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2 of 3 Greenburgh Fire Districts' Budgets Override Tax Cap

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — By Nov. 4, all of Greenburgh's fire districts expect to have approved their 2013 budgets — some which have risen more than the state-legislated 2 percent tax cap. The law, however, has loopholes, including pension costs and the fact that a board can override the cap by a simple majority vote.

As a result, Greenburgh taxpayers should expect to see higher bills.

The tax cap, which went into effect in June 2011, limits districts from raising tax levies by more than 2 percent. But a look at the numbers on the Hartsdale Fire District's budget proposal, which has already been approved, shows the increase is more than double the cap. It is a 4.3 percent increase for 2013.

"It's not a straight 2 percent. With other factors that you bring into that, like the growth factor given by the state, it increases, in our case," said Hartsdale Fire District Treasurer Sharon Spagnoli. "Certain things are out of our control."

The state law allows district officials to leave out certain costs from the cap, including the cost of pensions and capital expenditures, and the state Department of Taxation and Finance's tax base growth factor for each district is also numbered in, Spagnoli said.

Hartsdale is also still paying off more than $1 million in tax certioraris, and without that debt service, the district would be "well under the tax cap," Spagnoli said.

The tax cap law also limits only the tax levy — the total amount raised by property taxes — but not the tax rate. If approved, the Fairview Fire District's proposal would increase the tax rate by 6 percent and raise property taxes by nearly 5 percent.

Almost half of the buildings in Fairview's district are tax-exempt, which is "very rare" and is the reason that the district's tax rate is so high — fewer people to tax means a heavier burden is distributed, said Thelia Mauro, secretary of the Fairview Fire District.

Additionally, the Fairview budget's largest expenditure of $327,209 would go to state pension costs, which are exempt from the tax cap.

"We still have to plug all the exemptions into the formula to see whether or not we are above the tax cap," Mauro said, adding that the budget has not yet been approved.

The Greenville Fire District's proposal is the only one in Greenburgh to stay within the 2 percent tax cap. Its biggest expense is also pension costs.

Lisa Dinon, treasurer and secretary of the Greenville Fire District, did not respond to calls or emails by deadline as to whether the budget had been approved yet.

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