Over my term of office, many residents have inquired about the village’s relationship to the Town of Eastchester and whether it is advantageous to be a village within a town. Still others have asked whether it is possible to become our own distinct governmental entity.
The inquiries have multiplied significantly in the past year as residents face increasing tax burdens in a declining economy resulting in a more discerning eye as to the value for their tax dollars.
It reached a crescendo this week following the publication of a most distressing audit of our town-wide fire district.
Following soon after was the announcement that Westchester County continues to be the most highly taxed county in the country and Bronxville is the highest taxed entity within the county.
Using the above as impetus, I researched the town/village relationship as structured in New York state law.
Towns encompass all territory within New York state except cities and Indian Reservations. Of the 932 towns in New York, 421 of them contain at least one village.
Per New York state law, village residents must pay town taxes, regardless of whether a town provides services to village residents within its jurisdiction.
This tax structure was upheld by the New York State Court of Appeals using the following justification: “It cannot be denied, however, categorically one might wish to view village boundaries that villages benefit indirectly, if not directly from town services.”
To support the Town of Eastchester government, last year Bronxville residents were taxed $1,102,831, comprising 31.09 percent of the town-wide budget.
This money may be used by the town board to pay our proportionate cost of a town supervisor, justice, elected board, assessor, receiver of taxes, attorney, engineer, clerk and superintendent of highways. Villagers also pay for upkeep of town hall, town traffic signals, town court, sidewalk construction, snow removal and liability insurance. Recreation programs set up on a town-wide basis are funded in the same way.
Conversely, by law, the following expenses must be funded solely from taxes raised from residents who live outside the villages within a town: town building, planning and zoning activities, registrar of vital statistics, town police, town garage and town highway repair and improvements.
However under Section 141 of the highway law, any expenses associated with any bridges having a span of five feet or more are required to be paid by the residents of the entire town as there is no statutory provision to the contrary. This provision will prove advantageous to the village as we have several decaying bridges near the river and railroad tracks.
The New York State Conference of Mayors has consistently argued that current law can result in inequitable treatment of village property owners with respect to the payment of town taxes. As example, by law, village taxpayers are exempt from paying for the repair and improvement of town highways, yet they can be taxed for the purchase and maintenance of road machinery and the cost of snow removal on those same town highways.
Our fire protection services are also taxed on a town-wide basis with Bronxville paying $4,554,612 for fire services last year, again 31.09 percent of the overall budget. Our fire budget ranks near the top in per capita costs in New York state. The recent audit of the fire district by the New York State Comptroller’s Office was sent to all village trustees and the village finance committee for review.
For Bronxville to become its own coterminous town-village, a public petition under article five of the town law must be submitted to the county legislative body.
For the petition to be valid, it may be signed by any registered voter of the town, whether a resident of the village or not, but it must contain signatures totaling 5 percent of the total number of votes cast in the town for the office of governor at the last gubernatorial election, but not less than 100 signatures as a threshold.
Upon receipt of the petition, the county legislature must hold a public hearing and may only grant the petition with a two-thirds affirmative vote of its members. If granted, the next step is a town-wide referendum with all town residents eligible to vote with a simple plurality required for passage.
If a town/village is created, it has no affect on the boundaries of any school district nor change the levy or collection of the taxes to finance the school district.
Since the approximately 2,300 taxpaying entities in Bronxville pay over $14 million to the county, town and fire district before even addressing their village taxes, it is not unreasonable to seek ways to reduce what is an unsustainable tax burden. I solicit and welcome your thoughts.