Monday, December 31, 2007


Working off taxes

(Original publication: December 31, 2007)
Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner is a man with no shortage of bold ideas: Remember the town dating service, his problem-solver mobile, his annual salary give-back when he doesn't accomplish a year's worth of goals? But having big ideas is one thing. Turning them into workable public policy is another.

This time Feiner, who was recently elected to a ninth term in office, has decided to take on one of the most vexing issues in the Lower Hudson Valley, property taxes.

Understanding that senior citizens on a fixed income are among the hardest hit by Westchester's ever-increasing property-tax burden, Feiner has proposed letting those 60 years and older work off part of their town tax bill. Under the plan, seniors could work in Town Hall and other municipal departments for $7 an hour, and earn up to $700. Feiner has set aside $12,500 in the 2008 budget to give the program a trial run this spring with about 25 seniors.

It is clear that seniors need some relief, and we applaud Feiner for the attempt. In addition, the proposal may have beneficial side effects, including the structure that a part-time job can provide to those who may find the days of retirement too long to fill and too isolating to enjoy.

But make no mistake, in a region where property taxes on even a modest house can hover in the stratosphere, the relief by the tax work-off program will be minimal at best, and, as always, the devil is in the details. Feiner has said that he would lobby the state Legislature and Congress to be able to work out some kind of work-for-taxes swap, instead of giving seniors a paycheck that would be subject to income-tax deductions. Massachusetts offers a state income-tax exemption for its work-for-taxes program; perhaps something similar could be worked out in the Empire State.

Still, the savings from a part-time gig with the town, however well-intentioned and loaded with ancillary benefits the proposal might be, won't go far enough toward solving the high-tax dilemma that property owners of all ages face in the Lower Hudson Valley. For that, Feiner and other municipal officials must hold the line on local spending. And elected officials throughout the region simply must look to consolidation of services, municipalities and school districts to reduce the property tax burden driving people, especially seniors, away.


ED Krauss said...

It's commendable that you, Paul, have , or are trying to give seniors an option to work off some of their property taxes. However, their are some procedeures that have to be in place before the program becomes active. First and foremost, the minimum wage is $7.15 an hour. Next, since the seniors who opt in will be duing work CSEA union members have been doing, the union waiver must be secured, without a quid pro quo. Finally, a work program should be set up so that when the seniors show up, they will be supervised by someone who knows beforehand what their tasks will be. Otherwise things will be helter skelter, and people will either be running around like chickens without a head, or, they will sit around doing nothing.

A program should also be put in place wherein senior "A" will have set hours, at a set location, supervised by the same person.

The organization and programming of this project will also take time and effort which should be part of the budget. If, for example, 25 seniors opt in, at $7.15/hour for 100 man/hours, the budget for labor would be $17,875. Additionally, the cost of training and supervision as well as accounting services would have to be factored into the budget. A contingency budget should also be set up in case the program takes off beyond original funding.

Finally, withholding taxes,FICA etc. have to be determined. Will the various levels of government waive taxing or not. If not,the seniors should be informed as to their net pay in order for them to make an informed decision.

Good ideas are made better when they are fleshed out, and a complete idea is presented...what is the basic cost, the continuing cost and the benefits derived- a cost/value relationship.

Anonymous said...

As Mr. Krauss implies, the devil is in the details, something that the Supervisor is not known for caring about or getting into in detail before presenting an idea to the public.

Will the program be open to all "seniors" in the Town or only unincorporated "seniors" (realize that a "senior" who lives in one of the Villages and lives in an "average" home assessed at $15,000 only has a Town tax bill of about $60 annually)?

Who makes the decision to actually "hire" these individuals - a Town Department Manager, or is this going to be a "political" hire?

What can one realistically expect to be accomplished in about 100 hours that has "lasting" value to all of the Town's taxpayers?

Which fund pays for this - (sorry but once again it might be an "A" / "B" issue)? Will the "cost" be charged to the activity that "hires"? If not, why not?

I'm sure that I am only scratching the surface of questions. Aren't there more important areas of the Town's operations to be focused on and addressed? How about the Parks and Rec activities, where one can save a lot more than $20,000 in a heart beat?

There are other opportunities to help seniors earn money. How about a child care / child sitting clearinghouse that parents could contact when they need assistance? No government guarantees as to "quality" other than a criminal background check - the rest is buyer beware, but a rating system like EBay uses or Zagat, could be helpful

Happy New Year, Greenburgh taxpayers. Be prepared for ever higher taxes and less service, if this is really "the" priority of the Town's "senior" management.

Anonymous said...

Why is the Town discriminating against those under 65 who are also having difficulty paying their taxes?
Why didn't our seniors protest the cost when the Town added many of its services and programs? If you wanted the services, who did you think was going to pay for them?
Now those of us under age 65 who are struggling are being asked to shoulder yet another costly burden - because if the programs staffed by seniors become popular who will insist the Town discontinue them?
Be careful what you ask for - higher taxes are a certainty under an administration which chooses pleasing the public over exercising good long-term public policy objectives!

Paul Feiner said...

Thank you, Ed for your constructive comments. We will take a look at the hourly rates. I based my initial proposal on Boston, Hilton Head, Boulder work for taxes programs. We will improve on their successful models.
Have a healthy & happy new year. Thanks for your input!

Anonymous said...

Who decides that seniors are in the most difficult situation? They have Social Security?

What about single parents, struggling with day care or college expense?

Anonymous said...

It concerns me that the municipal management would even propose an idea (this or any new initiative idea) without having already done the behind-the-scenes calculations and sketching a plan for placement, training, supervision and such. The idea might turn out fine, but it doesn't seem to be on track from a managerial standpoint (managerial finance, operations management, etc.). Shouldn't there be a Mayor/CEO or at least a person with an MBA who heads up this township?

Anonymous said...

What's especially shocking is that even though Feiner insisted when he proposed his 23% tax increase that he wasn't proposing any new programs, Feiner is now quoted as saying he already budgeted $12,500 in 2008 for this "work for taxes" program!

Okay, I'm stumped. Where in the town's budget for 2008 did he hide this $12,500 and why didn't any town board member pick this up?

For openers, was it in the A budget or the B budget?

Anonymous said...

Budgeting $12,500 for 25 seniors in a pilot program is incredibly inefficient - to allow each participant to earn $700 in taxes forgiven is going to cost $500 above and beyond that? It would be far more cost effective to simply write-off the $700 - and save the direct cost of $500 and all the ancillary expenses. As proposed, the program will cost at least $1,200 per participant - another Feiner fiasco. Why waste $700 when you can waste $1,200 - at the proposed rate, Feiner has just built in a 2% increase in taxes for everyone in unincorporated Greenburgh for next year if the program is expanded to cover his target group.

Anonymous said...

Above comment is why it can't work for Greenburgh. Perhaps this is a more cost effective idea for larger municipalities.