up, and neither informs nor asks anyone about it.

Local plus features 24/7: Roosevelt Island News

A skeleton in the closet…

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

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

When Frank Farance appeared before the RIOC board last year, appealing for the corporation to deal with the escalating threat, he was 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 is, already over taxed residents and over burdened commercial tenants.

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, making them likely the highest taxed in the land. Few other communities in America get slammed with double local taxes, and that may explain why it’s done so quietly.

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

How else could RIOC pay for itself? You might think something comes back out of the State and City taxes you pay, but you’d be wrong. Neither City Hall nor Albany cough up a dime for running RIOC.

This matters even more than you may already think because the tax may support a bloated 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?

You might wonder why this small community needs over 20 people earning six figure incomes on its payroll.

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 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.

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?

Although RIOC claims they enforce state and local laws, that’s not true. As has been shown repeatedly, they aren’t 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 Heath licenses, and for the last year, they blatantly allowed construction without Dept. of Buildings licenses.

On Sunday, I watched PSD officers, confined in cars, not one on foot, coast past bike and face mask violations in playgrounds, never once stopping, not even to shout out a reminder.

A hefty $4 million goes to support a Public Safety Department where the main occupation often 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 many 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 Roosevelt Islanders pay $1,700+ more 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?

3 replies »

  1. Shh, you are saying the quiet part loud! Also, Cornell Tech residents do pay the tax in some form through a $300K yearly “contribution” to RIOC.

    • The House sits on New York City land. The $300K fee is for RIOC leased space surrounding the campus and needed for completion. So, although Cornell definitely pays and generously, it’s not attributed directly to residents on campus. It’s a fair point, if a bit technical, though.

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