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McKinstry: Westchester's ignominious perch atop the tax heap

The Westchester County Executive Building in White Plains.

The Westchester County Executive Building in White Plains. (Jan. 30, 2012) Credit: Photo by Chris Serico

Sorry Nassau, Suffolk and Rockland. Westchester County is No. 1. Again.

Westchester landed the top dishonor of having the highest property taxes in the nation in 2011, according to U.S. Census data.

Only this time, the county held a unique position of being the only one that crossed the $10,000 median threshold, which means half of the county’s property owners pay upwards of that figure for local government services.

The notion that Westchester –- or any of New York City’s commuter suburbs -- has high taxes is nothing new, particularly to anybody who has been paying for them for years.

Nassau County came in at No. 2 with a median bill just above $9,500 followed by Rockland at No .3 with $9,300. Suffolk‘s median is $7,900 (No. 11 nationally. Putnam’s figure was more than $7,850 (No. 12), and Orange came in at $6,235, Dutchess at $5,692 and Ulster at $5,007. No shocker here, all the counties showed increase from previous tallies.

Moving to neighboring states like New Jersey or Connecticut won't solve the tax crunch, since counties in those states were also among the highest taxes counties in the country.

Household incomes also dropped in these counties, according to the data.

In recent years, there have been efforts to streamline government and control spending. One is New York State’s 2 percent property tax cap, which went into effect this year.

Westchester County in 2010 even lowered its county tax burden by 2.2 percent and has since kept spending level, but the county portion makes up only about 18 percent to 20 percent of the total share. Schools make up the lion’s share at approximately 60 percent to 65 percent, with the remainder covering municipal -– city, town and village -– among other layers of government.

In 2010, Westchester's median property tax bill of $9,945 was also tops in the nation, according to the Tax Foundation, a research group in Washington. Nassau County was No. 2 at $9,289. Rockland came in at No. 4 with $8,861 and Putnam was No. 11 at $7,841. The bill for other Hudson Valley counties was: Orange, $5,940; Dutchess, $5,282, and Ulster, $4,468.

Absent substantial attempts to shrink governments or consolidate services like local police, fire protection, or, dare we say it, school districts, this dubious list won’t change all that much. It may just be a shuffling at the top.

So Nassau, Suffolk or Rockland could still find themselves at No. 1 next year. Top 10 is a certainty.

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