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.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Even New York City Didn't Want to Pay Pelham Taxes

I have written 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.  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 tax base.  In addition, the smaller tax base suddenly found itself responsible for discharging the entirety of the Town's bonded indebtedness that was originally incurred to provide infrastructure for much of the area acquired by New York City.  

Pelham residents made impassioned pleas to their elected officials to pass legislation to require New York City to pay property taxes to the Town.  Local residents wrote letters to the editors of regional newspapers complaining of the injustice.  

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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.

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

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

Fri., Jun. 13, 2014:  1887 Letter to Editor Details Tax Burdens Pelham Bore Due to the Creation of Pelham Bay Park.

The injustice Pelham faced at the time was very real.  After New York City acquired Pelham lands to create Pelham Bay Park, New York owned about 1,700 acres of land within the Town of Pelham, assessed at about $500,000.  The remainder of the entire town was only roughly 1,300 acres, assessed at about $750,000.  Though much of the cost of maintaining the roads and infrastructure on the lands acquired by New York City would remain the same, owners of a much smaller proportion of the land in the town would be required to bear the tax burden.  .

The local tax rate applicable to the poor citizens who owned land in the portions of Pelham that were not purchased by New York City for use in Pelham Bay Park skyrocketed to 6% -- multiples of the previous tax rate.  As Pelhamites repeatedly pointed out, if New York City were to be required to pay taxes on the Pelham lands it owned, New York City residents would experience a tax increase of only one-eight-hundredth of one percent!  Pelham was outraged and battled the issue as New York City worked to annex Pelham Bay Park (as well as City Island and other portions of the surrounding region) in the mid-1890s.

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog transcribes the text of a brief article regarding the issue published in The Sun of New York City on February 5, 1888.  The text is followed by a citation and link to its source.  

1905 Map of Pelham Bay Park. Source: Office of the President
of the Borough of the Bronx Topographical Bureau, Topographical
Survey Sheets of the Borough of the Bronx Easterly of the Bronx
of the Bronx River" (1905) (Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map
Division, The New York Public Library). NOTE: Click Image to Enlarge.

*          *          *          *          *

"Rough on Pelham, but Must We Pay for It?

The city of New York insisted that if it had got to buy 1,700 acres of the town of Pelham for a park that it didn't want, at least it should not be compelled to pay taxes to the town of Pelham on the land.  It got this condition enacted into the law.

Now W. R. Lamberton writes to Mayor Hewitt asking him to support a bill introduced in the Assembly providing for the continued taxation at the present assessed value new parkland laid out outside of the city.  He puts his plea on the ground that otherwise the tax rate of Pelham, which town has only 1,300 acres left, will be raised to six per cent., and that that will bankrupt the town, which has already a flourishing bonded debt.

Mr. Lamberton does not say that the city is responsible for the unfortunate condition of the town, but he says that the city is rich, or, as he puts it:

'Do you think it is right to aid in oppressing the poor fishermen of City Island and the day laborers of Pelhamville, and in destroying the values of their little homes merely to save New York 1-800 of 1 per cent. in the New York city tax rate?'

The 1,700 acres are assessed at $500,000, and the rest of Pelham $700,000, Mr. Lamberton says that the town never encouraged the park scheme."

Source:  Rough on Pelham, but Must We Pay for It?, The Sun [NY, NY], Feb 5, 1888, p. 11, col. 6.  

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