As expected, the Town Board last night unanimously rejected the proposed five-year phase in of the new Tyler assessments – thereby rejecting the second of two state authorized mitigation measures.
The board’s action, led by Town Supervisor Paul Feiner, thus guarantees that homeowners in Edgemont, Irvington and other parts of the Town whose assessments increased 50% or more will have automatic property tax hikes next year of at least $10,000 or more.
In lieu of the five-year phase in, the board approved without discussion a hastily drawn up “resolution” — released to the public 15 minutes before the meeting began — asking the state to let Greenburgh enact instead a three-year phase in of tax hikes for homeowners paying higher taxes next year as a result of reassessment.
To keep the measure “revenue neutral,” the Town would have to create two separate tax rates for schools, fire districts, the town and the county — a lower rate for all eligible taxpayers whose taxes increased as a result of reassassment and a higher rate for all other taxpayers in the Town to cover the additional cost.
Nothing like this has ever before been approved for any municipality in New York and town officials seemed more interested in being able to proclaim publicly that they “did something” to protect homeowners hit hard by reassessment than in actually doing anything that stood a realistic chance of being enacted.
Residents opposed to the five-year phase in because they didn’t want to continue subsidizing taxpayers who were not paying their fair share were effectively told not to worry about the higher taxes they would be required to pay under Mr. Feiner’s three-year phase in of higher taxes because the measure would never be approved.
The “resolution” was also not in the form of a “home rule” request — which is customary when the Town is expressly calling on Albany for special help. Thus, whether intended or not, by not making a formal “home rule” request, Greenburgh’s state officials are not even obligated to introduce the measure.
The board approved the resolution without public discussion among themselves beforehand — and members of the public were allowed no more than three minutes during the board’s public comment segment of the meeting to address it.
Requests for additional time were denied, as were requests to put the matter over.
The board also announced its intention to raise water rates as of July 1, 2016 by 9.5%.
Repeated requests by members of the public for disclosure of the consultant’s report upon which the rate increases was supposedly based were ignored. Mr. Feiner responded to the requests by moving that the public hearing on the proposal be closed — and without discussion, the other board members all agreed.
In 2011, water rates were jacked up 70% and in 2012, the increase was 35%. Since then, the Town has continued to hike the rates, though not by as much. The increases appear to be based mainly on a need to cover millions of dollars in long overlooked infrastructure costs, but town officials said it was because the cost of buying water from New York City had gone up.
In more recent years, the actual amount of the increase was driven by what Mr. Feiner felt he could get away with politically — and his abrupt refusal last night to release the consultant’s report supposedly addressing the increases seemed to confirm that this year’s hike was no different.
Even though the decision to reject the five-year phase in was motivated by political concerns — there are more taxpayers whose assessments either went down or stayed the same than there are taxpayers whose assessments skyrocketed — Town officials proclaimed their hands were tied because a lawyer from the New York State Office of Finance and Taxation sent them an email saying that, in his opinion, the five-year phase in was “largely ineffective.”
However, town officials were also told by the same lawyer that the Town could nevertheless interpret the statute as it saw fit because there were no court decisions or examples to follow from our towns on how to construe it.
Town officials declined that opportunity, fearing criticism mainly from property owners in the Greenburgh Central school district who were found to have been over-assessed, did not want to see their tax relief delayed by a five-year phase in, and claimed, falsely, that they did not want to continue subsidizing their wealthier neighbors in Edgemont and Irvington.
Taxpayers in Edgemont currently pay for nearly 25% of the Town’s tax levy for unincorporated Greenburgh, even though Edgemont accounts for only 15% of the unincorporated area population. Once reassessment kicks in, Edgemont will be responsible for more than 27% of the tax levy — an amount which the Town could lose if Edgemont were to incorporate.
Edgemont residents who came out in large numbers to the ECC’s monthly meeting earlier this month and then to its annual meeting last week to express support for the five-year phase in did not bother to show up at all last night – believing that any attempt to try to engage the town’s elected officials on this or any other matter would once again be a waste of time.
ECC president Bob Bernstein tried in vain last night to get town board members to meet with him to discuss the matter, noting that his repeated requests to engage town board members in a meeting were ignored.
