By PHIL NOBILE
As the Dec. 19 town board meeting surpassed three hours in length, last-minute raises and promotions in the Harrison Police Department increased the town’s spending for the upcoming year more than the previous two iterations. However, alternative revenue streams wound up decreasing the final tax rate for 2014.
Thanks to an increase in lines of revenue from rentals of town-owned properties, licenses and other fees, the tax rate for the 2014 budget was adopted at 3.97 percent. The average Harrison homeowner will pay $6,172.56, or $248.72 more in property tax over 2013.
The numbers are based on the estimated average Harrison home value of $1.1 million, according to Town Assessor Mark Heinbockel.
The initial tax rate increase presented in the tentative budget, back on Nov. 7, was 3.85 percent. Two weeks later, the preliminary budget increased the tax rate to 4.13 percent.
In comparison, neighboring com-munities Rye and Mam-aroneck are seeing property taxes increase .99 percent and 1.4 percent, respectively.
The 2014 budget, adopted by the Town Council unanimously, raises the salary schedule for the town’s police more than $300,000 versus the 2013 budget.
Town employee salaries make up more than 34 percent of the town’s budget in the upcoming year.
A controversial stipend was reinstated during the town board’s final meeting of the year, adding $12,000 to the salary of Harrison Police Chief Anthony Marraccini, who, according to the Town Council, has been serving in the role of police captain as well, a position vacant for more than a year.
In early August 2013, an original stipend of $18,000 was approved for the chief, but was rescinded less than a month later by the council. The stipend was met with strong criticism by former Democratic Mayor Joan Walsh, who said there were enough officers to share the displaced duties of the captain.
When the council rescinded the original stipend, Harrison Mayor Ron Belmont, a Republican, said the time was not appropriate for such a measure.
When asked what made moments before the budget was approved the appropriate time to approve the revised stipend, Republican Town Councilman Joseph Cannella said it was “a little bit of this and that.”
“Part was most of the unions being settled,” he said. “We also have a better understanding of what the staffing expenses were and being able to analyze it at the end of this year, and better sense of what we can afford completing the 2014 budget cycle.”
When the Harrison Review attempted to pose a similar question to Mayor Belmont this week, he could not be reached as of press time.
Along with the chief stipend, two police officers were also promoted to the position of sergeant during the closing minutes of the Dec. 19 meeting. Increasing the officers’ respective salaries more than $15,000 and bringing the total number of sergeants to six, the town also formally hired six full-time police officers, four of which had already been on the Harrison payroll for a portion of 2013.
According to Town Com-ptroller Maureen Mac-Kenzie, the new officers will not affect the tax rate because they were budgeted for in 2013. However, MacKenzie was unable to provide specifics about the new positions as of press time.
Harrison residents have seen taxes rise over the years in record-high amounts. Since 2000, taxes have risen by 92 percent. Since Belmont became mayor in 2012, they have gone up 8 percent. Town officials have attributed Harrison’s higher rate vis a vis neighboring communities to cost of living and state mandates, which are increasing for all municipalities across the county.
“If you start out with the promise of not increasing taxes, there end up being certain expenses you can’t control,” Cannella said. “Every line item in the budget is a balance, and you have a limited amount of flexibility, so it’s not what people think.”