By Emil Toso
It is not commonly understood that Harrison taxpayers are providing 250 free shopper parking spaces in our off-street lots located in various areas of our business districts. Those spaces are provided for approximately 100 business property owners who have not themselves provided any customer parking for their real estate investment rentals, stores and/or apartment houses.
Most other municipalities offset these taxpayer costs by applying various combinations of metered parking and special parking assessments directed toward the people who benefit from these lots most: the business landlords, their tenants and the general public. Some municipalities make a business of shopper’s parking and turn a profit for their taxpayers.
Harrison does not; it has no recovery plan at all.
In addition, the taxpayers are providing parking for 450 resident Metro-North railroad commuters for an annual bargain fee of $600, while the costs of these spaces to the taxpayers is much greater.
Because these lots are town-owned, there are few or no assessment or tax records, making it difficult for the taxpayer to understand their true value and cost.
If we examine the taxpayer-owned downtown main parking lot behind the Halstead Avenue business district, which has entrances on Fremont Street and Harrison Avenue, we find the lot contains a total of 23,083 square-feet with 62 parking spaces, equating to 372 square-feet per parking space.
Since commercial land in the business district is valued at $125 per square foot, the land value per space becomes $46,500. Consider the added cost of improvement, grading, paving, guard rails, lighting, lines, ornamental trees and shrubs, the cost and value rises to more than $50,000 per parking space. This value is part of the $72.5 million debt the town carries—mostly in Municipal General Obligation Bonds—and when we apply a 5 percent debt service average of 30 years, it equates to an annual debt cost to the taxpayers of $2,500 per space. Add a $450 tax loss and $500 for snow removal, maintenance and repair, and the cost or value of one taxpayer owned parking space is now more than $3,000 per parking space, per year.
Aside from the above monetary disparity, there is also a political ethics question to take into consideration. Is it appropriate for the town to use the monies of 10,000 taxpayers—7,000 property owners and 3,000 renters—to subsidize 100 business property owners or 450 Metro-North commuters to the extent we do, or at all?
We give the town our tax monies with the understanding those dollars will be used in a prudent way to provide us with the essential services such as police, fire, sanitation and highways necessary to support a good, safe quality of life for the greater majority of the taxpayers and residents. Even when we look at non-essential services, such as library and parks and recreation, their expenses are used to benefit the greater majority of the residents—about 85 percent of households.
In the case of the business landlords, I could accept it better if our tax monies were going to benefit the store owners, but, in fact, the subsidy is counter-productive because when the realtors and landlords have to rent their properties, they claim to the prospective renter the free parking brings more customers, and therefore deserves a higher rent. Consequently, the uninformed tenant usually ends up paying a premium rent, above and beyond the actual value.
In the case of commuter parking, the Town Council rationalizes commuters are the poorest segment of our society and therefore are deserving of that subsidy. While I agree all bus and some subway commuters fall into that category, Harrison’s parking commuters do not.
Consider first, they own a car they can afford to leave in the lot all day. This tells me their family probably owns two or more cars.
Second, wages in New York City are usually 15 to 20 percent higher than in Westchester.
Third, a tour of the commuter lot reveals mostly expensive cars, many high-priced SUVs and German imports.
Fourth, parking commuters can receive an income tax savings of more than $1850 per year; see IRS Section 132(f).
Lastly, for proof positive, look at the town’s commuter application records and you will find 90 percent of the commuters live in private homes, many of them in expensive million-dollar neighborhoods.
Are these “poor people” deserving subsidy or are they just the average cross section of the Harrison, Westchester populace?
Since the recession of 2008, the town, in an effort to balance its budgets, has raised our taxes significantly every year, applied a $500 sanitation charge to the store keepers, reduced the sanitation services to the residents, reduced the number of police and municipal town workers as well as their benefits and increased the summer pool fees to heights young families with children cannot afford.
But through it all, the business property owners and the parking commuters remain untouched, and unscathed.
In April 2013, I suggested to the Town Council that it raise the commuter parking fee to $1,400, $200 more than Metro-North charges on the opposite side of the tracks. The Metro-North lot is full by 7 a.m. every business day and the overage; mostly out-of-town commuters, are forced to seek parking on the residential streets surrounding the station.
Harrison’s commuter lots have, on average, approximately 30 to 50 spaces empty every day, meaning a permit commuter can find a space any time of the day. This convenience alone is worth $200 extra. Private lots in the area charge approximately $200 per month, equaling $2,400 per year.
Metro-North can afford to charge only $1,200 because it pays no taxes on the land it owns in town or a sales tax on the ride tickets it sells, plus, as a further consequence of their presences, Metro-North charges the town a $75,000 per year payroll tax. As a consequence of the increased commuter price, the town may find more empty spaces, for which they could create non-resident permit parking at a greater price.
In 2007, the town commissioned Desman Associates of New York City, to do a study of all parking surrounding the Metro-North station. In January 2008, Desman delivered its written findings, suggesting the fee for commuter parking could be raised to $900 per year. The study did not include a cost study per space. Surely, if $900 was appropriate then, $1,400 to $1,500 is appropriate now. The survey also noted the exorbitant demand for commuter parking in the area. Rye alone has 1,000 residents on the waiting list for their 200-space lot.
This situation, of course, was caused by the years of Metro-North mismanagement in not creating sufficient parking for its riders. Consequently, Harrison now has the opportunity to capitalize on Metro-North’s poor management and provide a fair reimbursement to the taxpayer’s on their property investment.
So, as Mayor Belmont continually replies to service seekers, “we can’t, we’re financially strapped,” I see misappropriation injustices that need adjusting and, at the same time, would mitigate the town’s financial stress by creating added revenues on a yearly basis.
I realize there are many other thoughts and ideas on this issue, as evidenced by the recent writings of a dissatisfied commuter, who wants “more for his money.”
If you also have an opinion on this matter, you should share it with our Town Council. After more than a decade of prodding various councils, it becomes vividly apparent that it will take a much louder voice than mine alone to stimulate this board enough to address this issue constructively. All email addresses can be found at harrison-ny.gov.
Emil Toso is a Harrison resident. The views expressed are his.