Guest Column

A Hidden Tax Increase

When will Supervisor Michael Grace let 4,450 taxpayers in Yorktown’s Hallocks Mill Sewer District know that he plans to increase their taxes?

When will he give the 4,000 already sewered homeowners in the district an opportunity to ask why he wants them to pay for someone else’s sewers?

And when will he be more open, frank and honest about what sewers will cost the 450 homeowners who will be given the opportunity to be sewered?

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Supervisor Grace’s Plan: In order to lower the capital cost of bringing lateral sewer lines to 450 existing houses on septic systems, the supervisor plans to spread the cost over ALL the taxpayers in the district, that is, the 4,000 already sewered, plus the 450 to be sewered. According to his calculations, the yearly tax for the project would be $1,167 if paid for only by the 450 homeowners but $111 if the cost is spread over 4,450 taxpayers.

Supervisor Grace considers his “cost sharing” plan a fair and equitable way to “make amends” for what he labels the errors of the past. More specifically, he considers it unfair that unsewered homeowners were taxed to expand the sewage treatment plant in 1970 even though they couldn’t hook up to the plant while he says that other homeowners didn’t pay for the plant expansion were able to hook up. To his way of thinking, it’s time for the sewered to pay back the unsewered.

But, as Supervisor Grace has failed to back up his comments with any hard numbers, it’s impossible to know how many “free loaders” there might be. For example, how many already-sewered homeowners paid for both the plant expansion AND their lateral sewer lines? I did, for 25-plus years, along with hundreds of other homeowners in my sewer extension district. How many other homeowners paid both costs as part of the cost of their new house?

Where’s the data? Without hard numbers, why should the 4,000 already sewered accept the supervisor’s “free loader” argument?

The supervisor also wants to give $1,000 to each of the 450 homeowners to help defray their one time hook up cost; the 4,000 sewered who already paid for their own hook ups would also “chip in” for this bill.

Then there’s the uncertainty of knowing exactly which streets will be included in the 450 count. (For the present, the sewage treatment plant can only accommodate the additional flow from roughly 450 houses.)

At a May 2 town board meeting, the supervisor told a group of unsewered homeowners that while the town had already selected three out of 27 possible areas to be sewered, the ultimate selection would depend on neighborhood interest; he said he would visit any neighborhood where there was a homeowner interested in being sewered. Calling the 450 selection a “moving target,” he said, that based on interest, streets might be deleted or added to the final list.

But a week later, the supervisor said he was ready to hire an engineering firm to design plans for the three areas he had already selected. What happened to the promised outreach to other neighborhoods?

And what happens if a significant number of homeowners in any of the three selected neighborhoods decide they don’t want sewers? In one of the neighborhoods, 65 of the 69 homes could be looking at hook-up costs in the $8,000-$11,000 range. (The supervisor hasn’t shared this cost information with the homeowners.) Homeowners may want sewers. They may need sewers. But how many will want to pay the estimated $700/year in taxes that sewers could cost them?

Before spending money to design a sewer plan for specific streets, common sense says the town should first find out if the homeowners on the street want sewers. Why waste time and money designing sewers for streets when the homeowners don’t want them, especially when there are other streets where the homeowners will want them? 

Then there’s the issue of transparency. At what point in the planning process was Supervisor Grace going to let the 4,000 already sewered homeowners know what he has in store for them? At the 11th hour, when the plan and its financing are mostly set?

Finally, there are legal questions. Given the town’s long history of having neighborhoods pay for their own sewer laterals, is Supervisor Grace’s sudden shift to a cost-sharing approach legal? Is it legal to tax 4,000 taxpayers to pay for a capital project that will only benefit 450 taxpayers?

Before Supervisor Grace commits to spending taxpayer money to design a sewer plan, 4,450 taxpayers deserve answers to their questions.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer. Click here to submit a Guest Column.

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