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White Plains Candidates Discuss Overriding Tax Cap

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- White Plains Common Council candidates’ stances on the option of overriding the tax cap is not an issue that will greatly affect how Clifford Blau, 52, votes. However, Blau, a fact checker, still wants to hear “honest” answers about who may support overriding the property tax cap, which would give White Plains the ability, but not force the city, to increase the tax levy by more than 2 percent.

“I’d like to see them say they would do it and be honest about it, and not just say what voters want to hear,” said Blau. “It’s a stupid idea. I think it’s an artificial measure that doesn’t stop the problem. It’s not cutting spending.”

State lawmakers passed legislation limiting increases in the amount of money a city or school district collects through property taxes to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower, this summer. The cap will influence, but not necessarily limit increases in homeowners' tax bills to 2 percent. Costs that may be excluded from the cap include some payments to the state pension system for teachers and other public employees, capital projects and existing debts.

The Common Council would need at least five of the seven council persons’ votes to override the cap. Although White Plains is still researching the details of the new law, such as whether the Business Improvement District must be included in the cap, local politicians and school officials have said the cap will be limiting.

Michael Donnelly, a Republican, was the lone candidate who said he would “absolutely NOT” override the tax cap.

“After years and years of all levels of government living outside of their means at the expense of the taxpayer, the state has finally decided to take responsibility and engrave common sense into law,” Donnelly said in an email.

Donnelly called language in the law allowing municipalities to override the cap “loopholes” and said the current all-Democratic council’s historical record suggests incumbents may be too eager to override the 2 percent limit.

“When one political party has a monopoly, it sets a dangerous precedent for absolute power over families’ cost to live in White Plains,” Donnelly said in an email. “In 2010, under a one party rule, taxes were raised 6.9 percent; in 2011, they were raised yet again, 4.9 percent.”

The rest of the candidates emphasized their support for the cap, but didn’t completely rule out overriding the measure.

Gedney Association President Terence Guerriere, who is running on the Republican ticket, said in an email that he wouldn’t consider overriding the tax cap unless “there was an unforeseen catastrophic expense outside of the exceptions” written into the law.

His Republican running-mate James Arndt conceded that he would “vote against an override” unless a long list of alternatives had been exhausted, including, updating property value assessments for non-profit buildings, and cutting employee salaries and perks.

“Al Maroni was earning over $180,000 plus benefits and perks like automobiles. WHY?” Arndt said in an email. “If the mayor can drive his car than so can the entire workforce regardless of positions. We have bought curb stone in bulk. Why? There are so many ways of tightening the purse strings.”

Democrats, such as Counsel Person John Martin, critiqued the stance that nothing would merit an override espoused by Donnelly as “easy, but illusory.”

“I would consider an override if it was the only way possible to maintain a vital city service or if our citizens’ safety or health were put at risk if we did not override,” Martin said in an email.

Dennis Krolian, a Democrat, echoed Martin’s statement, saying in an email that, “every responsible elected official” understands the potential for “unlikely circumstances that compel an override for the greater public good,” such as natural disasters and other emergencies.

White Plains politicians should craft their answer based on public feedback, according to Council Person Milagros Lecuona, a Democrat.

“If local taxpayers demand services and quality of services that the city cannot afford without more cuts to it’s expenses, and the taxpayers agree that their quality of life and their property values are in danger because of the restricted tax cap, then I will consider an override,” Lecuona said in an email.

She also noted that voters should study the tax cap and realize declining property values translated into a 4.98 percent tax rate increase last year even though the levy increase was below 2 percent.

Neither Common Council President Benjamin Boykin II, a Democrat, or Richard Cirulli, a Republican, gave statements that specified whether they would vote to override the cap.

What are your thoughts on the tax cap? Will provide tax payers with the relief they deserve or strain schools too much? Will candidates' stances on the tax cap influence how you vote? Join the conversation below.

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