Mayor Noam Bramson must be running for another term because he is once again trying to convince New Rochelle residents that their taxes are really not that high and that if you squint real hard they are actually low. Bramson blames the perception of high taxes not on local decision-making but regional and state-wide factors. In other words, he is telling voters “your taxes are really not high but even if they are it’s not my fault.”
Bramson performs his fiscal legerdemain by dabbling with the The Empire Center property tax portal. By pushing a few buttons, Bramson claims to have discovered that if you fiddle the numbers long enough you can come up with metrics that “prove” that the Mayor is doing a great job:
- New Rochelle has the second-lowest “effective property tax rate” in the mid-Hudson region — Rye in the lowest.
- New Rochelle has the third-lowest “effective property tax rate” in New York State — 40th of 42.
- New Rochelle has one of the lowest levels of debt and spending in New York State.
“I’m not saying local taxes are low in absolute terms — this is only a comparative standard,” said Bramson. “But the numbers do demonstrate the relative efficiency of our City government and make clear our commitment to respecting taxpayers.”
Some respect! Bramson has been required by New York State law to keep taxes low because the Governor he supported pushed through a tax levy cap with no corresponding reduction in state mandates. The response of the City has been to skirt the tax levy cap something New Rochelle got an early jump on years ago when it accepted a property tax cap in exchange for an extra 1% in sales tax (and everyone knows higher sales taxes are always a sure way to increase retail business).
In order to believe in Bramson’s desperate Political Ponzi Scheme, you would have to ignore his Enron-like accounting where Bramson has converted large chunks of the budget to taxes, fees and surcharges all while the City Council he runs has authorized tens of millions for a new Public Works yard and proposed various irresponsible tax abatements for developers.
So, what has Bramson left out?
Hydrant Surcharge shifted from City Budget to United Water Rate Payers ($1.3 million)
Leaf Collection Policy shifted from City Budget to Property Owners ($400,000). Not to mention that cost of Leaf Collection policy to property owners is less efficient and thus costs property owners in the aggregate an estimated $2 million.
Refuse Fees ($6 million)
Library Tax shifted cost from City Budget to School District Budget ($3 million)
Gross Utility Tax collected through mobile phone bills ($1 million)
Sales Tax of an extra 1% was granted by New York State on condition that City would accept a Property Tax Cap; the Cap was removed but the 1% extra sales tax remained ($10 million)
There are other taxes and fees (e.g. Hotel Occupancy Tax) but with just the Surcharges, Fees and Taxes mentioned above, there is a total of roughly $21.7 million that has been shifted “off-book”, money that taxpayers still pay but that they pay in different forms, none of which counts as a tax deduction like property tax and, in cases like leaf pick up, the aggregate cost to taxpayers dwarfs any reduction in the city budget.
Bramson also fails to mention that Avalon Bay accelerated payment for the land upon which Avalon 1 was built — a one-time revenue bump of $9 million paid out over several years. Instead of receiving a projected $18 million due in two installments in 2029 and 2035 the City took the net present value of that money starting in 2010 — the $9 million. This shift amounts to selling public property to fund ongoing operations.
Of course, property taxes include school taxes, which are 400% higher and those taxes have gone up quite a bit too.
If there are any readers out there who see something I missed, let me know. And if someone wants to use these numbers to see where New Rochelle ranks in the The Empire Center property tax portal when you add-back all of the extra taxes, fees and surcharges please share the results here.
I would add that while Noam is doing his usual policy-wonk BS numbers fudging in order to fabricate talking points for his campaign, he is likely to get away with it because, past being prologue, you will hear no organized response from other elected officials, the Republicans on City Council, the Republican Party of New Rochelle and certainly not Democrats.
So, it falls to me to point out that once again the emperor has no clothes. And with elected officials and opposing political parties rolling over and playing dead, it looks like we will have another four years of the Naked Mayor.