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Bronxville Mayor Analyzes Village-School District Ties

Mary Marvin
Mary Marvin Photo Credit: File

BRONXVILLE, N.Y. -- Bronxville Mayor Mary Marvin writes a weekly column. It is being reprinted by the Daily Voice.

The upcoming joint village/school district FEMA flood-mitigation project brings to the fore the relationship of schools to their home municipalities.

Bronxville is only one of two New York state communities that is coterminus, meaning the school district boundaries are exactly the same as the governmental boundaries. The other community is the small Hasidic village of Kiryas Joel in Orange County.

We are also the only municipality that administers tax bills for their school district(s). In recent years, you have noticed the village made the decision, based on economy and efficiency, to combine the two taxing entities’ tax warrants on one bill. Since, by law, a school district’s fiscal year is July 1 tthrough June 30 while a village fiscal year is June 1 through May 31, our June tax bill must be computed at the 11th hour, only after the school budget vote is approved.

The village assessment role is completed in February, and the village board passed this year’s municipal budget April 13, but tax dollar amounts cannot be computed until after the May 20 school budget vote.

Last year’s tax allocation funded village government with $8.3 million and the school district with $38.7 million, or 18 percent and 82 percent, respectively, of the local tax pie. Most communities collect taxes once a year. Many years ago, the village trustees passed a resolution to have the tax obligation split in two to alleviate the financial burden of one large payment.

Beyond a decision such as this, which was discretionary, New York state tax law takes over on all other aspects of collection. It sets payment deadlines and any attached interest rates for failure to pay timely. As an example, upcoming tax payments either must be postmarked or delivered to Village Hall by June 30. (Our police department will accept bills on that last day until midnight so residents aren’t penalized if they can’t make it to Village Hall during the regular 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. business day.)

By state statute, a 5 percent late fee is attached if the bill is late/unpaid in July. Thereafter, an additional 1 percent late fee is added monthly on the base bill with interest not compounded. No matter how dire or worthy the circumstances, we cannot legally waiver on this or offer any kind of installment plan. Court cases on the subject have upheld the state’s statutory authority, citing fairness and equal treatment as the overriding factors, even so far as to state that not getting or receiving a tax bill is no excuse for nonpayment.

Even tax-exempt properties have an assessed value. As example, the New York Presbyterian/Lawrence Hospital complex is valued at almost $150,000 on our tax roll.

To lower the tax burden on taxable property owners, communities are going the way of user fees and special improvement districts to have all entities in their municipalities share in such services as lighting, paving and infrastructure maintenance.

The village also administers the school’s STAR exemption program and shoulders 100 percent of the cost and time to fight assessment challenges. An interesting factoid in law: There is a built-in presumption that an assessor’s determination of value is correct until proven wrong.

School districts and municipalities can enter into joint agreements, and the FEMA project a prime example. Another area of permissible overlap is for the purchasing of goods such as office supplies, blacktop and gasoline, something we honestly should pursue in greater earnest.

On the flip side, capital projects promulgated by the separate boards are not joint undertakings, and neither institution takes a position on the other’s initiatives, thereby respecting the jurisdictional boundaries. Hence, the village board’s public support for the joint FEMA project versus our appropriate silence on the field project.

As point of interest, capital projects such as the above are exempt from the state property tax cap legislation for school districts but not for municipalities. However, municipal capital projects — even those requiring bonding — are not subject to public vote.

In addition, it is much easier to override the tax cap by a governmental board. Two-thirds of the board can override by public resolution. In contrast, a public vote of 60 percent of the electorate is required for a school district to surpass the cap.

School districts are governed by state education law and as such are not subject to any local zoning, planning, design review or building code laws, nor do they have to incur the costs for building permits. Under the same autonomous umbrella, a school district is responsible for monitoring/patrolling its property to ensure campus security. School grounds are analogous to one’s private backyard.

We are fortunate to have a long history of cooperation between the village board and the school board producing a very symbiotic relationship. I believe the key to this success is the respect each board has for the other’s decision-making process and jurisdiction in the functioning of our village.

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