The chances of getting last minute approval from the state legislature for a measure to give some relief to taxpayers in the areas of Greenburgh hardest hit by increases in their property assessments were pretty remote to begin with, but as the legislative session winds down this week, they appear just about dead, with State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-Suffolk) warning the measure could have a negative impact on school districts in the areas specifically targeted.
Edgemont is one such area.
Reassessment will end up costing hundreds of Edgemont taxpayers between five and ten thousand dollars or more in higher property taxes next year based on the results of Greenburgh’s first town-wide reassessment in 60 years.
In fact, a new independent study of the results of Greenburgh’s reassessment effort shows a whopping 91.7% of Edgemont homes saw an increase in their assessments; 45.3% of them had increases of 25% or more, and 11.5% had increases of 50% or more.
The Town of Greenburgh has known for months that these increases in assessed value could have huge negative financial impacts, especially in Edgemont (and also in the Villages of Irvington and Hastings) but town officials quickly rejected the only two state-sanctioned mitigation measures available.
Thus, the Town could have adopted the Homestead Tax Option, which would have saved the average Edgemont taxpayer owning a $1 million home around $1,100 in their school tax next year. But as a condo owner, Homestead would have hurt Town Supervisor Paul Feiner financially, so that option was taken off the table months ago in an unannounced afternoon town board work session that, when they found out about it, left many taxpayers angry and confused.
But the Town had a second opportunity to help. It could have mitigated the impact by adopting the state sanctioned five-year transition assessment, which phases in increases and decreases in assessment from reval 20% at a time over a five-year period.
But that was apparently too politically unpopular for Mr. Feiner because those who were found to have been over-assessed (most of whom live outside of Edgemont) would then have had to grieve their taxes this summer in order to get 100% of the benefit of their reduced assessment implemented immediately.
That would have also potentially meant a lot of extra work processing grievances by Town Assessor Edye McCarthy, who was dead set against the proposal. Ms. McCarthy is the highest paid municipal official in Greenburgh, where she receives a salary not just from Greenburgh, but from several of the villages who retain her as village assessor.
And so, with time running out, and in order to save face with hundreds of taxpayers facing crushing financial burdens next year as a result of the Town’s actions, Mr. Feiner and the town board asked the New York state legislature just as its session was winding down to create a special law that would allow for a three-year phase in solely of tax hikes resulting from increases in assessed value of property caused by reassessment.
The only apparent downside to doing that, however, is that it would result in everyone else paying more in property taxes to offset the loss in revenue, much like what happens every year when, as a result of tax certiorari settlements, the assessed value of commercial property goes down, and residential taxpayers must pay more to make up the difference.
By contrast, the School Tax Assessment Reduction or STAR program likewise reduces revenue, but the State of New York provides state aid to school districts to offset that loss.
Not so here for Mr. Feiner’s proposed “exemptions,” which might not be a problem for town officials, but could present a huge political problem for school officials, whose budgets must be voted on by the public every May.
Thus, for example, the tax cap this year was 0.12%. That meant that the tax levy, which is the total amount of money collected by property taxes for each taxing jurisdiction, could not increase over the prior year by more than 0.12%.
The Edgemont school budget this year actually came in under the 0.12% tax cap, but largely because of reductions in Edgemont’s tax base, the tax hike was still nearly 3%.
The problem is what happens next year if, in addition to the usual tax certiorari reductions in assessed value, there are additional reduction in Edgemont’s tax base based on the “exemptions” to protect taxpayers whose assessments increased?
The answer is no one knows.
However, because more than 90% of Edgemont homeowners saw their assessments increase and more than 45.3% of them saw increases of 25% or more, it is possible that if Mr. Feiner’s “exemptions” were allowed, the tax hike for Edgemont school taxes next year, based on the cost of financing these exemptions, could be quite high – so high in fact that it might jeopardize approval of the school budget.
Thus, for example, while it is far too early to know whether Edgemont next year will have to exceed the tax cap, if it does, the budget may need approval by a supermajority of 60%.
None of that, of course, is a concern for Mr. Feiner, whose quirky town budgets don’t face a vote by the public.
In fact, ten years ago Mr. Feiner led an ultimately unsuccessful campaign to try to defeat Edgemont’s school budget.
But Republicans in the State Senate want to know how the school districts impacted by Mr. Feiner’s proposal feel about it.
On Wednesday, June 8, Mr. Feiner wrote to the Edgemont School Board asking for a letter supporting his legislation. In his email, he said that State Senate Majority Leader Flanagan was “concerned about the impacts on school districts.” In his letter, however, Mr. Feiner nowhere mentioned the impact that his legislation might have on school tax hikes.
And even though Mr. Feiner and Ms. McCarthy, the tax assessor, are in the best position to estimate what the expected cost will be for taxpayers in each school district to finance the exemptions they seek, they provided none of the affected school districts or the state legislature with any statistical evidence from which such financial impacts could be calculated.
On June 9, Mr. Feiner again wrote to the Edgemont School board, stating, “If we could get a letter in support of the phase in from the Edgemont School Board and other school districts within the next few days the chances of the legislation being approved by the Senate would be greatly improved.” He added that the senate majority leader “was previously involved in school issues and doesn’t want to take any action that the schools oppose re: reassessment.”
On June 10, Mr. Feiner again wrote to the Edgemont School Board requesting a letter of support to overcome the majority leader’s “perceived impressions that the phase in legislation could hurt the schools.”
Pleading with the school board to send the letter early next week before the state legislature adjourns Thursday, June 16 for the year, Mr. Feiner said the school district did not have to “come out for or against the law” — all it had to do was represent that if enacted it “would have no impact on the school budget.”
Town councilman Francis Sheehan made a similar plea, also without mentioning the impact the Town’s proposal could have on future school budget tax hikes.
“The proposed phase-in is revenue neutral to the school district, fire district and every other taxing district, in a similar manner as senior exemptions and veteran’s exemptions,” Mr. Sheehan said. “These exemptions do not reduce the amount of money received by the taxing entities. Therefore, all that was requested of the school district by our legislators was a statement that the proposed phase-in would have no effect on the school budget.”
Some Edgemont residents who received copies of Mr. Feiner’s email to the school board noted that he also asked for letters of support for the legislation from school superintendents. To that end, as if to underscore just how little he knows about the Edgemont School District, Mr. Feiner sent the email to Nancy Taddiken, apparently not realizing that Ms. Taddiken, the longtime Edgemont superintendent, had retired two years ago, and has since been succeeded by Victoria Kniewel.
It is not known whether other school districts have written any letters in support of the legislation.
The only school district letter written was from Joanne Sold, who is stepping down as president of the Ardsley School Board. However, Ms. Sold is also chief of staff to State Assemblyman Tom Abinanti (D-Mt. Pleasant), who represents Greenburgh and is co-sponsoring the legislation. It is not known how much weight a letter from a member of Mr. Abinanti’s staff will carry with the State Senate.
In her letter, Ms. Sold said the measure was revenue neutral, the tax levy will be the same, and the measure does not require the school district to take any action. She nowhere addressed the impact that the granting of the exemptions called for by measure would have on the assessed valuation of the Ardsley school district and the calculation of the tax rate.