Officials and residents of the villages of Port Chester, Rye Brook and Mamaroneck explored the possibility of dissolving Rye Town during a public forum at Rye Brook Village Hall Wednesday night.
In 2011, the Town of Rye and Villages of Rye Brook, Port Chester and Mamaroneck jointly received a $55,000 Local Government Efficiency Grant from the NYS Department of State (DOS) to study options to increase government efficiency, share services and save tax dollars.
Wednesday evening’s forum began with a presentation by Joseph Stefko, the Project Director of the Center for Governmental Research (CGR), the Rochester-based group that led a local steering committee in the study of Rye Town’s dissolution. Stefko reviewed the 101-page “Review of Governance and Service Alternatives,” report and explained that the steering committee worked with CGR to make assumptions used to figure out how things would work if Rye Town were dissolved. (The steering committee consists of nine local officials from Rye Town, and the three villages located within the Town: Mamaroneck, Port Chester and Rye Brook.)
Under the assumptions made in the study, if Rye Town were to dissolve, the Villages of Port Chester and Rye Brook and the Rye Neck section of the Village of Mamaroneck would become “coterminous town-villages," which refers to a single or double form of government, with all areas contained within sharing the same boundaries. According to the DOS website, three villages in Westchester fall under this heading including Mount Kisco, Harrison and Scarsdale.
There are four ways a coterminous town-village can be created, which are detailed on the DOS website here.
Rye Town essentially collects taxes, $2.5 million a year in non-property taxes, and runs two parks, but provides few other essential services to its villages. Each of the three villages already provide most essential services to their residents. Because of this, the study did not focus on possibly absorbing the villages into Rye Town.
However, the Town still has assets, liabilities, employees, and other matters that need to be accounted for if it were to dissolve.
Stefko repeatedly noted that residents in all three current villages are already responsible for Rye Town’s liabilities.
“(Residents might ask) Why do I have to be on the hook for that debt?” Stefko said. “You are already town taxpayers so you all as residents already own and are responsible for paying down those liabilities,” he said.
Town liabilities include Town debt, employee obligations, bridge capital costs, among others. These liabilities would be shared amongst the three coterminous villages.
All assets that could be liquidated would (by selling Town Hall, other properties, etc.), but those that could not be liquidated would be allocated amongst the three coterminous villages. For example, Crawford Park would become Rye Brook property. Concerned residents explained that Crawford is frequented by current Port Chester residents and said they would want to make sure that Rye Brook residents didn’t then take priority over Port Chester residents just because the entity would then belong to Rye Brook. All officials agreed that they would put in writing how the park would be operated.
The values of liquidated assets are built into the model discussed Wednesday, which assumes that the amount of proceeds each coterminous entity receives would be based on their share of taxable assessed value in the Town of Rye.
The model also assumes retention of parkland, bridges, cemeteries, etc. A Rye Neck resident at the forum asked how the value of those assets, which cannot be liquidated, would be shared. Stefko explained that those issues would need to be explored and they would be very transparent about how those assets would be shared. Responsibility for maintenance and capital improvements would need to be figured out as well.
The new governance model would have to ensure that services currently provided by the Town are continued and accounted for, Stefko said. Tax collection and assessment would be shared by Port Chester and Rye Brook. The Village of Mamaroneck already does this for Rye Neck through an existing office.
Rye Neck would use Mamaroneck’s court service, as it does now. Rye Brook would need to receive its court service through Port Chester, which would cost them.
As state assembly-elect Steve Otis told the crowd at the end of the night, sharing even just one service, like a court system, can get very complicated once it hits the state legislature. Otis indicated he and state-senator elect George Latimer are keen to help the villages with whatever work they need.
What Does It Mean for Taxes?
The study goes into some detail about who gets what and how much the dissolution would cost the average taxpayer.
What does it do to the tax rate? Stefko explained that the answer to that is multilayered. In terms of government funds and grants, in some instances the state would see a coterminous town-village as one entity and in other cases it would be seen as two entities.
The Rye Town tax levy would dissolve with the Town itself. “Villages as coterminous town-villages have revenue streams and tax levies funding their services, so they wouldn’t require the Town of Rye property tax,” Stefko said.
The elimination of the Rye town tax would save the owner of a $500,000 property about $25 annually in Rye Brook. The fiscal impact would also net a savings of $52 for a $500,000 home in Port Chester and $72 in Rye Neck. Because Rye Brook would have to share Port Chester courts, a property owner there would see a $22 increase in its taxes, which would net a $3 savings.
Mamaroneck, the Study’s “Step-Child”
Village of Mamaroneck Mayor Norm Rosenblum explained that his village is like a “step child” in the scenario. Because Rye Neck is located within the Town of Rye and the Village of Mamaroneck (but not within the Town of Mamaroneck), for Mamaroneck Village to become a coterminous town-village would be more complicated. It would require a vote from all Town of Mamaroneck residents, which includes Village of Larchmont residents.
The dissolution study model assumes the Village of Mamaroneck would reorganize into a coterminous town-village, but that creates fiscal implications for Mamaroneck Town residents. They would lose a significant portion of their tax base if the Village of Mamaroneck succeeded.
"I think Mamaroneck would be great as a coterminous town-village," Rosenblum said. "But that’s a wish right now…because [what is] pragmatic and the wish are worlds apart."
Rosenblum explained that the study is not a recommendation but a point from which the community can start a conversation about the possibilities.
Citizens Empowerment Tax Credit
The Citizens empowerment Tax Credit is New York state’s consolidation incentive program. Coterminous restructurings were ineligible for this credit until just three months ago. So the current Rye dissolution model was designed without accounting for this additional credit because the state could not give guidance on how to calculate and distribute the credit to each community and because the study was created before coterminous town-villages were eligible.
Stefko said these credit incentives would run in perpetuity.
Each village—Rye Brook, Port Chester and Rye Neck—will hold public meetings to discuss the study with its residents and anyone else who is interested. Village leaders have not endorsed any plan, but are hoping the study will spark conversation in their communities in order to get an idea of how residents feel about the proposal. A public vote in each municipality would be required in order to move forward with any change of this scale.
Most of the handful of residents who spoke at Wednesday night’s forum were well-versed in municipal law and matters.
“I was really happy to see this and that we are thinking,” said a Rye Brook resident who currently serves on that village's planning board. “But the devil is in the details.”
He and other residents asked for specific information on how certain parts of the model would work, which the officials explained they would need to figure out. Some residents also offered opinions on the plan and suggested specifics for the officials to consider.
Rye Brook Mayor Joan Feinstein said the village will hold its meeting on the report on Jan. 8, 2013. Rye Town Mayor Joe Carvin said the town will hold another meeting on Jan. 15.
Find the full 101-page report Review of Governance and Service Alternatives here.
Do you think Rye Town should dissolve? Tell us in the comments.
*Editor's Note: This article was updated to reflect that Rye Neck is currently located within the Village of Mamaroneck and the Town of Rye. Rye Neck is not located in the Town of Mamaroneck.