Active Rain February 2, 2009

Why the Taxes in New York Are So High

I have a great deal of contact with people outside my home state of New york and they are shocked to hear how high property taxes are. In Ossining, where I grew up, the taxes on the rather average 2000 square foot home I grew up in are over $12,000. I remember the rent for my apartment after college was $500, and the taxes on my home were twice that. Our current home’s taxes? Forget it. Of course, when someone from Texas or Nevada tells me the taxes on their newer, nicer place are $3000 annually, I want to scream.

Why are taxes so high here? My observation is that in New York we have far more layers of taxation than most states. For instance, I live in the village of Briarcliff Manor, which is in the Town of Ossining. The Village of Ossining is also in the Town of Ossining. If I drive the 1.5 miles from my home to my office, I can plausibly drive by patrol cars for FOUR different police departments: Village of Briarcliff Police, Village of Ossining, Town of Ossining, and Westchester County highway patrol. We also have state troopers in a pinch. Leaving out the state police, that is 4 police stations, 4 police chiefs, and 4 dispatching staffs for sleepy suburbia. That are many duplicated expenses, and the police are a 24-hour operation.

In the town of Ossining, there are two village governments, one town government and 3 department of public works. One notch up, we have an enormous county government with still another county highway department. Almost every county department is a duplication of town or village government. There have been calls for reduction or elimination of county government

School districts range from small village districts with 300-student high schools to larger districts with 2000 student high schools. The town of Greenburgh has 6 villages and at least 8 school districts- Tarrytown, Elmsford, Irvington, Ardsley, Hastings, Dobbs Ferry, Woodlands, and Edgemont. That’s 8 superintendents, 8 high school principals, 8 football teams…are you getting the picture? Of the 8 school districts, none have a high school with more than 1000 students (9-12). Edgemont high school has about 300 students. Some district consolidation would make fiscal sense, but the ramifications are too incendiary to even discuss in a forum of licensees. Greenburgh is also home to part of the Valhalla and Pocantico Hills districts, but I excluded them because of overlap with adjoining towns.

In nearby Connecticut, 10 miles away as the crow flies, there is town and state government, period. No county government. Villages are for mail delivery purposes only. You have town and state police, that’s it. School districts are larger. And somehow, they make it work.

When a relatively modest home has taxes of $12,000 and a nicer home is pushing $20,000, something has got to give. This is the Empire State, but the only one who seems to be benefiting from that moniker is the emperor.