By Mary C. Marvin, Mayor, Village of Bronxville
Feb. 13, 2019: I am writing this from snowless! Albany while meeting with my government colleagues from around the state, including those from the 45 municipalities in Westchester County.
Our goal as mayors is to speak with a unified voice and use whatever collective influence we have to make our legislators aware of our concerns and priorities.
Albany's policies quite often affect our local goals of maintaining essential services, improving our aging infrastructures, and streamlining our processes. As residents are fleeing New York State in record numbers, it is critical at this juncture to make our collective voices heard in support of the local property tax payers.
The following are some of our major priorities. I have culled the list to include those most affecting Westchester communities and Bronxville in particular.
Replace Proposed Cuts to Local Municipal Funding with an Actual Increase. Though this funding has not increased in over a decade, the governor now proposes the elimination of this funding to every Westchester village and seventeen out of the nineteen towns in the county. As many of my colleagues have quite aptly said, "It appears the tactic was to slowly strangle a program to such a low level and then propose extinction." For our village, this return of our tax dollars back to the village amounts to almost a full percentage point on our yearly property tax bills.
Tax Cap Infrastructure Spending Exclusion for Municipalities. State government projects, as well as school districts, are granted an exclusion for capital and infrastructure projects from the calculation of the two percent tax cap. However, municipalities, which must do the lion's share of infrastructure repairs, are not. The result is a powerful disincentive to repair the underbelly of one of the nation's oldest states. On every level, the current policy makes no sense.
Reform the Gross Receipts Tax. Under current law, cities and villages can impose a gross receipts tax (GRT) on the gross income of utilities operating in their communities. The GRT is one of the very few sources of non-property tax revenue still available. My Westchester colleagues and I endorse increasing the maximum rate at local option to 3% (already granted to Buffalo, Rochester, and Yonkers) and expanding the scope to include cellular service companies such as already granted to New York City and the state itself.
Increased Funding for Water and Sewer Infrastructure. Partly thanks to the tax cap, the NYS comptroller estimates a multiyear funding deficit of $65.7 billion for municipal infrastructure. Westchester supports any funding aid sent in this direction.
Legalization of Recreational Marijuana. All of the Westchester elected officials are concerned as to the wording of the proposed bill and the ramifications. (I will be attending an info session dedicated to the subject on Monday.) Currently, the state budget would legalize recreational marijuana for those 21 years of age and older. County governments and cities within a county with a population over 100,000 would have a local opt-out option to allow them to prohibit any establishment or operation involving the cultivation, processing, distribution, and sale of cannabis. Villages such as ours would not.
Interest Rates on Judgments. The Mayors' Conference supports the governor's 2019-2020 executive budget proposal to tie interest rates on municipal judgments and accrued claims to the market rate as is done in most other states, as opposed to the unrealistic current rate of a flat 9%. If enacted, this would not only generate savings for local governments but would also remove the current incentive for plaintiffs to unnecessarily delay proceedings.
Removal of the MTA Maintenance Tax. Clearly, the most unknown New York tax every community – but none in Connecticut on the same rail lines! – is a portion of a $19 million Metro-North tax fund collected at the county level. The money is described as needed for covering the cost for garbage collection and snow removal from the MTA platforms. Bronxville pays over $40,000, while Greenwich pays zero for the same services.
Authorize Municipalities to Charge for Services Provided to Tax-Exempt Properties. Approximately $866 billion in property value in New York State is exempt from municipal and school property taxes, with most communities like Bronxville having about 25% of properties within our borders tax exempt. Our mayors' group supports legislation that provides a local option to charge tax-exempt properties for the cost of services such as police protection, fire protection, street maintenance, and lighting and sanitation.
Reform the Scaffold Law. Enacted in 1885 and the last one of its kind in the United States, New York's Scaffold Law holds contractors, employers, and property owners absolutely liable for gravity-related injuries, even if the worker was grossly negligent. Municipal governments, as significant property owners, are faced with widespread liability for these accidents, resulting in insurance premiums in New York State 300% to 1,200% higher than every other state in the country.
I close with a cautionary tale. The governor's budget proposes to extend red light camera enforcement program for Albany, all of Nassau and Suffolk counties, and our neighbors Yonkers, White Plains, New Rochelle, and New York City.
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