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Residents Come out in Force to Object to the Homestead Tax Option

ChristiePlaceResidents came out in force on Tuesday night, February 25 to the Public Hearing at Village Hall on the adoption of the Homestead Tax Option. As the Village is now undergoing a tax revaluation, it must consider whether or not to adopt the Homestead Tax Option which was originally drafted to allow municipalities to shift the tax burden between commercial and residential properties following a revaluation. However, one provision of the law would allow the Village to change the way condominiums are assessed. Rather than assess them on their potential rental income, they would be assessed at market value, similar to single family homes. This would triple real estate taxes for 42 condo owners at Christie Place.

A Committee of the Scarsdale Forum studied the option and issued a report favoring its adoption, saying it was fair to all homeowners to be assessed on the same basis. The report was approved by the Forum membership which numbers over 400, by a vote of 11-8.

However, the Homestead Act had few fans at the Public Hearing on Tuesday. Residents, a former Mayor, realtors and the daughter of a resident came out to say why they opposed the adoption of the Homestead Act.

Former Mayor Peter Strauss came to the meeting to give some background on the original deal and to state his view on changing the tax status of the condos. He said, "Since I was involved with the establishment of Christie Place the Homestead proposal relates to my service as Mayor. I signed the deal with Ginsburg.... The application of the Homestead Bill would be out of proportion, unfair, and violate the principals agreed on with Ginsburg. ...We imposed rigid restrictions on the buyers of the properties. We brought the benefit of parking and financial income accruing to the Village treasury. It would be grossly unfair to impose a tax increase on those who purchased with one set of principals in exchange for inconsequential tax reductions to the other 5000 taxpayers in Scarsdale.... Fairness and consistency with past actions have been wise guideposts by our governing boards – I hope that the town board's rejection of the Homestead Act will continue that process."

William Sulzer, an attorney who was retained by the Christie Place tax owners, said, "Christie Place has been wonderful addition to the Village of Scarsdale...Ginsburg Development built parking with 220 spaces for village use and recaptured $350,000 per unit for the parking.... The Village received $325,000 per year for the parking spaces plus the revenue from meters. Christie Place residents pay the debt on a $2.7 million note, amounting to $137,000 per year. They pay for the cleaning of the garage."

Sulzer continued, "Homestead is not designed to generate revenue. The reval was done to correct inequities. Christie Place units was not part of the problem the Village sought to correct.... This is not the correct use of the law and it will result in diminished home values for these condo owners and create inequities between Scarsdale condo owners and those in other communities. This would be a short-sighted option for Scarsdale."

Doug Ulene, a former member of the Scarsdale Forum's Assessment Revaluation Committee, said, "I resigned from both the Forum and the Committee when I saw that the members of the Committee were hell-bent on conflating equality with fairness. They're not the same concepts, and one does not necessarily follow from the other. 7-year olds don't have the same bedtimes as 17-year olds. That would treat them in an equal manner, but it wouldn't be fair."

(Below are excerpts from his statement)

"The men and women who purchased residential condo units in Christie Place acted prudently. They were, after all, buying residences in Scarsdale. Who could have imagined that a village such as ours would be so heartless as to triple their property taxes just a few years later? Surely we, as a community, are better than that."

To paraphrase George Orwell, those who favor the adoption of the Homestead Tax Option appear to believe that without it, "All residents will be equal, but some residents will be more equal than others." However, unlike Orwell's fictional Animal Farm, the inequality to which these individuals object was created not by a handful of pigs, but rather by the majority of Scarsdale residents who favored the multipurpose redevelopment of Christie Place.

I believe that the Village got exactly what it bargained for, but today, a handful of vocal residents want you to improve that deal at the expense of 42 fellow residents who bought Christie Place condos in reliance on those units' favorable property tax assessments.

Today, in the name of "equality über alles" and $150 per year for the majority, advocates of the Homestead Tax Option are encouraging you to oppress the minority. Surely we, as a community, are better than that.

The adoption of the Homestead Tax Option violates the Golden Rule as I know it, and I encourage the Village Board to reject the calls of those who would triple property taxes on 42 residents in the name of equality and fairness. Surely we, as a community, are better than that."

