Residents Come out in Force to Object to the Homestead Tax Option
- The Goods
- Published on Thursday, 27 February 2014 15:51
- Joanne Wallenstein
Residents 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."