Todd Huttunen began appraising more than 20 years ago with a few years off in between to pursue a career in cabinet making. He relegated that to hobby status and is currently an appraiser in an assessor’s office. His best friend dubbed him The Hall Monitor because of his rigidity and respect for rules. He offers Soapbox readers tongue-in-groove insight on appraisal issues. Today Todd suggests residents in Westchester County, NY (but it also applies elsewhere) eat twice as much cake as they need to so the sugar rush masks they high taxes they pay. …Jonathan Miller
The Administrative divisions of New York [Wikipedia] consist of 62 counties, 62 cities, 932 towns and 553 villages. The County of Westchester, which has the highest property taxes in the United States, has between 43 and 48 municipalities, depending on how you count them. Scarsdale seems to be both a town and a village – as do Harrison and Mount Kisco. These three town/villages have boundaries which are co-terminus. This is not to be confused with Mamaroneck (Town) and Mamaroneck (Village), Ossining (Town) and Ossining (Village), Pelham (Town) and Pelham (Village), or Rye (City) and Rye (Town) all four of which, or is it eight of which, are indeed separate entities. (those of you not familiar with Westchester County can take solace in the fact that those of us who are familiar are just as confused by this paragraph as you are)
Trying to make sense of all of Westchester is impossible so let’s focus on one town which is in the southern part (within 30 minutes of Manhattan). The Town of Greenburgh measures more than 30 square miles, the largest town in lower Westchester, and has a population of around 86,000. It consists of six villages as well as an unincorporated area. The villages, each of which has its own school district, are Ardsley, Dobbs Ferry, Elmsford, Hastings-on-Hudson, Irvington and Tarrytown. The areas of town outside the villages have two additional school districts.
More than 50,000 residents of the town, those living outside the villages, are served by a Town Supervisor, with a police department, assessor, building department, town clerk, highway department, etc. to provide basic needs of residents. The six villages, whose total land area comprises just 40% of the town, each have their own village manager, police department, assessor, building department, village clerk, highway department, etc. to provide for their basic needs.
Does a town of 86,000 residents covering 30 square miles really need seven different supervisor/managers, police departments, building inspectors, highway departments, etc? Not to mention the eight school superintendents for the various districts (one of which has fewer than 1,000 students).
Don’t get me wrong. Greenburgh is not an egregious example by any means. It merely has the geographic size and large numbers of villages that make it easy to highlight the way services are provided. But the absence of any observable economy of scale, with regard to services, is evident in any number of other municipalities throughout Westchester.
The funny thing is this. Whenever anyone suggests merging a function of a village into that of a larger town, the residents of the village invariably rise up in protest, fearful that they will become the unwanted stepchild whose garbage won’t be collected or whose streets won’t be plowed.
We love to complain about the level of taxes we pay. But we have little interest in addressing the manner in which services are provided. We want to have our cake and eat it too, which is fine, as long as we’re willing to pay for two cakes.