Hey Edgemont, our Town property taxes are rising 4.8%, on average, every year.
In late November and then again just yesterday, Town of Greenburgh Supervisor Paul Feiner released his annual “initiatives to be thankful for” and "2017 year in review.” Two topics that he touts reliably every year are 1) coming in under the state tax cap, and 2) maintaining an Aaa bond rating.
On the surface, these accomplishments sound wonderful. But are they worthy of so much hype? Or are they diversions from the realities of Town government in Greenburgh?
Raising Town Taxes to the Tax Cap.
New York restricts the amount by which local governments may increase their annual property tax levies. Yes, the Town managed to stay within the cap for 2018. But in his propaganda, Mr. Feiner failed to point out that:
- The Greenburgh villages of Hastings, Irvington, and Dobbs Ferry, and nearly 80% of local governments statewide, also stayed within the cap. The Village of Rye Brook—just like Greenburgh—has never had a tax levy that exceeds the allowable cap.
- For unincorporated areas of Greenburgh that were hit with reassessments in 2017, the cap is all but meaningless, anyway. For example, the Edgemont-to-Town tax levy has increased, on average, by nearly 5% per year since 2005 vs. only 3% in the rest of unincorporated.
- There’s no sign that Edgemont’s growing tax liability to the Town will slow. The 5% increases stand in stark contrast to the projected 1% annual tax increase in the Village of Edgemont Financial Feasibility Study. In the wake of Federal tax reform and its restrictions on local tax deductibility, that 4% differential amounts to real money—in 5 years the difference in taxes would be 22%.
The Town's Aaa Bond Rating.
Mr. Feiner would have unsuspecting citizens believe that the Town’s triple-A bond rating is a crowning achievement representing the height of good governance. After all, how many of Greenburgh’s 90,000 residents pay close attention to local municipal bond ratings?
Unlike corporate bond ratings, municipal ratings are more about assessing the quality of the revenue streams backing the debt (think: the property taxes YOU pay) rather than the governing body’s competence. The Town held onto its Aaa rating through the Fortress Bible fiasco because unlike corporate customers, municipal taxpayers must pay their taxes no matter how poorly their local governing body behaves or manages its expenses.
The reality is that, locally, Harrison, Scarsdale, Bronxville, and Rye all have Aaa ratings, and most area villages, school, and fire districts are rated in the nearby Aa category. The difference in interest rates on our Aaa-rated Town bond and an Aa-rated Village of Dobbs Ferry bond, both issued this past October, was 7/100th of a percent. To quantify, the Town's prized Aaa rating results in a savings of about $40,000 per year on the Town’s entire unincorporated area debt, or less than what the Town paid the private investigators to enter our homes.
The Aaa rating is clearly immaterial to the taxpayer and not particularly noteworthy in a County chock full of highly rated municipalities with residents who dutifully pay their property taxes. But like the tax cap, the Aaa bond rating is a conveniently shiny object the Town Board has exalted since 2008 to distract its residents from the many real governance challenges it faces (click here for a Town 2008 release).
The EIC resolves to continue peeling back the onion on the Town’s incomplete, hyperbolic, and misleading statements in 2018. Happy new year.
— The EIC