By DANIEL OFFNER
Reaching out to residents in his district, Assemblyman David Buchwald is taking his office on the road to chat with locals about state issues.
“My incentive is to make sure constituents know they have an accessible voice in state government,” Buchwald said. “Their concerns keep me going.”
A Democrat representing Bedford, Lewisboro, Mt. Kisco, New Castle, North Castle, North Salem, Pound Ridge, White Plains and Harrison, Buchwald visited with residents at Powell’s Clam Bar on Halstead Avenue in Harrison to discuss issues affecting property taxes in the town. It was the first of five scheduled stops for the state legislator.
At Powell’s, Freemont Street resident and local parking critic Emil Toso shared his gripes with the assemblyman surrounding Metro-North railroad, which he feels is the cause of parking woes in downtown Harrison.
“Our biggest asset [downtown] is parking,” said Toso. “Very few Harrison people know we keep subsidizing Metro-North and, in turn, there is less parking per capita.”
For several years, Toso has matched wits with town government over calculations he made determining how much residents’ pay, through taxes, for commuters outside the town’s borders who utilize mass transit daily.
However, state Sen. George Latimer, a Democrat, disputed Toso’s claim that residents in other communities without easy access to a Metro-North station will often park outside their borders in another town, utilize its spaces and take the train from there.
“You can’t frame this as a border war,” Latimer said. “The fact Metro-North is taxing the government is not going to be a sympathetic argument.”
Toso, who opposed the arrangement made under the administration of former Mayor Steve Malfitano, a Republican, which gave 257 spaces to Metro-North in exchange for the vacant ticket office on Heineman Place, said he did not feel that the taxpaying community should have to cover the cost of the remaining 450 town-owned commuter parking spaces. Toso suggested that the town should look to charge $100 to $200 more than Metro-North for commuter parking.
However, Buchwald felt Toso’s suggestion was not a suitable solution as it did not address the shared interests with businesses downtown.
“The town has a resource, which should serve to benefit the people of Harrison,” Buchwald said.
Although the crux of the conversation centered on parking downtown, other residents would soon join in the conversation, posing other questions surrounding the property tax burdens in town.
Former Harrison Democratic Party Chairman Joe Derwin asked both Buchwald and Latimer about the new requirements for the state STAR program and whether or not co-ops were eligible to receive STAR benefits. Latimer replied co-ops would need to decide for themselves how to utilize STAR tax relief benefits as they are governed by resident boards.
The Basic STAR rebates provide tax exemptions for homeowners, who make an income of less than $500,000. Once registered to receive Basic STAR benefits, a homeowner is exempt of the first $30,000 of full value of a home from school taxes. The state also provides an enhanced STAR program, for senior citizens with qualifying incomes, providing an exemption of the first $63,300 of full value of a home from school taxes.
Buchwald also provided an update on the efforts of state lawmakers to pass new legislation allowing Harrison to collect a hotel occupancy tax, which would provide non-property tax revenue to the town through a 3 percent tariff on occupied rooms. Although the majority of communities surrounding Harrison already have a hotel tax approved by the state, Harrison has struggled for years to try and pass such legislation, having been turned down time and again. This marks the town’s fourth attempt to receive the state’s approval to levy a hotel tax.
Within the boundaries of Harrison there are two hotels, which include the Renaissance Westchester Hotel on West Red Oak Lane and the Hyatt House on Corporate Park Drive.
Unlike prior attempts to pass similar legislation, Buchwald said the hotel tax bill was approved by the state Assembly, this year. Although this is the farthest the bill has gone in recent years, it is yet to pass the state Senate. After the senate determines whether to approve or deny the legislation, the bill will then be left up to the executive authority of state Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat.
“The town board has been very supportive to continue to make the push towards property tax relief,” Buchwald said, regarding the potential tax revenue generated through a hotel occupancy tax.
Still in the state Senate, Buchwald said that he remains hopeful the hotel tax legislation will pass once the Senate is back in session next January.
Buchwald said he plans to host his Assemblyman on Your Corner in four more locations this month. He will be at Starbucks in Chappaqua on Sept. 10, Scotts Corner Market in Pound Ridge on Sept. 15, Tazza Café in Armonk on Sept. 17 and Katonah Restaurant on Sept. 18.
For more information, call Buchwald’s district office at 914-244-4450.