Group sues Suffolk over 'hidden tax' mortgage fees

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MELVILLE -

The group "Government Justice Center" has filed a class-action lawsuit against Suffolk County that seeks to repeal mortgage recording fees and refund those who have paid them.

Elizabeth Cella, of Melville, is one of five homeowners involved in the lawsuit. She recently paid off her home equity loan and then got a bill for $550 to be paid to the county. Cella says she has no intention of paying the bill. 

Cella took out that home equity loan about 10 years ago to buy a car. She says at the time, there was no mention of any county mortgage recording fee. 

"When something doesn't strike me right, I have to go after it and I did – step by step," she says. 

News 12 has reported that Suffolk County didn't raise the general taxes this year, but added a $300 mortgage recording fee and increased a tax map verification fee from $60 to $200. 

That fee applies to all types of mortgages. It's paid when the mortgage or home-equity loan is taken out and when it's paid off. 

Cameron MacDonald, of the Government Justice Center, says the fee is a "hidden tax that's balancing the budget." 

"The general fund taxes have remained flat over the last two years, but a subset of Suffolk County residents are paying that tax in the form of these fees," says MacDonald. 

In a statement, a spokesman for County Executive Steve Bellone said, "This is a politically-motivated lawsuit filed by Albany insiders who lack any understanding on how government costs are apportioned, yet have no problem saddling taxpayers with the cost of fighting this completely frivolous complaint."

The Government Justice Center also says Nassau County is illegally making a profit from its mortgage recording fees and is considering filing a lawsuit. 

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