Over & Under…The Tax Levy Cap

The Villages of Briarcliff Manor, Sleepy Hollow, Tarrytown, and Irvington have finalized their 2012-2013 budgets, and while each budget is as unique as the Village it will fund, there is one thing residents of all four Villages have in common — their taxes are rising.

Tarrytown

When Tarrytown adopted its budget on April 25th, it came in with a tax levy increase of 2.35%, which put them under the tax levy cap once exemptions were taken into account. But then Albany came back with recalculated figures and the result was not in the Village’s favor. Tarrytown is disputing the State’s findings. “The Village at this time has not fully reviewed the State’s calculations that the cap was actually exceeded, and is reviewing them to contest the report,” says Village Treasurer James Hart. Like Sleepy Hollow, Tarrytown had already voted to override the tax levy cap before the final numbers were known.

The final tax rate increase for the Village stands at 4.74% as Tarrytown’s general fund budget came in at $21,134,742. The budget increased despite the Village laying off one full-time position and one part-time position as well as cutting a number of part-time hours. The biggest cost drivers of the increase were employee pension fund payments and debt services, two areas that will only continue to balloon in the years to come.

Sleepy Hollow

There is an 800-pound gorilla in the Village, and Village Administrator Anthony Giaccio does not attempt to hide it. “We’re just slightly over the cap,” he says. “Maybe to the tune of about $10,000, $15,000.” However, since the Village Board voted to override the cap before the final budget numbers were known (something most other municipalities in the region did) Sleepy Hollow will not face any penalties. This year’s tax levy came to $9,507,804, which is a 2.74% increase over last year, though much of the pain of that increase will be felt by non-homestead properties [4 family homes & commercial], which will see their tax rate increased by 7.96% as opposed to 1.49% for homestead properties [1-3 family homes].

As the Village continues to wait for GM or Castle Oil to come onto the rolls and provide some much-needed relief, they continue to save money through attrition, as a number of public works employees have retired in the past three years, and the police force has dropped three men in the same time frame. “We’re pretty much down to the bare bones. The next step would be layoffs but we haven’t gotten to that point yet,” says Giaccio. “I think next year will be even more difficult to keep the taxes down. The Village has, over the last five years on average kept the tax rate below 2%. Each year you do that you find fewer and fewer places to cut.”

Irvington

Irvington played it safe with their budget, coming in $182,200 below their allowable tax levy cap, for a final general fund budget of $15,398,891. “There were no significant cuts in services,” says Village Administrator Lawrence Schopfer. “But there were across-the-board department cuts of a little over 2%.”

Even with the aforementioned cuts, such as three positions from the public works department, and staying so far under the tax levy cap, Irvington residents will be hit with a 3.94% tax rate increase. This is due partly to spiraling costs such as retirement contributions which increase over $200,000 this year, and also due to a drastic drop in Irvington’s assessment rolls. “There was a decrease of about 2.6% in our assessment roll,” says Schopfer. “What that means is that if our tax levy was unchanged, taxes would still go up 2.6%”

Looking towards the future, Schopfer sees a coming collision between the cost of doing business and the need to stay under Governor Cuomo’s tax levy cap. “We may be able to keep [the tax levy increase] under 2% in the next few years, but I don’t know if we’ll be able to do it with just minor tweaks,” he says. “As you get farther along, let’s say 5-10 years, you’re going to run out of places that don’t affect the basic services of the community. Eventually you’re going to start cutting into the core of the services that we provide and there will be some very difficult decisions of whether we provide those services or not, or if we go over the cap.”

Briarcliff

For the fourth year in a row, the Village of Briarcliff Manor has managed to keep its tax rate increase to under 2% for the vast majority of their residents. The 91% of the villagers who reside in the Town of Ossining will only see a 1.48% increase in their tax rate next year, though the 9% that reside in Mount Pleasant will be hit with a 6.08% increase. The difference in rates is due to the different Assessment Rolls and Equalization Rates between the two towns.

It is no accident that Briarcliff Manor has maintained such a low tax rate increase, as it is a Village priority. “The Mayor and Board are quite focused on keeping expenditures down,” says Village Manager Philip Zegarelli, “and in particular, the tax rate.” To that end, Zegarelli has overseen a near total restructuring of Village government in the four years he has been in Briarcliff Manor, cutting approximately 10% of Village
personnel through retirement incentive programs.

Since costs such as oil prices, health care, and pension costs continue to rise every year, any village dedicated to maintaining a low tax rate increase will need to find new savings in each budget. “We took little cuts here and there in virtually every department. But no program was eliminated, and all existing services are being maintained,” says Zegarelli. “I will tell you however, this budget is very tight. It’s functional; it can be done. It will be done. But, like most municipalities, this is a very tight budget.” The budget, at $14,198,049, is only $47,523 more than last year’s budget, an increase of less than 1/2 of one percent. This fiscal prowess is impressive, especially when you take into account that this ends up being only 11.3% of what the Village had available to them before running up against the tax levy cap. Briarcliff’s austerity can only help them achieve their five-year goal of upgrading their bond rating from its current AA2 status. “We wouldn’t be doing the right thing, and still trying to achieve an AA1 rating, by doing anything else but what we’re doing,” says Zegarelli, “and that’s protecting the Village’s balance sheet.”

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About the Author: David Neilsen