Your last child graduated from your local high-performing high school four years ago. You just re-did your kitchen and re-tiled the bathroom after months of contemplating whether to go with pink or white flooring. You love walking to the farmers market on Saturdays...
But your property taxes are so high that they rival the cost of tuition for a semester in the college your kid got into by graduating from one of these stellar Westchester public schools.
Does this sound familiar? Is it you? Your next-door neighbor?
That's why small groups of concerned citizens in municipalities like Hastings, Chappaqua and Bedford Hills formed coalitions devoted to lowering property taxes. And, naturally, they began by focusing on the schools.
"The more we looked into it, the more we realized that state mandates were the greatest culprit in keeping taxes so high," said Robert Scheiber, a Hastings resident and member of the executive committee of Best4NY, a grassroots coalition committed to "better education and smarter taxation for New York."
"We believe that we can reduce taxes without compromising the quality of education in our districts," Scheiber said.
Chappaqua's Jim McCauley, a fellow member of the group's executive committee, echoed Scheiber's sentiment: "We believe that the quality of education is actually getting worse because of these mandates. Our group's goal is not to compromise the education in our districts."
Both Scheiber and McCauley have children who graduated from the Hastings and Chappaqua schools. Both of Scheiber's children—one son and one daughter—are teachers. (His son is finishing his Master's Degree to become a high school chemistry teacher. His daughter works in a private school.)
About a year ago, Best4NY formed when Scheiber and local leaders of this same cause in other, similar municipalities read an article in The Journal News about grassroots efforts among concerned citizens to fight for lower taxes.
On Wednesday, Best4NY held a rally in Greenburgh Town Hall featuring speakers:
- George Oros, Chief of Staff to Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino
- Robert Castelli, NYS Assemblyman
- Joan Feinsten, Mayor of Rye Brook
- Jeff Diamond, Member of the Board of Education, Blind Brook School District
The main purpose of the rally was to launch a mandate-relief petition, written predominantly by Bedford Hills' Howland Robinson, that can be signed instantly online at the link above.
According to the executive committee, the group focuses mostly on the following three mandates:
- The Triborough Amendment, which "mandates that in the event of a lack of a contract, the terms of the previous contract continue indefinitely, leaving governments (and, by extension, taxpayers) with virtually no leverage to force concessions if an overly generous contract becomes unsustainable." Link
- Last-in-First-Out (LIFO), a provision that states that teachers hired to public school districts last are the first to be laid off when there are budget cuts—regardless of student performance or teacher evaluations.
- Pension reform
"We believe that—with the tax cap—there should also be relief from some of these impositions on school districts and local government," said Oros, on behalf of County Executive Robert Astorino. "This year the county paid $63 million in pension costs; in five years it's projected to be $112 million. How will we be able to run our parks and other services if we're paying everything into our employees' pension funds?"
He added: "Unfunded mandates are extremely expensive. It's important as citizens that you lobby people at higher levels of government."
Oros—who came to the rally despite its being his wife's birthday (he apologized)—cut the ceremonial ribbon tied to a laptop showing the online petition that, when signed by taxpayers, will go to the Governor and NY state legislators.
"We thought about smashing a bottle of champagne against the laptop, but decided that would be messy," said Howland Robinson an executive committee member from Bedford Hills. "Then again, in a comment that ran in the Journal News article publicizing this event, someone called us 'Crackpots.' Now that's when you know you've made it."
Members of Best4NY's Executive Committee members are:
- Ted Mason, Hastings
- Jim McCauley, Chappaqua
- Judy McGrath, Chappaqua
- Howland Robinson, Bedford Hills
- Roger Scheiber, Hastings
Find their website here.
Find the petition here.