For decades, our paying for sewers out of the general property tax levy has worked just fine. Supporters of the new Sewer Rent law have two motives enacting this new measure: (1) Lower next year’s tax appropriation; and (2) Raise “new money” from our village’s tax-exempts. I applaud an attempt to ‘think outside the box,’ particularly regarding Village finance. And I strongly oppose this Sewer Rent law. The proposed Sewer Rent law is too much headache for too little new revenue.
Shifting annual sewer repair costs to the water bill would disguise an equal increase in the Village’s next budget. If we move $150,000 from the general tax levy to a new sewer fund, billed as a utility, the mayor could add up to $150,000 in new expenses to the 2006-7 tax levy, before our tax rate would go up.
Why have we not heard this reason stated publicly? What happened to open government?
The second motive—fetching the village new money—is an honorable goal. But the proposed sewer rent may cost much more in possible litigation and administration than the minuscule net gain to village income from such a rent.
Why would we enact a new law for which the real financial gain is tiny and comes at the expense of those institutions with whom we must cooperate most closely— our school district and houses of worship? This smacks of punitive government, an impression I am certain we want to avoid.
The search for new money for the Village is an admirable goal. The proposed Sewer Rent Law increases Village revenue by less than 3/10ths of one percent—a truly insignificant amount. It burdens the Village with new legal and administrative costs and potentially negative countermeasures.
How much do we spend maintaining our sewers?
In April at mayor’s eleventh hour request, Village staff hastily estimated the annual cost of sewer maintenance at c. $150,000. The truth is that the Village does not know with any degree of certainty exactly how much we spend on sewer maintenance. Why? Because sewer repair work is spread across several departments and has not ever before needed to be tracked as a separate total. So if we don’t know, then how can we estimate how much sewer rent we need to collect?
Where is the New Money from our Tax-Exempts?
New Village revenue would come from sewer rent paid by tax-exempt organizations that pay no property tax now. The following tax-exempt institutions use Village water and would pay sewer rents as estimated below (if sewer rent is billed at 15% of the water bill).
Rent from Tax Exempts - Est. annual sewer rent @15% of water bill
Total new money - $19,161
Why is the New Money not likely to materialize?
This “new money” from tax-exempt institutions is pretty uncertain. The bulk of this new money is wide open to legal challenge. The proposed law allows the Village to levy a sewer rent on a premise that is part of the Ossining Sanitary Sewer District OSSD. Yet, Metro North (MNRR) is not part of the Ossining District. MNRR and the County Park at Croton Point share a connection directly to the OSSD line under Riverside Drive and appear not to use any Village sewer pipe.
Apparently MNRR has a separate agreement with the County. So MNRR and County Park are already paying a fee for sewer hookup directly to the County. It is very unclear the Village could bill them at all.
If MNRR and the County Park successfully repeal their sewer rents, the new sewer rent income from the tax-exempts is down to a paltry, annual sum of $2,800.
The School District may consider defraying its new sewer rent cost by increasing the fees that its charges for use of its buildings and fields or passing it on to district taxpayers or both. Village recreation and continuing education programs are major users of School District space. So sewer rent may simply raise the Village’s own bill for use of school space in the future.
Earlier this year, the Village staff presented about a dozen fiscal options to the new administration. The new administration chose to pursue only one, sewer rent. And sewer rent falls grossly short of either reducing costs or raising any significant new money.
In contrast, new property tax income from the construction of a few large homes would raise much more new money than this entire sewer rent fabrication—with very low attendant costs.
The Public Hearing on the proposed Sewer Rent Law will be reconvened Monday, October 15, 2005, 8 pm, at a regular Village Board meeting in the Municipal Building. If passed, sewer rent would go into effect December 1, 2005. Come and tell the Village Board what you think! We need to hear from you.