Westchester's cities raising taxes, but most under state cap
Only two of Westchester County's six cities appear to headed for an override of the state's property tax cap, even as they wrestle with multimillion dollar budget gaps that have forced them to lay off workers and cut department spending.
New Rochelle and Mount Vernon are both weighing tax increases next year -- 5.6 percent and 9 percent respectively -- that would require their city councils to override Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 2 percent cap, which went into effect this year.
But they appear to be the exception -- White Plains, Yonkers, Rye and Peekskill aren't seeking to override the tax cap despite revenue shortfalls that have given them a reason to do so. Not that taxes won't be going up in those cities.
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In Peekskill, the city council Thursday night approved a $45 million budget with a 3.84 percent tax increase in 2013. The initial budget proposal had called for a 6 percent increase but officials whittled that down by making additional cuts.
The city of Rye is still working on its 2013 budget, but officials there have proposed only a 3 percent tax hike.
Yonkers and White Plains, whose budgets operate on a fiscal year, approved budgets earlier this year that were just under the tax cap. White Plains taxes will go up 4.5 percent in 2013; while Yonkers tax bills will go up by 3.4 percent.
And Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino is pledging to hold the line on property tax increases next year, for the second consecutive year, even as the county considers 126 layoffs and other cuts to offset a $85 million shortfall.
State legislators enacted Cuomo's tax levy cap in 2011, limiting the amount of revenue that local governments and school districts can collect from the property tax to 2 percent plus exemptions. To override the cap, local governments need only a supermajority vote by their governing boards, while school districts must seek approval from voters in a referendum.
City officials say staying under Cuomo's tax cap has meant cutting deeper and in some cases laying off employees; those that are busting through the cap say state mandates and dwindling revenue sources have left them with few options.
New Rochelle faces a budget shortfall of more than $3 million next fiscal year and has proposed closing the gap with the combination of a tax increase and service reductions, such as eliminating curbside leaf bagging and cutting spending by the police and fire departments. The city blames increasing pension costs and other state mandates for the tax hike.
"It is impossible for the city to stay within the tax cap without severe service eliminations," City Manager Charles Strome said recently. "The state of New York, in their infinite wisdom, has put a tax cap on municipalities with one hand while sending us a bill with the other hand that's higher than the amount we can raise under the cap."
Mayor Noam Bramson, a Democrat, said he hasn't come to any conclusions about the proposed tax increase, which will be discussed by the city council in coming weeks. But he said the lack of state mandate relief is hurting many cities.
"For cities across the state, the choices have become progressively more painful as time passes," he said. "We continue to bear escalating costs primarily because of state mandated expenses, while our revenue source remain largely stagnant."