Linda Dietz of Brewster Road said, "I am here because I feel it is wrong to adopt this act. Christie Place was marketed as a place for residents who had already raised their kids, to stay in town. The lower taxes were an inducement. Changing that now is not in the spirit in the deal.... I would like to see more units like that in the Village and I feel if we do this no one will ever buy in the Village again. It's a double cross."

Ed Vassalo who lives in Christie Place said, "What effect will this have on the annual taxes we pay and the resale value of our apartments? What will the value be after the taxes have doubled or tripled? How will I sell a 1,000 square foot apartment with a tax bill of $23,000 to people who can't send children to the school?"

Melvin Adler, also of Christie Place, said, "I moved to Christie Place because I didn't want to pay $30-$40,000 a year in taxes. All of us are senior citizens. On my floor there are 7 apartments – 5 occupied by widows. You are changing the rules. How many would live in Scarsdale if they tripled your taxes? I don't even understand why this is even being discussed."

Robert Berg, Chair of the Scarsdale Forum's Committee on Revaluation, was spoke in favor of Homestead. He asked, "Was there an agreement between the Village and the developer to maintain low property taxes?" When the Mayor responded, "No," Berg continued, "So the issue is with how Ginsburg represented the taxes to them ...You relied on what Ginsburg told you. This information was readily available and you should have had your lawyer look into it." He said, "57% of homeowners in Scarsdale have no children in the schools. Are you going to give them a tax break?" To which Mayor Steves replied, "Of course we won't!"

Berg said, "It's a simple issue to decide; fairness to everyone in the Village of Scarsdale. There are more than 5,000 people in the village, all taxed on the market value of their homes – why should Christie Place be assessed below market value?

We did the reval to get to fairness. A $1mm condo is worth the same as a $1 mm house in Quaker Ridge –why should the taxes be one third? The Village Board of Trustees has to pass Homestead before the Board of Education can decide. Why should you disenfranchise the Board of Education?"

Trustee Stern then said to Berg, "What about the co-ops who continue to get a pass on their taxes? Did the Forum consider this? Is that fair?" To which Berg replied, "We can only do what the law allows us to do– the Homestead Act does not permit this." Committee members Ed Morgan and Bob Harrison also spoke in favor of the option.

Laura Miller of 18 Leatherstocking Lane said, "My mother lives at Christie Place. She based her decision on the taxes and could afford to live there because the taxes were low. The increase would be prohibitive....When Ginsburg made that agreement there were no plans for the taxes to be changed....The condos have restrictions – 55 or older, 65 or older; young families are not able to buy these units and that should be reflected in the taxes. This is very surprising – and that should be taken into account."

