In an effort to balance essential services in the town with state-mandated expenses on a continual rise, the Town of Mamaroneck Board voted unanimously last night to increase the tax levy by 4.7 percent and the tax rate by 3.9 percent in this year’s budget.
The town had voted unanimously on Dec. 5 for a resolution allowing them to raise the tax cap.
The increases proposed for the final budget are slightly less than the 4.9 and 4.2 percent recommended in the preliminary budget, but higher than last year’s increases, which did not exceed the two percent tax cap. The town was able to achieve those numbers, in part, by a $110K savings due to several retiring employees as well as a more favorable deduction rate in the tax levy formula which would have allowed the town to raise the levy as high as 3.23 percent while staying under the cap.
But achieving those numbers this year would have meant cutting into essential services that community members have come to expect.
“In order to meet that tax cap we recognize that we would have had to dramatically change some of those services,” said Town Supervisor Nancy Seligson, continuing, “But we also recognize through our citizen survey….that people really value the services that are protected by the Town of Mamaroneck.”
By staying within the cap, 87 percent, or $468K, of the $536K raised would have been eaten up by state-mandated increases in health insurance and pension costs. The town would have been faced with the difficult choice of cutting leaf collection services and four administrative positions as well as the implementation of a change in garbage pick-up to once per week collection or pay-as-you-go.
As a long-term strategy, the town has consistently maintained a surplus within a 15-20 percent balance with appropriations in order to uphold their AAA credit rating, which affords them the lowest borrowing rates on long-term investments.
But, having diminished some of this surplus over the past four years in order to cushion the community from larger tax increases has caused the town’s rating to be downgraded to AA1.
“This year we really got hit in the face with the fact that we can no longer do this,” said Seligson, referring to the decline in high interest and mortgage tax that had previously provided revenue for the town.
For residents of the unincorporated Town of Mamaroneck, the town tax makes up only 23 percent of the total bill, said Seligson, however, residents still get all of the town services on a daily basis like ambulance, fire, police, snow removal and leaf collection, among others. The remainder of the bill—which is collected by the town as per state law—is divvied up between county and local schools.
Town Councilmember Phyllis Wittner—a proponent of raising the tax cap the previous year—agreed that if the town wanted to maintain their services, some increases would be necessary.
“Another way of looking at it is that the tax cap is an arbitrary number…there’s no basis in fact for it and certainly the state has done nothing to accommodate, to put it mildly, the municipalities and the costs that they must bear that are imposed by the state itself,” she said.
The $2.9 million fire budget, part of the preliminary budget, had already been calculated into the 3.9 percent increase in the tax rate.
The final budget should be posted on the town's website beginning Thursday.
“To me, this is a very cautious budget and I hope we can stick with it,” said Wittner.