One of the most frequent questions posed to me in my life as a real estate broker is why the property taxes in so many Westchester communities are so high. I grew up in Ossining but have lived in five other states as well as Upstate New York, so I have some theories for our town. Some of my ideas are, admittedly, fantasy. But if they were implemented I think we'd see a sustainable tax burden instead of the crazy numbers we are currently faced with.
- Close Sing Sing Prison and bring in private development. While Sing Sing makes a partial tax payment to Ossining, true development would add far more money to the treasury. The facility was opened when the locale was considered above the Arctic Circle. It is no longer a remote outpost. A maximum security prison, aside from being a less than ideal neighbor, is not the highest and best use for the land. And the Big House stopped being a true source of employment decades ago. Every correction officer I know commutes from far away. And I don't care if felons will be further from loved ones if they have to go further up the river. Conjugal visits don't pay my taxes. Knock it down, build a cool waterfront neighborhood, and tax accordingly.
- Develop the waterfront. Vacant lots are not taxed at a very high rate. Vibrant planned communities pay more. Harbor Square is now in its second decade as the poster child for local debate. Enough already. Let's break ground, put some people to work (hey, how about that!), and generate some tax revenue.
- Consolidate services. On a given weekday morning I can drive from my home in Chilmark to my office on North State Road and pass garbage trucks from 3 different municipalities and police cars from 3 different departments. While I applaud the merger of the town of Ossining and county police, there is so much more we could do. Do people really care what the seal is on the snow plow or garbage truck? Can't we consolidate the village department of public works and town highway departments? Cutting costs without cutting services strikes me as a no-brainer.
- Consolidate government. Merge the town and village of Ossining. There is really no substantive difference between the two except the cost of keeping them separate.
It all boils down to layers of government and bureaucracy that are redundant and unnecessary. One county away, in Connecticut, villages are for postal purposes only and they have no county layer of government. Not surprisingly, their taxes are far lower. We should do what works instead of being beholden to municipal models from the 19th century that never took inflation and the skyrocketing costs of the 21st century into account.