While I would like to thank the entire Lewisboro town board for the effort they put in during the past week in reducing the Supervisor’s proposed tax increase from 17% to under 6%, I remain disappointed because the current increase is still out of line with those of our neighboring towns and the County, especially when considering that the road paving proposal, which represents the largest part of the savings, will most likely be revisited in the spring.
Only 25% of the towns in New York State have voted to approve legislation allowing the 2% cap to be overridden, and many of those, including Bedford and Somers wound up complying with the cap anyway.
In North Salem, if not for a 2.6% increase attributed to the high cost of municipal refuse pickup, a service we do not enjoy in Lewisboro, their increase turned out to be less than 1%. On Dec. 7, thanks to the tough choices made by County Executive Rob Astorino, with bipartisan support from two Democrats, even the County government has adopted a 0% increase budget.
As a recent report from the school's finance committee showed, Lewisboro is already overtaxed when it is compared to its neighbors in relation to household income. While we may lament the decades of draconian land-use policies that have limited our tax base and our failure to attract revenue-generating businesses, we still must deal with the realities of today by adopting a budget that we can afford without further depressing the value of our assessments.
Both the County Association and the Westchester Business Council have identified the high cost of municipal pensions as a key culprit in our inordinately high taxes. Yet, even with the cuts so far, this budget has more full-time employees than were proposed in the prior two years’ tentative budgets. Having attended several recent meetings, it has become clear that the board continues to trim around the edges and sacrifice services to taxpayers in order to maintain municipal worker salaries and benefits.
As our home prices continue to decline and the rate of foreclosures and delinquencies rise, voting down the budget and allowing the State Control Board to take over might actually be a better option. The State Comptroller has the authority to negotiate with the unions and set salaries and benefit packages that make sense based on the town's ability to pay.
It may not happen this year, but unless the Supervisor and Mr. Welsh, are willing to take a cue from their fellow Democrats in White Plains, who crossed the aisle to support the County executive, and work with the town board's Republican majority to wrestle some concessions from our unions, significantly more firings or a State takeover may be our only options for the future.