R5 Some Westchester Municipalities Consider Overriding Tax Increase Caps

Last June, New York State passed a popular measure that was designed to stop taxing entities from raising their levies more than 2 percent over the previous year’s. So why have some Westchester municipalities chosen to try overriding such a popular cap?

“We  had a new water-filtration plant going up,” Bedford Town Supervisor Lee Roberts says. Ironically, Bedford—which was once home to Governor Andrew Cuomo, one of the cap’s major architects—became the first town in the state to seek permission for an override. Roberts, a Republican, said she and town board members had made “painful” cuts to budgets three years running even as construction of the plant continued and state-mandated costs—e.g., contributions to workers’ pensions—ballooned. “Albany threw a one-size fits all plan on us,” Roberts says.

Some disagree, though. “It was shocking that they would do that,” says Luke Vander Linden of Bedford Hills, who made staying within the cap a central platform of his campaign when he ran unsuccessfully for a spot on the town board last year.
Vander Linden points out that New York State residents frequently pay among the top five highest property tax bills in the nation. And, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Tax Foundation, Westchester residents paid the highest average property tax bill of all counties in the nation in 2009 (the time of the latest survey), the seventh highest as a percent of median household income. “People are fed up,” Vander Linden says.

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Ultimately, though, the difference may be small. Bedford managed to stay within the cap despite seeking a waiver, and taxes levied by the town represent only about one-tenth of many Bedford homeowners’ overall tax allocation anyway. The county government, which says its levies account for no more than 20 percent of property taxes, approved a 2012 budget with no tax increases. And the majority of Westchester residents will not be shouldering increased burdens: according to the state comptroller’s office, of the 17 Westchester towns and cities that have filed their 2012 budgets, only Bedford, North Salem, and Pound Ridge sought exemptions.

The remaining question for homeowners is the school districts’ levies. After all, many Westchester school districts frequently represent 60 percent or more of a homeowner’s property tax bill.

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