“The 2% cap is totally unfair to municipalities, because it does not cap expenses,” espouses Briarcliff Manor Village Manager Philip Zegarelli. “Nevertheless, [the Mayor and Town Board] have given me firm direction not to blow through the cap.
I have a feeling that we’re one of the last few communities in Westchester that has been able to maintain that. It has not been easy, but that’s the philosophy here in Briarcliff.”
When all the calculations were finished, the Village was legally able to raise the tax levy by $398,071 without going over the cap. In the end, they only raised the tax levy by $323,128 and remained firmly under Governor Cuomo’s tax levy cap. This equates to a tax rate increase of 4.06% in Ossining and 8.51% in Mount Pleasant.
The cost drivers are the same as they are anywhere: rising pension costs, rising health insurance costs, rising workers’ comp costs. According to Zegarelli, such are the challenges inherent in a labor intensive organization such as a municipality. “I estimate that between 75% and 77% of the entire budget is personnel-associated costs,” he says. “Village government is a service. We provide security, protection and services for our taxes and fees.”
The Village can have such a large tax rate increase while remaining under the tax cap partly because of the loss of assessables (the total amount of property value available for the Village to tax), which has been steadily declining over the last three budget cycles. This basically means that the Village is drawing their revenue from a smaller pie, so individual home owners are forced to fund a larger slice of the pie.
Zegarelli believes Albany has not done all they could to help municipalities in these difficult times. “The collection side, the revenue, is capped,” he says. “On the expense side, the State has done nothing. That’s what makes me, personally, say the 2% revenue-derived cap is really phony-baloney. It’s not balanced.”