With an area of 450.5 square miles, Westchester follows a governmental plan adopted 219 years ago. Today it boasts 17 towns (down from an original 20) containing six cities, 23 incorporated villages and some 93 unincorporated hamlets, such as Scarborough or Chappaqua. Complicating the picture, Mount Kisco, Scarsdale and Harrison are both towns and villages.
In addition to county and town levies, residents of cities and villages pay taxes to a third level of local government. In some communities like Croton, sewer taxes have been added to the mix, Disguised as “rents,” these enable local administrations to tout this fast shuffle as a reduction in taxes.
Each unit in the bewildering array of towns, cities and villages also has its own zoning ordinances, planning boards and zoning boards of appeal. These have created a veritable crazy quilt of contradictory legislation. Differences in interpretation vary so widely, the community of choice can have a significant impact on any business contemplating a move to Westchester.
Also within Westchester are 40 separate school districts, 58 separate, largely volunteer fire departments, and 39 individual public libraries under community or library association control. Incorporation may have made sense in the past when small hamlets sought their own identity. Buchanan (2005 population, 2,249), incorporated in 1928 when an expansionist Peekskill cast covetous eyes on it.
The sheer redundancy of bloated staff, equipment and facilities is staggering. If these separate entities so jealously guarding their little fiefdoms were combined, significant taxpayer dollars could be saved. And top-heavy, generously paid administrative staffs would disappear. As Westchester’s Martha Stewart likes to say, such changes would be “a good thing.”
— Robert Scott, Croton-on-Hudson