Anyone living in Westchester County knows all too well the complications of our tax structure. There’s county tax, city tax, town and village tax, school tax—even special water district tax (we’re still trying to figure out exactly what that is!). After re-discovering a report she prepared in the spring to help explain the tax structure to business groups and other organizations, we checked in with Mary Beth Murphy, Executive Director, Westchester County Tax Commission, for some guidance.
It’s a well-known fact that our tax structure here in Westchester is very complicated—and this report certainly confirms/highlights that. What are the biggest takeaways?
Real property taxation is not simple in New York and that’s because a number of shifting variables go into the calculation of the bills taxpayers receive.
Under County Executive Astorino’s leadership, the county tax levy is 2 percent lower today than it was before he took office. Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily mean a taxpayer’s bill has gone down by 2 percent. The actual bill may have gone up, down or not changed at all. That’s because the county tax levy and a taxpayer’s bill are not the same thing.
The first thing to consider is that the county tax levy, which is the bill the county sends to municipalities for county services, typically translates into about 20 percent of a person’s tax bill. The school portion is generally about 60 percent and the town portion makes up the remaining 20 percent.
Municipalities then apportion the overall bill among their taxpayers based on the assessed value of the taxable property within their borders. Where it gets complicated is that a municipality’s rateables—the property it can tax—fluctuate each year as the value of the properties on the tax rolls increase and decrease. Making things more complicated is the fact that the county’s levy is apportioned across all of Westchester’s municipalities, which all fluctuate differently. The state’s equalization rate is designed to homogenize those differences. But it all makes for a complicated process. Aren’t you glad you asked?
Mary Beth Murphy, Executive Director, Westchester County Tax Commission
Are there certain towns or areas where it is most complicated? If so, why?
Throughout the County some districts like sewer, water, and school do not follow municipal boundary lines. In addition, some towns have many different taxing districts, which may seem confusing to the average taxpayer. However, there can also be a benefit to multiple taxing districts because property owners only get taxed for municipal services that benefit their property. In other words, if a drainage district provides drainage for a certain geographic area in a town, only those people getting the drainage pay for it.
Where a Village exists, a property may have different assessed values for town/county and village purposes.
Do you feel its time for the county to look at revising the tax codes/structure? What can be done? And what would the impact be for homeowners?
The County follows the New York State Tax Law so many of those changes would be required to be made at the state level.
At the local level, the County works closely with municipal governments to try to reduce duplication. A recent example of this is the County’s development of a Regional Government Efficiency Plan without which Westchester County taxpayers would not be eligible for the rebate check under the property tax freeze credit. County Executive Astorino’s approach to lowering the tax burden for families and businesses is to lead by example, and that’s why he has committed to not raising the county tax levy since he came into office and has pledged to submit a budget for next year with a zero percent tax increase.