Former President Donald Trump and his business empire are still fighting fiercely to win – and this time the sucker at the other end of the bargain is a public school district.
For seven years, the Trump National Golf Club Westchester, just north of New York City, fought with the local government to lower its property tax bill, while inflating its value elsewhere by the millions. Then in August, emboldened by another golf club’s victory in court, the Trump club pressured locals to strike a deal and cut its estimated value by a third.
This means that the Trump club can claim he overpaid taxes, so local governments are spending money. But of all the local entities stranded in paying large reimbursement checks worth around $ 850,000, the hardest hit has been the small suburban school district of Briarcliff Manor Union Free. The public education system, which consists of a single elementary, middle and high school, landed the biggest tab, worth $ 588,155.12.
A local official involved in the process told the Daily Beast that schools will not make any cuts, but will simply pass the higher costs on to people who actually live in the area.
“It’s really boring that a scoundrel doesn’t pay taxes. My taxes are higher because his taxes are lower, ”said the official, who was not allowed to speak in public.
It’s a small area, so locals are more likely to feel it. With just 2,399 plots on the Briarcliff Village books, taxpayers will spend an average of $ 245 more next year, depending on the value of their property.
“This is important in the sense that it has to be compensated by all the other residents who pay taxes, and most of them would not have approved a golf course that they would eventually have to subsidize,” Fernando said. Gonzalez, the tax assessor for the local town of Ossining.
“Anything related to Trump is contemptible and / or corrupt,” said Marie Chalita, a homeowner at Briarcliff Manor, who told the Daily Beast she was “not happy to pay him.”
This deal with Trump is why the Briarcliff school board was forced to increase its budget by 1% in October, when it added more than half a million dollars to “judgments and claims.” Prior to that, the school system had allocated only a measly $ 20,246 for incoming lawsuits.
The massive tax refund would have been enough to pay up to 10 new teachers’ salaries, according to figures in a recent union employment contract.
The Trump Organization did not respond to a request for comment.
As the Daily Beast previously reported, this Trump golf club has filed annual grievances since 2015 in an attempt to dramatically lower its property tax bill against every local entity involved: Westchester County, City of Ossining , Briarcliff Village and Briarcliff Public Schools.
For example, in 2016, the company challenged its government-assessed value of $ 15.1 million, arguing that the actual value was actually $ 7.5 million. Local governments refused to budge and let the sitting US president cut his tax bill, while claiming on presidential disclosure forms that his club was actually worth at least $ 50 million.
But the tide turned in April 2021, when some of those same local governments lost a tax value fight against another nearby golf course, the Sleepy Hollow Country Club.
New York State Judge Bruce E. Tolbert ruled that “there is no mandate to rate golf courses or country clubs using particular techniques,” allowing the club reserved for members to reduce the value of his property. The court opinion set a sort of precedent, prompting city governments to think twice before mounting a defense against stingy golf clubs in court.
“This ruling completely changed the way golf courses are now taxed,” said Stephen P. Dewey, the lawyer who represented Ossining in his deal with the Trump Golf Club. In the end, the city got stuck in paying a refund of $ 20,444.
When the Ossining board of directors voted to approve the settlement in July, city supervisor Dana A. Levenberg said the move was “the prudent and financially responsible step for the city.”
“It avoids what would be a long and costly litigation, as well as the possibility that the city will not win in the litigation, in which case the city would end up worse off in the short and long term.” In addition, although both parties gave in during the negotiation, the values of the settlement are closer to those presented by the city than those of the golf club, ”she said at the meeting.
On August 13, that same judge signed a settlement agreement between Trump National Golf Club LLC and the Ossining and Briarcliff School District. The deal reduced the estimated value from around $ 15 million to $ 9.5 million.
It was a defeat that the local elected to the state legislature, MP Sandy Galef, had tried to avoid for years. In 2019, she introduced a bill to rate golf courses based on “the highest and best use of the property rather than its current use.” Galef felt that this system would more accurately reflect the richness of the region’s 18-hole golf courses, which are set on wooded landscapes with beautiful bubbling streams and rolling hills flanked by verdant mountains.
Galef told the Daily Beast that she was disappointed Trump had finally won his tax fight.
“I feel bad about it. I always want people to pay their fair share of taxes, ”she said. “He was the person who found every way to get around something. If someone really looked at their business books, they would probably be amazed.
This is actually what several New York prosecutors are working on right now. Last year, Ossining received a subpoena from Westchester County District Attorney Mimi Rocah for her investigation into Trump’s wildly fluctuating ratings for the golf course. The effort echoes a long-standing civilian investigation by New York Attorney General Letitia James into allegations of tax evasion and bank fraud. Then there is the joint criminal investigation led by Manhattan District Attorney and AG James, who has previously trapped the Trump Organization and CFO Allen Weisselberg on alleged tax evasion.
“It’s not a drop in the bucket. That’s a lot of money for a school district, even a resource-rich school district. It is not because we have settled that we are happy about it, ”said another local government official, who preferred to remain anonymous.