Town councilman Kevin Morgan had expressed a willingness to Mr. Bernstein before the meeting began last night to hold the measure over to allow for further discussion over the weekend, if necessary, but when it came time to vote, he failed to act.
Edgemont residents also got more bad news from the Town.
The Town’s massage law, which was introduced by the ECC 15 months ago and then passed with great fanfare by the town six months ago, is not being enforced.
The law was introduced after Police Chief Chris McNerney told the ECC that the proliferation of brothels disguised as massage parlors in storefronts along Central Avenue had made Edgemont the “illicit massage parlor capital of Westchester County.”
The law that was passed requires all massage establishments to apply for licenses so that the police can do background checks to make sure the establishments only employ massage therapists licensed by the State of New York and to make sure the owners of such establishments have no prior convictions for promoting prostitution.
However, the Town never bothered to notify the Town’s massage establishments to apply for such licenses. As a result, the Town has done nothing to shut down the illicit massage parlors which continue to advertise heavily on adult websites. A sampling of those advertised TODAY as “New Management” or “New Start” can be found by clicking on this link.
When asked earlier this week about the Town’s not enforcing the law, Town Supervisor Paul Feiner said in an email that it was “town board policy” that the law be enforced. But Mr. Feiner never took any steps as town supervisor to instruct town staff to carry out that policy.
Chief McNernery said tonight he would look into the matter to see what he could do to get the Town to start enforcing the law.
The Town meanwhile was sued last month by a trade group of licensed massage therapists based in Albany seeking to challenge the law’s enforceability. The Town elected to have Town Attorney Tim Lewis defend the lawsuit, even though he personally lobbied for months to get the Town not to adopt it.
Repeated written requests to Mr. Lewis to produce a copy of the brief the Town claims to have filed in defense of the law were ignored. Mr. Feiner and town board members were also copied on these requests; they ignored the requests too.
Finally, Mr. Feiner announced this week that he had submitted his “capital budget” which for the first time in his 24-year tenure, finally includes money for not one, but two sidewalks in Edgemont. Mr. Feiner approved money for the sidewalk on Seely Place from Ardsley Road to Seely Place School and for reconstuction of the already existing sidewalk on Fort Hill Road from Ardsley Road to Jackson Avenue.
But Mr. Feiner specifically rejected funding in his budget for (1) the sidewalk recommended on Fort Hill Road from Ardsley Road to Longview Road and (2) the sidewalk recommended on Ardsley Road from Seely Place to Highland Road.
The two Edgemont sidewalks Mr. Feiner rejected would have allowed children to walk to Greenville Elementary School. Both sidewalks had been included in Chief McNerney’s initial recommendation for sidewalks in Edgemont and were the subject of an extensive feasibility study last year.
The sidewalk that Mr. Feiner is recommending instead, on Fort Hill Road from Ardsley Road to Jackson Avenue, was added at the last minute last year to the list of requested sidewalks, even though it was not part of the original study, after residents of Southern Greenville specifically asked.
While a sidewalk there is clearly needed, Mr. Feiner’s decision to recommend construction of that sidewalk instead of the one children would need to be able to walk to and from their homes to Greenville School, appeared to be motivated principally by politics. Mr. Feiner met with Southern Greenville residents earlier this week.
Chief McNerney said tonight he had not been told and indeed was unaware the specific sidewalks he had been recommending for funding had been rejected by Mr. Feiner — and said Mr. Feiner had not discussed the matter with him. He said last night he would lobby to have funding for those sidewalks restored.
Finally, the Town Board tonight scheduled a public hearing for May 11 on a SEQRA study for the Shelborune proposal to build an assisted living facility in Edgemont which is nearly a mile from the nearest state or county right-of-way.
The Town Board’s action tonight thus ignored an ECC request that the Town Board hold off on any such hearing – and the time and taxpayer expense of a SEQRA study — until the Zoning Board first decides whether Shelbourne is entitled to a use variance for its project.
A state appellate court last month ruled that if an applicant cannot satisfy the requirements of a use variance, a backdoor attempt to cure the zoning code deficiency with a SEQRA hearing will not work.
Greenburgh, however, appears determined to see that Shelbourne gets its approvals, no matter what the Town’s zoning code may say, which may be why town officials thumbed their nose at the ECC’s request.