Scarsdale officials explain how they allocate tax dollars

The League of Women Voters and Scarsdale Village partnered to give a presentation Jan. 10 on how Scarsdale uses its residents’ tax dollars.

Like everywhere in New York, most residents’ taxes go to their local school districts. In Scarsdale’s case 63.6 percent of the total taxes collected in 2018 went to the Scarsdale Central School District. That’s almost two-thirds the amount sent to the village and Westchester County, which each received about 18 percent of the total tax levy.

Scarsdale receives most of its revenue from property taxes — about 69 percent — while the rest of the annual revenue comes from smaller sources such as parking fees, recreation fees, sales tax, etc. Each of the other forms of revenue make up no more than 5 percent of the total revenue Scarsdale brings in within a fiscal year.

In an effort to show where Scarsdale residents’ money goes, Village Manager Steve Pappalardo and Village Treasurer Mary Lou McClure used a home with an assessed value of $1.3 million. That is the median assessed value of a home in Scarsdale according to 2018 tax rates, McClure said.

A Scarsdale resident with a home assessed at $1.3 million is responsible for $5,960 in village taxes. Those taxes are broken up into nondepartmental and departmental expenses.

McClure explained nondepartmental budget items are largely out of the village’s control. Those items include benefits such as pensions and health insurance. The hypothetical Scarsdale resident would have contributed $1,581 in 2018 toward those benefits. The total nondepartmental contribution, which also includes operational budget transfers and debt service, would have been $2,913.

Then there’s the departmental portion, that is, the taxes village residents contribute to the department of public works, the police department and the fire department.

Each department head — DPW commissioner Benny Salanitro, Police Chief Andrew Matturro and Fire Chief James Seymour — explained what their department provides to the village. In other words, what services Scarsdale residents are paying for.

The hypothetical Scarsdale resident would have contributed $832 to the department of public works in 2018.

The DPW provides service through three divisions — highway, sanitation and facilities maintenance. According to Salanitro, the DPW has 66 full-time employees working in those three divisions, in addition to what Salanitro referred to as two “support” divisions — administration and engineering.

One of the department’s more essential jobs is road resurfacing. In 2018, the DPW repaved 5 miles of road and 800,000 feet of curbing.

The village DPW also provides snow removal for approximately 91 centerline miles of roads in Scarsdale and 25 miles of sidewalks. They are also responsible for the removal of 4,100 tons of fall leaves and the maintenance and repair of 81 miles of sanitary sewers.

The DPW has also been instrumental in the village’s goal to create a more sustainable community. The department is installing more energy efficient LED streetlights around the village and is helping transport food scraps as part of Scarsdale’s food scrap recycling program.

For fire protection, the hypothetical resident contributed $629 in taxes to the fire department in 2018. The fire department is comprised of 46 career firefighters and 68 volunteer firefighters. Every shift — or 24 hours a day — there are at least eight firefighters and one captain on duty.

The department responds to a host of emergencies including, but not limited to, fires, motor vehicle accidents, gas leaks, carbon monoxide alarms, elevator emergencies, utility emergencies, public assistance calls, lock-outs and lock ins. They completed 1,778 emergency responses in 2018, which was about 300 responses more than the 1,435 in 2017.

“Any time the phone rings,” Seymour said, “no matter how trivial the call may be, we investigate, we don’t turn anyone away no matter what.”

The fire department also works closely with its mutual aid partners, the Greenville, Hartsdale and Fairview fire departments.

For example, in 2018, a vehicle crashed into an Edgemont residential building, causing structural instability. The four fire departments worked that day to have the residents back in their homes by nightfall.

The Scarsdale Fire Department is also apart of the Westchester Special Operations Task Force. The department is equipped to respond to emergencies, which may include hazardous chemicals or weapons of mass destruction.

They are also a part of the New York City Mutual Aid Plan. That means if another event similar to 9/11 were to occur, the Scarsdale Fire Department would help in the response.

Finally, there’s the police department. The resident paying $5,960 in taxes contributes $751 of those taxes to the police department.

The SPD includes 42 full-time patrol officers, three full-time administrative staff, four full-time investigative officers and two full-time support staff members.

In 2018, police responded to 15,500 “calls to service,” said Matturro.

Officers are responsible for enforcing obedience to signs, traffic lights and crosswalks. They also work to prevent or mitigate visual obstructions on the road, traffic causes, bad road conditions, and disobedience to parking and traffic laws.

The department also works with Scarsdale’s youth through the Scarsdale School District and the Scarsdale Edgemont Family Counseling Service.

Matturro also noted the Scarsdale Police Department is the only nationally accredited department in Scarsdale. The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies provides accreditation to agencies that follow its 371 best practices.

Near the end of the presentation, Steve Pappalardo answered questions from the audience.

One resident asked about potential benefits of consolidating fire departments. Pappalardo said he had been involved in a study on consolidating governments years ago and “it went nowhere.”

In addition to the legal hurdles involved with consolidation, Pappalardo said residents simply don’t want to do it.

“People are very proud of their municipalities,” the village manager said. “They want their schools, they have pride and they’re not interested in consolidation.”

Chief Seymour noted that while the department is not participating in any sort of consolidation, they are participating in the mutual aid plan.

Most recently, said Seymour, the department developed an agreement with Edgemont and Hartsdale in which, anytime there is a fire, Greenville sends a ladder truck with four firefighters and Hartsdale sends an engine truck with four fighters.

This allows the Scarsdale department to meet the National Fire Protection Association standards, which require 15 firefighters to fight a structure fire at homes similar in size to those in Scarsdale.

As Seymour previously mentioned, there are eight firefighters on duty at all times which would not be enough to meet the NFPA standards.

Pappalardo also addressed a question about financing for the village’s recreation department. The rec department has a $2.95 million budget and finances about 65 percent of that budget through user fees.

Pappalardo said the board has asked the village manager’s office to research if 65 percent is too high a number.

He said the board allocated $100,000 in the operating budget to do a study on a master plan for the recreation department. However, he said other issues took priority preventing his office from having that study completed. He said the money could roll over to this year’s budget.

Residents also asked about the progress of the village’s plan to revitalize the Freightway garage.

According to Pappalardo, the village sent out a Request for Expressions of Interest to attract developers who want to take part in changing the garage. He said they’ve received seven responses and are now working to create a Request for Proposal to move the process forward and find the right developer.

The village board will hold a public comment session on the Freightway garage Tuesday, Jan. 22, at 6:30 p.m. in village hall.

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