School taxes in Larchmont and Mamaroneck have increased faster than inflation for many years. My taxes have more than tripled in 20 years.
The point of this letter is not to complain about the increases but to offer suggestions to reduce them.
Attention should be given to generating more non-tax revenue. Existing non-tax revenue sources should be reviewed. For example, the Continuing Education program uses the district’s facilities. It charges residents and non-residents the same fee. Other districts, e.g. White Plains, charge non-residents more. My understanding is organizations that use district buildings pay only incremental costs, e.g. extra janitorial services, rather than market prices for the privilege. This puts the “wear and tear” burden solely on school taxes. Non-academic use of the district’s athletic facilities should be priced too. The Hommocks pool fee is a precedent for pricing athletic facilities.
One potential revenue source is the use of district’s auditoriums, especially the main high school auditorium and the one at the Hommocks. These are some of the largest facilities in the area. When not needed, they could be rented to organizations such as the Emelin for productions with audiences too large for their building, or to local businesses for large meetings. The key is to gain non-tax revenue from the district’s assets.
Another potential source of revenue is the alumni of the various schools, especially the high school. My New York City public high school organized its alumni more than a decade ago and is now generating hundreds of thousands of dollars a year through alumni fund raising efforts. A similar program could be established in Mamaroneck.
The district indicated recently that $500,000 was set aside a few years ago for work on athletic fields. The status of these funds was not mentioned in the 2009-2010 budget presentation. These funds should be used to fix some of the field problems and to reduce next year’s tax burden.
The district also needs to focus on expense reductions. Much has been said about this topic. One item has been left out. The district is addressing its expense constraints by reducing expenses in all programs. At some point this will strangle the programs. Instead, the district should prioritize its programs from an academic perspective, eliminate the lower priority efforts and fully fund the higher priority efforts. This is not easy. However, if it is not done, all of the programs will be funded for mediocrity instead of the higher priority programs being funded for excellence.
It may take several years to fully address the issues causing the higher than inflation increases. The district should prepare a rolling multi-year financial plan and share it with the community at least annually. This will highlight the issues and provide the time and visibility to resolve them.
I hope these suggestions are used to minimize the tax increase for 2009-2010 and can do the same for several years into the future.
Rodman K. Reef