Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Friday, June 13, 2014

1887 Letter to Editor Details Tax Burdens Pelham Bore Due to the Creation of Pelham Bay Park

I have written repeatedly, including recently, about the massive tax burden that the Town of Pelham faced beginning in the 1880s after New York City began acquiring lands within the Town of Pelham to create Pelham Bay Park.  Initially, much of Pelham embraced the initiative to create the giant park that would buffer the Town from the massive metropolis beginning to sprawl nearby.  

Soon, however, a judicial decision released by the New York Court of Appeals was construed as permitting New York City to own the lands without having to pay the Town of Pelham any property taxes on those lands.  Suddenly, Pelham taxpayers faced a major burden.  Although they remained responsible for maintenance of the roads and the provision of services such as constable protection, schools and the like for the area acquired by New York City, the costs of providing those services town-wide was being spread over a much smaller taxpayer base.  In addition, the smaller taxpayer base suddenly found itself responsible for discharging the entirety of the Town's bonded indebtedness that was incurred to provide infrastructure for much of the area acquired by New York City.  

Pelham residents made an impassioned plea to their elected officials to pass legislation to require New York City to pay property taxes to the Town.  One notable resident, Henry Waters Taft, wrote a letter to the editor of The Eastern State Journal with cogent arguments as to why such legislation, styled as an amendment to the Park Act of 1884, was necessary to right an injustice.

For more background regarding this significant period in Pelham's history, see:

Thu., Jun. 05, 2014:  Pelham Fights City Hall: Pelham Fights Creation of Pelham Bay Park During the 1880s.

 Tue., Jan. 19, 2010:  Pelham to New York City in 1888: "You Should Pay Taxes"!

Fri., Feb. 06, 2009:  More on Pelham's Displeasure with the Loss of Pelham Bay Park Lands from the Tax Rolls in the 19th Century.

Thu., Feb. 05, 2009:  New York City Corporation Counsel to Pelham in 1887: We Told You So!

Wed., Feb. 04, 2009:  Pelham Has Second Thoughts in 1887 About the Proposal To Create Pelham Bay Park.

Mon., Jan. 21, 2008:  Litigation Over Compensation for Pelham Property Owners Whose Lands Were Taken by New York City for the New Pelham Bay Park.

Fri., Sep. 23, 2005:  Pelham Tries To Kill the Plan to Create Pelham Bay Park: 1887.

Fri., May 20, 2005:  1888 - Pelham Fears Bankruptcy Due to the Creation of Pelham Bay Park.

Henry Waters Taft in 1908.
Source:   George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress.

Below is a transcription of the letter to the editor written by Taft as it appeared in The Eastern State Journal published on February 26, 1887.

PELHAM MANOR, Feb. 21, 1887.

To the Editor of the Eastern State Journal:

DEAR SIR:--A bill is pending in the assembly, effecting the interests of this county, which ought to be thoroughly understood.  I, therefore, take the liberty of sending you a statement of facts to use as you deem best.

The bill is one to amend the Park Act of 1884, by which Pelham Bay and other parks are being acquired by the city of New York.  The amendment consists in a provision making the lands in Westchester county thus taken, assessable for taxation after the title shall have become vested in the city.  Unless this proposed amendment becomes a law, the lands will be exempt from taxation under a recent decision of the court of appeals.

The town of Pelham presents a case [illustrating] the necessity of passing this amendment.  The park act appropriates in that town about 1,700 acres, assessed at $500,000.  The total area of the town is 3,000 acres, with an assessed valuation of $1,200,000.  There will thus remain 1,300 acres, with an assessed valuation of $700,000, which must the burden of taxation for the maintenance of the town organization, the roads and school districts for the entire 3,000 acres; they must also discharge the entire bonded indebtedness.

The town of Westchester is affected in the same way, but the territory taken is much smaller, and the burden, therefore, much lighter.

It is, of course, well known to residents of Westchester county that no part of Pelham Bay Park is within or even contiguous to the city limites.  The park act does not annex the territory to the city.  It remains a part of the town of Pelham in every sense of the word, the city enjoying all the benefits which any freehold resident enjoys; but it is subject to no taxes.  The roads -- Pelham Lane, Shore Road, City Island Road -- all running through the park, are specifically excepted by the park act from the land to be acquired; they remain liable for accidents and the chances of these will increase with the probable increase with the probable increase of travel.

The title to these lands becomes vested in the city of New York upon the confirmation of the report of the commissioners, which will probably be made next fall.  After that, and before the parks, as such, are laid out, the city is entitled to the entire revenue from the land and buildings.  The tenants of these lands paying rent to the city, may send their children to the schools and escape the expense of their education.  They may use the roads and claim the services of constables and justices, without directly or indirectly paying for them.  

The tax roll of the town amounts to $43,000.  Of this, $33,000 are for town taxes, and $10,000 for state and county taxes.  By a re-apportionment in the county this last item may be reduced fifty per cent.  The owners of the 1,300 acres outside of the park, therefore, must pay $38,000 of taxes upon property assessed at $700,000, making the rate about six per cent.  This the town cannot and ought not endure.  Would not the policy of thus doubling up taxes, extended to a logical result, enable the city of New York to take nine-tenths of any town in this county, exclude the roads and leave the remaining one-tenth of the territory to bear the entire burden of the town government, the roads and the schools?  If this one tenth were worth less than the bonded indebtedness, would there not follow repudiation and bankruptcy?  Our case is not so bad as this, which merely illustrates the injustice of the principle, but is is alarming enough to call for legislative relief.

New York already holds Hart's Island in the town of Pelham, free from taxation.  It contains possibly 100 acres and the employees and inmates of various city institutions make it quite populous.  Pelham furnishes constables, justices and school for its residents but receives no tax.  If a crime is committed on the Island, the county must bear the expense of prosecution.  So, too, it would be in the new parks.

Seeing these results the board of supervisors lately passed a resolution recommending to the assemblymen and senator of this county that they support and forward the measure.

Messrs. Burns and Conover have exhibited commendable zeal in their support of the bill, which is now in the hands of the cities committee awaiting their report; it has not yet been introduced in the senate.  

I hope you will see fit to give the measure the benefit of your valuable support.  Yours very truly,


Source:  TAXATION OF PARKS, The Eastern State Journal, Feb. 26, 1887, Vol. XLIL, No. 47, p. 2, col. 3. 

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