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O'CONNELL: COUNTY CLERK FUNDS SAFEGUARDED

(MINEOLA – March 21, 2007) Nassau County Clerk Maureen O’Connell today announced that the audit recently released by the County Comptroller found ALL monies accounted for despite inadequate staffing. “The Comptroller, who began his exhaustive 5-year audit in 2002, confirmed what I have already known -there is no wrongdoing in this office but it requires additional staff and resources.” O’Connell further stated, “that this office is doing an exemplary job with the limited resources the County has allocated for clerk operations. Further, I plan to continue to request additional staff and the resources necessary to make additional improvements that will assure that funds collected in this office are safeguarded.”

“The County Clerk’s office is not just a County office, but it is also an office of New York State,” began O’Connell. “The State has so recognized the importance of this office that it classified it a constitutional office as its origins dates back to the Middle Ages. Then, as now, the County Clerk is responsible for maintaining and documenting court files and land ownership. While County Clerk offices have evolved, clerks not only maintain these records, but they are also charged with protecting them. In order to ensure that the public’s records and privacy are protected, the office must be separate and independent,” she added.

“That being said,” continued O’Connell, “revenues are paid to the County Clerk’s office for the recording of land and court documents. While it has been reported that the Clerk’s office accounts for more than $300-million in revenue, the revenue is not County revenue but State funds and cannot be co-mingled with county funds,” she emphasized. These funds must be remitted to various state agencies such as the New York State Tax Commission and the New York State Dept. of Taxation and Finance, and are independently audited and reconciled by them.

Even in today’s technological age, every transaction has a paper trail. A typical example is the purchase of a home. When a home is purchased, at the closing, a buyer is provided with a list of ‘closing costs’. Listed on these costs are the fees submitted to the County Clerk’s office. When the property is transferred from the seller to the buyer, a “Deed“ is prepared. Forms required for the recording and filing of the deed and other documents in the County Clerk’s office is the NYS Real Property Transfer Report and the NYS Combined Real Estate Transfer Tax Return, which itemize the property’s transfer information, the sale price and the taxes due. When all the forms are signed and fees paid, the documents are brought to the County Clerk’s Office for recording. The homeowner takes his copies of the paperwork indicating the itemized closing fees and puts in his annual tax preparation. Once these papers are sent to the State and IRS, the paper trail loop begins. Because of the oversight given by these government levels, the transactions and the fees submitted by the County Clerk’s office are easily tracked.

If the attorney or lending institution decides to pay the taxes directly to the State agency instead of the County Clerk’s office, they are entitled to do so, but must provide proof to the County Clerk’s office that these fees have already been paid. The proof is a New York State stamp on the real estate form required for recording that document. These types of pre-paid forms are known as “Exemptions” and can be a large sum of money. The audit report refers to these exemptions, but not all exemptions are for pre-paid taxes. The remaining exemptions account for transactions processed on behalf of State or County agencies as well as court-ordered fee waivers for the poor.

There are 62-counties in New York State. Each of the Clerks of these counties, Nassau included, collects enormous amounts of revenues for our respective municipalities. We all adhere to the accounting principles that govern our offices, so I will be calling upon them too, to further ensure that this office does more than just comply- but that we go beyond the basics to safeguard the monies that we collect and distribute.”