Town hopes to consolidate building inspection
By Kevin E. Foley
Residents of Continental Village came to last week’s Philipstown Town Board meeting with an old grievance that has fresh wounds. As empathetic as board members were, they could provide little balm for the residents’ complaint that they are trapped in a geographic and bureaucratic quagmire of ever-rising school taxes.
Although located in Putnam County, residents of the unincorporated Continental Village are part of Westchester County’s Lakeland School District, as are some residents of Carmel and Putnam Valley. As a result, Continental Village property owners pay a significantly higher property tax rate than they would within the Garrison Union Free School District.
Making matters worse, say residents, is that when the state’s property tax equalization formula, intended to make taxes more uniform, kicks in, they get hit worse.
“Over 10 years Continental Village has seen a 34 percent increase in property taxes, averaging between 5 to 8 percent a year,” said Michael Leonard, a town board member who owns property in Continental Village. He pointed to the Westchester towns of Cortlandt and Yorktown, which are also in the Lakeland district but have seen increases of only about 1 percent annually. Leonard compared the situation to two customers in a store paying different prices for the same product based on where they live.
Leonard recalled a comment made in 2011 by the regional director of the state’s Department of Taxation and Finance, John Wolham, who called Continental Village “the poster child for what’s wrong with the property tax system in New York.”
The residents, including Kathleen Kourie, a real estate agent who has organized residents for several years, assert that the state’s equalization program doesn’t serve them because the formula involves averaging real estate values in Philipstown, including Garrison. “When they look at all the properties in Philipstown, they include a $13 million estate along with our average $300,000 home. We’re not Garrison.”
Both Leonard and Richard Shea, the Philipstown town supervisor, acknowledged the pain as well as past efforts the town has made to ameliorate the situation. But both emphasized that the state assembly in Albany, not the town government, is the place to seek relief.
“The long-term solution is equity between the towns of Philipstown and Cortlandt and Yorktown,” said Shea. He also lamented the reality of school district lines crossing town and county lines and said it might be desirable to have a single Philipstown school district instead of three. He quickly acknowledged such a solution (if even possible) was fraught with challenging implications, such as increased school populations and inadequate physical plants.
Shea said he and Leonard would arrange a meeting with State Senator Sue Serino (Assemblywoman Sandy Galef was acknowledged as already engaged) and have the town assessor review the state of property assessments and also send the state tax department a representative sample of assessments to see if a special exemption might be possible for Continental Village. The last tactic has provided some limited relief in recent years but may be exhausted for the immediate future.
The residents generally expressed appreciation for the town board efforts amidst their exasperation with the situation.
Despite the recent resignation of the town building inspector Tim Donahue to take another job, Supervisor Shea expressed optimism that the town and Village of Cold Spring could consolidate their services to allow for one-stop shopping for all property owners in Philipstown. He said renovations would begin soon on the house behind Town Hall where the unified office would be located.
Shea said the office is still functioning with a part-time inspector who has taken on more hours. But he noted that without a certified code enforcement officer in place, the planned inspections of the Butterfield project were not being done.
Before a consolidated office could be established, negotiations must be completed with officials in Cold Spring and Nelsonville. Shea said he was open to representatives from the villages sitting in on interviews with building inspector candidates. However, Nelsonville trustee Thomas Robertson has said he believes retaining the position for the village is a key to maintaining a village government.
In other business …
- Leonard reported progress on the restoration of cemeteries in Cold Spring that fall under town jurisdiction.
- An agreement was reached with the town of Cortlandt for the sharing of highway equipment.
- County legislator Barbara Scuccimarra said a county-led committee was going to meet with various groups to see what can be done to handle crowds in the area of Breakneck Ridge. There is hope the trolley traveling between Beacon and Cold Spring can be used to attract people, perhaps with docents on board to point out attractions. Lobbying the state transportation department to lower speed limits on 9D is also on the agenda.