In an attempt to prevent the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development from conclusively diverting $7.4 million in 2011 grant funds awarded to communities in Westchester, the county late last week sought a federal court injunction against HUD’s action. Cutting the funding would eliminate hundreds of thousands of dollars that had either been granted or anticipated for projects in Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow. The injunction was supported by both County Executive Rob Astorino and the Board of Legislators.
The court, noting that the situation had not yet “ripened,” adjourned the case until mid-June.
HUD spokesperson, Brian Sullivan, told The Hudson Independent, “For more than three years, HUD has attempted to work in good faith with the county to satisfy its civil rights obligations. Contrary to the county’s complaint, HUD is not making any final determination to reallocate $7.4 million in federal assistance to the county. Rather, we are beginning a process of reallocating these resources to other communities should the county continue to fall short of its fair housing obligations.”
Westchester’s feud with HUD stems from charges by the federal agency that Astorino’s administration has failed to comply with aspects of the fair and affordable housing settlement it reached with the county in 2009. HUD wants Westchester to review zoning rule analyses done within 31 municipalities which the agency claims create impediments to making affordable housing available to low income families. It had set an April 25 deadline for assurances of compliance. Astorino claims the analyses have been properly done and that the government is interfering in local zoning rules over which the county has no authority. The BOL, meanwhile, has asked that HUD extend the deadline.
Sleepy Hollow has $505,000 in Community Development Block Grants from HUD stalled through the current year. Work on “Streetscape” improvements on Broadway had been awarded $200,000 in 2011 by HUD, and $305,000 was anticipated for Beekman Avenue street lighting and sewer improvements on Cortlandt Street, in 2012 and 2013, according to Village Administrator Anthony Giaccio.
Tarrytown Village Administrator Michael Blau puts his village’s potential loss “in the range of a half million dollars,” including funds for Wildey Street sidewalk replacements, improvements to the basketball court in Patriot’s Park and some sewer projects.
While Irvington has no immediate loss of funding, it had hoped to secure some future funds for projects in one of the village’s more moderate income neighborhoods, Village Administrator Lawrence Schopfer noted.
Astorino had also faced a contempt of court action threatened by the Justice Department. A recent Appellate Court decision reiterated that he had failed to promote source of income legislation as required under the 2009 Consent Decree. Heavy fines could have been imposed on both the county and Astorino. However, last week Astorino submitted such legislation to the County Board of Legislators for its consideration. Similar to a 2010 bill passed by the BOL and vetoed by Astorino, it would prevent home seekers from being disqualified for affordable housing on the basis of their source of income, such as government aid. The BOL has been urging compliance with the rule.
Under the 2009 agreement, the County was required to submit a plan to build 750 units of affordable housing, available in 31 mostly white municipalities, for low income families. The Astorino administration claims that with 305 already financed, and 110 units occupied, the county is ahead of the dictated schedule.
Property taxpayers in Sleepy Hollow can expect to pay more as of June 1. Just how much more is still unclear, but it will be significant due to sharp increases in employee benefits and police department raises.
In the coming fiscal year, the village must find an additional $556,000 to cover state-mandated employee benefits, as well as more than $150,000 for police department salary increases.
On average, taxes have risen a modest two percent annually over the last four years. But this year, the draft 2013/2014 budget called for an 8.5 percent property tax hike. The final number is likely to be less, according to Village Administrator Anthony Giaccio.
“Every board member has said that 8.5 percent is unacceptable,” said Giaccio.
Trustees continued to work up until the April 30 budget approval deadline to find savings. For every $95,000 in budget cuts, property taxes decrease by one percent. But the village has no control over employee benefit costs which have doubled over the last five years, now totaling $4 million a year, or 45 percent of the village’s budget.
“In terms of benefits, the only thing we can control is how many employees we have,” said Mayor Ken Wray.
The Sleepy Hollow police raises are the result of contract negotiations, a process that Wray described as “brutal.”
“Now that we have a contract, the raises, while modest, are retroactive, so they are all hitting at the same time,” said Wray.
Sleepy Hollow tax payers are particularly vulnerable to rising costs since the village has no other major source of revenue. In addition, nonprofit entities located here like Historic Hudson Valley, Rockefeller Park, and Phelps Hospital, while enhancing the appeal of the community, do not pay property tax.
“Fifty percent of our property is tax exempt, while Tarrytown benefits from the businesses and hotels located on Route 119,” Giaccio explained.
Tarrytown receives $4.6 million more in property taxes and $250,000 more in taxes on utilities than Sleepy Hollow since it has more residents In addition, the Metro-North commuter parking lot provides a lucrative revenue stream of $735,000 into Tarrytown’s budget, which does not exist in Sleepy Hollow.
“Thanks to the board over the last four years, we have cut back dramatically on expenses,” said Giaccio.
“We are trying to make cuts wherever they are the least painful,” said Trustee Susan MacFarlane.
It took less than five minutes for the Tarrytown Board of Trustees to open and close a public hearing on its proposed fiscal 2013-2014 budget. The budget, which carries a 4.82% tax increase for village residents, was scheduled to be formally approved on May 1.
“The development of this tentative budget reflects the same framework as previous budgets—the maintenance of services to our residents that they have come to expect with the minimum tax increase to pay for these services,” Village Administrator Michael Blau said.
Citing Moody’s Investor Service, Blau said the government lags two years behind the private sector regarding economic ups and downs. The village faced an economic downturn for fiscal 2009-2010, and it “continues to impact upon the budget,” Blau stated.
While budgetary issues will continue two years after economic improvement, the proposed budget retained current village staffing levels and trimmed departmental budgets. Increases required by union contracts — pensions, health insurance, electric, and gasoline — are beyond the village’s control.
Several years earlier, the state began mandate relief re Workers Compensation to increase weekly payouts for injured workers and cap long-term payouts, and while legislation was passed regarding the weekly amount, the time frame was never capped.
The budget complies with the state-mandated tax levy cap and includes a tax rate of $286.76 per $1,000 of assessed value. The average home in Tarrytown will see an increase of $220.27 per $1,000 of assessed value, officials said.