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Time to Fix a Balkanized Westchester County

December 18, 2007

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

On December 19, 2007 12:52 PM, weewill said:

Bill Ryan, Chairman of the Westchester County Board of Legislators, is quoted in today’s Journal News as saying being a County Legislator may be public service but is not a charity. Let’s hope he recognizes that tax dollars paying his salary are not charity either

If, in fact, they are salaries for “full-time” jobs, then we expect full-time performance. (Most of the legislators have other “primary jobs” - lawyers, financial planners, business people, and “consultants” which covering a multitude of other responsibilities)

At the very least, we expect a minimum of a 40 hour work week; at his or her desk a minimum of 8 hours a day; a pre-determined number of vacation, sick and personal days with recorded time taken, etc. And most importantly, measurable performance standards so we can review and evaluate the results.

If legislators are to determine their own salaries, then we, the people, should require complete and total accountability of what we get for our money. And we, should determine what’s fair compensation depending on that measured performance.

And as an additional challenge, I encourage anyone reading this post to do as I did this morning. Spend one or two hours checking the Westchester County Government websites and try to find a clear and crisp website listing all the legislators salaries and those of their staffs, broken down by base salary, stipends, bonus, extra compensation, etc. I couldn’t find such a website! Maybe you’ll have better luck!

P.S. Do I sound angry? You bet I am!

On December 19, 2007 10:15 AM, TeaDrinker said:

I am grateful to ‘bayswaterguy’ for calling my attention to the fact that Harrison is also a village/town. The information has been corrected. I should have remembered it. Harrison, one of the original towns in 1788, became a village/town in 1977. The reason? To prevent the secession of the hamlet of Purchase. This ploy only added to the confusing nature of Westchester’s political geography. Mount Kisco became a village/town in 1978 because it straddled the towns of Bedford and New Castle. The expression “go figure” was never more appropriate.

On December 18, 2007 8:20 PM, notorc said:

This article makes alot of sense. Something needs to be done in Westchester as we can’t afford to keep funding the out of control infrastructure.

One item that always gets my goat is the “volunteer” fire department. That’s a noble concept but they have a HUGE budget. I fear it has turned into a big boondoggle for the volunteers…ever see their bar(s)? Why does a small village of Croton need THREE fully equipped fire houses?

For generations, Croton used to have a special attraction as a “small town USA”. Where the sanitation man’s kid knows your kid, you run into the building department official at the diner and the police were known by their first name. However, this has all changed. I’m not sure of the percentage but many of the public officials live outside of the village…a few that I can think of chose to move FROM Croton to other places. In their defense, the cost of living is usually cheaper and it makes a better fit for their families. That’s disappointing but a sign of the times. Considering our tax structure, I personally can’t blame village employees for not living here.

However, life is a two way street. Meaning, if village employees do not live here, perhaps we should consider commoditizing the services.

Personally, I’d like to recapture the small time feeling but that’s going to be expensive. Croton has alot to offer, is there anyway we COULD preserve small town USA?

On December 18, 2007 6:41 PM, bayswaterguy said:

I believe that Harrison is also a town and village like Mt. Kisco and Scarsdale.

On December 18, 2007 5:04 PM, crotonres said:

Great Idea…Never Happen..

Between the unions and the large amount of people whose source of income is tied up in town/county government; it is a great dream.

On December 18, 2007 3:59 PM, weewill said:

Ah my good friend, Bob Scott … would that you and I were young again … what wisdom we would have and what onders we could accomplish!

I guess it could be said that our generation created a monsters in government and it’s going to take all the courage, strength and energy this younger generation of citizens will need to straighten things out.

I hope they take action .. for their own sake and the sake of future generations!

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanakkuh, Happy Kwanzai, Happy Solstice and Happy everything else that we may celebrate.


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