Comments   

-7 #10 enough already 2014-03-02 11:17
If you really want to make it fair and equal...then asses their condo at market rate BUT remove all constraints on the condo owners regarding selling their units. In addition, Return them their Garage (or the Money raise by the town). Once you do that, the gain (or lose) will be fair. this is the real fairness. I am surprised how a small minority (very vocal) can give this town such an ugly reputation. Enough already!!
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-7 #9 Taxpayer 2014-03-02 08:15
While in NYC many people have 2 kids in a 2 BR apartment, I highly doubt that will happen at Christie Place. Anyone can afford Christie Place who has 2 kids will likely move to a house.
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+6 #8 Bob Harrison -final 2014-03-02 08:07
As to the future value of Christie LUXURY Condos with higher taxes , there is a SCARCITY VALUE for these 42 condos in Westchester County. In 2013 there were 1,145 condo units sold in Westchester with an average of price of $ 397,921 compared to 26 Christie units sold for $ 1,307,000 to $ 1,912,000 since 2008. There are no other comparabe condo units in Westchester. These 26 condo owners pay Scarsdale property tax of $ 10,903 to $ 12,419 vs. a home owner with a similar fair market value paying $ 30,000 to $ 46,000 in property taxes. The reason for reval is fairness and there will be 724 Scarsdale home owners whose taxes will go up over $ 5,000 with reval vs 42 Christie Condos going up over $ 5,000. Why should 42 Christie condo owners get a substantial property tax break for years to come. Please pass the Homestead Tax Option Law NOW for fairness and equity for all of Scarsdale.
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+5 #7 Bob Harrison - more 2014-03-02 08:03
With regard to Christe Place Condos, they have already enjoyed low taxes for years since sales started in 2008. I do recommend to the Village Board that, if possible, that a resolution be passed along with the Homestead Tax Option that fair market value assessment for the condos take into consideration by Tyler Technologies, our assessor and our Town Assessment Review Board the following items : (1) the current annual interest payment by the
Christie owners of $ 137,500 or $ 3,273 on average per condo unit for parking spots - the condo will own 65 parking spots for 42 units after paying off the note ; (2) any possible adjustment for one owner being over 55 years of age - there is no restriction on children living in Christie Place - many NYC families live in 2 bedroom apartments with children.
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+6 #6 Bob Harrison 2014-03-02 08:02
Good comments, Howard. As a member of the Scarsdale Forum Committee on Reval and the Homestead
Tax Option Report, I strongly urge the Village Board to pass the Homestead Tax Option on Tuesday, March 4th at 8 PM at Village Hall. By passing Homestead, all current and FUTURE condos will be assessed at FAIR MARKET VALUE . Otherwise the current substantial condo tax break will continue well into the future until the next REVAL that could occur 5 to 10 years from now. Homestead can only be passed when a full community wide reval is being done.
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+7 #5 Bob Selvaggio 2014-03-01 21:33
Two mea culpas. I have received a number of phone calls about the adjective "corrupt" which I placed in front of "bargain" in my comment. First, let me clarify that I mean "corrupt" to describe the bargain and not any individual -- I apologize to any and all individuals whom I offended. Second, some callers objected to the word "bargain" suggesting that I was very much mistaken if I was under the impression that any Scarsdale official represented that the residents of Christie Place were assured that the favorable tax treatment they have been receiving was anything other than temporary. I apologize for suggesting otherwise.
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+7 #4 Bob Selvaggio 2014-03-01 07:01
The report “Reval Data Demonstrate Inequities in Village Assessments” posted elsewhere on Scarsdale10583 comes as a surprise to no one living in Scarsdale over the past decades – a series of negligent Village Boards willfully allowed this shameful situation to persist until public outcry became impossible to ignore.

Now it is revealed that a small group of residents is afforded huge property tax concessions simply because they happen to live in private condominium complex that seems to have been favorably regarded by a former mayor. The Village Board must act quickly to undo this corrupt bargain and provide the same tax concessions to all 55+ Scarsdale homeowners without school-aged children in a non-discriminat ory manner (or provide these concessions to none).
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-10 #3 Lena Crandall 2014-02-28 11:22
"Fair" is one of those words that makes me cringe. "Facts," on the other hand, are generally more useful. Would it be possible to ask John Wolham of the NYS Department of Taxation & Finance, our go-to reval expert, to run the numbers for the Christie Place apartments? What would be the impact on the rest of us? What's the likely assesed value of the apartments given the age restriction, likely higher taxes, etc? What would their taxes really look like?Then, how about a new negotiation between the village and Christie Place? Let's proceed with the process, but make a good faith effort to gather data and look for mutually agreeable solutions.

I also encourage all residents of Scarsdale to join the Scarsdale Forum. Yes, even those of you who are not citizens - the only membership requirement is residency. The Forum and our democracy can only opperate appropriately if as many of you as possible participate. Enter the web site address now: www.scarsdaleforum.com
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+7 #2 Michael 2014-02-28 10:54
While I sympathize with the 42 residents who bought with the assumption that the tax break would be permanent, one of the reasons I did not consider buying was the surprise at how low the taxes were, and wonder that such an inequity would exist. Yes, buyers paid a premium for the lower tax rate, but most residents in Scarsdale had no idea that the tax rate 'deal' was so generous an incentive to buy. Is there no sympathy for house owners who no longer have children in the schools, but still carry the full tax burden? I think that 'full' taxation should be phased in over time, or with N years notice, if phasing is not a legal option. Otherwise, all residents in Scarsdale without children in the schools should be given a similar tax break!
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+8 #1 Howard 2014-02-27 20:11
Residents can make all the sophisticated or emotional arguments they want. There are laws about paying your share. What marketers said when units were sold, or the fact that unneeded parking was built, the fact that Christie place residents happen to be older with many widows among them, or that they pay to sweep up the garage has no bearing on laws which require everyone to pay his or her fair share. And in case no one noticed, taxes go up, a lot, all the time. People move out because of it. This is not news...just a new complaint.
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