Westchester County Sales Tax Hike Draws Support from Local Municipal Officials

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by Robert Kimmel – 

As August makes its calendar debut, businesses throughout Westchester are adjusting their sales slips to reflect the county’s new sales tax rate. Beginning August 1, the tax on purchases increases one percent from 7.375% to 8.375% and comes with a benefit for Westchester property owners. Property taxes will now be frozen at their current rate for fiscal years 2020 and 2021.

The sales tax hike also benefits municipalities and public school districts. The tax law changes are the result of a pursuit by County Executive George Latimer who pushed for the levy changes to lessen Westchester’s financial problems while also easing the burden for its property owners whose taxes are among the highest in the nation. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Westchester County Property Tax Protection Act late in June following its approval by the state legislature to make it official.

Westchester stands to gain an estimated $140 million annually in revenue, with 20 percent of that going to the County’s municipalities and 10 percent to school districts. Village officials see it as a positive move.

“As a local government that has complied with the state’s tax levy cap every year, we welcome any new non-property tax revenues,” Irvington Village Administrator Larry Schopfer stated. “It will help us to continue to deliver essential services to our residents while remaining compliant with the tax levy cap.”

Projected gains for Irvington are $158,334 for the remainder of 2019, and $343,374 for the total in 2020. Irvington’s school district is expected to gain $113,633 for 2019, and $246,432 in 2020.

Sleepy Hollow Administrator Anthony Giaccio sees the incoming funds as a means “to help offset costs in our annual operating budget. No one likes it when there is a tax increase, but at least there is a benefit to the increased sales tax.” Giaccio noted the revenue “gets distributed to schools and municipalities that can potentially provide tax relief for property owners.” Sleepy Hollow stands to gain $223,419 during 2019 and a total of $527,897 for 2020.

Tarrytown Administrator Rich Slingerland takes a similar position on the sales tax increase, contending that any type of tax increase is not generally welcomed, but that the benefits from that tax’s increase mitigate its downside. The village is expected to collect $279,120 for the remainder of 2019, and $603,151 next year. Tarrytown’s school district, which includes Sleepy Hollow, projects the sales tax’s financial benefits amounting to $240,632 this year, and $521,854 in 2020.

For Dobbs Ferry, Mayor Bob McLoughlin described the sales tax revenue as a means “to help us with our efforts to maintain and rebuild our infrastructure including roads, sidewalks, sewers, technology and first responder safety equipment. “We stand to receive over $500,000,” he said. The Dobbs Ferry School District is projected to receive $117,135 this year and $243,027 in 2020.

The towns will be gaining revenue as well from the sales tax increase. “Westchester has had the distinction of having the highest property taxes in the country,” Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner commented. “I think this legislation is an important action step that will help us get rid of this unwanted distinction.”

Mount Pleasant Town Supervisor Carl Fulgeniz said, “Although additional taxes of any sort are the last resort, the sales tax increase for Westchester County will be an additional revenue source to offset property taxes and fixed town costs.”

While some critiques of the one-percent sales tax increase contend it will cause consumers to make their purchases outside the county, Latimer commented, “When you shop locally in the town you live in, you generally shop there because it’s physically convenient for you.” He also countered the argument that the sales tax is regressive, by asserting that a property tax increase would be “even more regressive,” explaining that a property owner has no choice but to pay, but that a consumer could buy cheaper items and pay less sales tax.

Questioned about how the sales tax might affect their business, several Tarrytown shopkeepers offered varied viewpoints. Wendy Goldman who owns Bella’s Boutique on North Broadway, said she was “a little concerned, but again, I’m uncertain.”

The proprietor of Ona’s, on Main Street, Ona Cohn said, “I don’t really know, but in this uncertain climate, it doesn’t take much for people not to buy something.”

Stephanie Leggio, owner of Pretty Funny Vintage on South Broadway, commented, “The sales tax is matching up to the city’s tax, and it helps property owners and it seems reasonable. I don’t think it is going to affect people in any big way.”

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