LETTER: Voters Choice Party Ideas to Lower Taxes Ill-Conceived and Impractical
The candidates of the “Voters Choice Party” imply that by electing them to office they will lower our taxes. Their pitch is to everyone, but they especially focus on empty-nesters who have seen their taxes rise dramatically since moving here many years ago.
For some background, our taxes are split into three parts: village, school, and county, and each are controlled by separate elected bodies. The Village Board is responsible only for the village budget, which makes up 19% of our total taxes and covers essential services such as police, fire, and sanitation. Roughly 80% of the village budget is allocated for employee compensation and benefits, most of which is subject to union contracts.
Rising taxes is not just a Scarsdale phenomenon; property taxes have risen dramatically over the past 20 years in every town in Westchester, largely driven by increases in the cost of healthcare and retirement benefits for public employees. A review of percentage tax increases of village taxes by town since 2002 shows that some towns have gone up a bit more than us, and some have gone up a bit less, but Scaradale is not an outlier.
The “Voters Choice Party" had never indicated how they planned to lower taxes until a few months ago, when they claimed to have found over $2 million in “easy” cuts to the Village budget and furiously circulated emails and a petition with their proposals. Many of these proposals were impractical and indicative of a lack of understanding of how Scarsdale works.
1) Their biggest cut called for defunding the budget by $1 million by removing overtime expenses for our professional fire department. They suggested our volunteer firefighters (residents) work the overtime shifts instead. This “easy” proposal would be challenging for Scarsdale in the best of times, but completely overhauling our fire department at the height of a pandemic -- which their proposal would have necessitated -- could have endangered lives.
2) They called for reneging on $500,000 in raises to our police officers promised in a pre-crisis negotiated collective bargaining agreement between the village and Scarsdale's police union. This would surely have led to litigation, and probably ended up costing quite a bit more than $500,000. (Agreements and contracts aside, one may assume that our police officers are already the highest or close to the highest paid in New York and therefore should not have been offered a raise to begin with. This is not accurate; per Empire Center's "What They Make 2018-19," at least twenty police departments in just the Mid-Hudson region in NY have a higher average pay than Scarsdale's.)
3) They suggested we ask our hard-working Village Justice to donate his salary to the village because he is a "wealthy and generous man."
4) They proposed we cut $29,000 on resources for the village attorney, because "We do not have one anymore; we have an outside law firm." This is wrong; we still employ a full-time deputy village attorney (which helps bring down the expense of the outside law firm).
These were not “easy,” creative, out-of-the-box ideas. They were ill-conceived, impractical ideas, some of which, if enacted, would have put the health and safety of residents in jeopardy.
If you think that by voting for the “Voters Choice Party" your taxes will go down and you will continue to enjoy the services you currently receive, think again. We don’t need them to “ask the hard questions” since the hard questions are already asked during the many hours of budget meetings (all public) where trustees grill staff and make them justify expenses at a granular level.
Our community needs steady leadership focused on prudent solutions that balance values and resources, not a disruptive force offering empty promises. Please vote Row “B” for Arest, Crandall and Whitestone.