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One Scarsdale for the Young and the Old

circleoflifeI'll never forget the day we closed on our house in Scarsdale. We had two kids – ages 1 ½ and 4 and a Mazda that had been vandalized eight times on the Upper West Side. We had been lucky to get a house near the train station at a time when bidding wars broke out over homes that young families could afford. And the truth was we really couldn't afford the house when we bought it – but we figured that in time, our salaries would go up enough so that we would be comfortable and secure.

I had never been to a closing before and did not know what to expect. I arrived with a few certified checks and assumed we would sign some papers and be given the keys to our first house.

Things seemed to be going smoothly with documents passing back and forth between the attorneys. My husband and I were signing this and that when the lawyer from the bank asked for the check for a full year of taxes on the house in advance. That threw me for a loop. Though I had an MBA, what did I know about escrow accounts? I wasn't sure we had the $11,000 in our account. I held my breath, wrote the check and figured we would find a way to cover it before it cleared. Then our attorney turned to us and said, "Would you like to tip the title man?" All I could think was – I'd like to tip the guy but I have already overdrawn our account.

What does this have to do with what's going on in the Village today?

Here's what I think:

Young families who are lucky enough to be able to move to Scarsdale today have similar mindsets. They choose Scarsdale because they want good schools for their kids, a cool pool for the summer months, day camp at reasonable prices and like-minded parents to meet. From the outside, it looks to them like Scarsdale is a well run town – and though the taxes might be a bit higher than in neighboring towns, they figure the schools and the services are worth it.

I recently spoke to one young mother of three who works full time. We were discussing the future of the Greenacres School and I asked her what she thought. She surprised me when she said, "I work every day and I am trying to manage three kids all under the age of ten. I elected people to find good candidates to serve on the school board and the village board and I pay taxes for the salaries of school administrators and village managers. Why do I need to oversee them? I don't have time to go out to meetings at night. They should do what's best for the kids and the village."

So when I hear candidates running for office with promises to cut taxes so that empty nesters can retire here, I think of these young families – who are the lifeblood of our real estate market. Many of them stretched to come here but felt it was important to give their children a first-rate education.

If they had time to focus on the Village election I am sure that most would be surprised to hear that the candidates for the Scarsdale Voters' Choice Party want to keep taxes down, and possibly cut services, so that empty nesters can comfortably retire here.

Bob Selvaggio and Brice Kirkendall-Rodriguez, both from the Scarsdale Voters' Choice Party, appealed to these empty nesters at a recent Candidates Forum saying, "empty nesters and seniors on fixed incomes are being priced out of town."

Young parents might also be surprised to know that the Voters' Choice Party candidate for mayor Robert Berg, orchestrated the first successful "no vote" on a Scarsdale Schools budget in 43 years in 2013 – and pressured the district's superintendent into early retirement. As one parent put it, "Berg is no friend of our schools." He urged voters to vote NO to the Scarsdale School budget, saying, "Empty nesters, in particular, should ask themselves: "How long will I be able to afford to stay in my home?"

When it comes to the Village budget, however, all Berg's hyperbole about making things more affordable for empty nesters is in reality overblown. Village taxes represent a very small portion of residents' tax bills, and in fact all this discussion involves an average tax increase of about $200 a year on the Village portion of the tax bill. Village Manager Steve Pappalardo estimates that the owner of a home assessed at $1,505,238 would pay $223 more in Village taxes for the proposed 2017-18 Village budget.

The real danger is that if elected mayor, Candidate Bob Berg wants to expand his sphere of influence beyond the Village budget. On the Voters' Party website, even though the candidates are running for election as officers of the Village, they offer their views on the school budget too, saying, "As private citizens we will speak out to ensure that the Scarsdale School District tax levy stays within the tax cap" In the Scarsdale Inquirer Berg says he wants to sit down with the school superintendent once every month or two. He says, "There needs to be more communication and cooperation between the two entities," and that he "expects Superintendent Hagerman would be willing to sit down and talk." Does he really want to talk or does he want to pressure the superintendent to save money? That's a scary thought. Though it would be beneficial if school facilities could be used for community meetings, I fear that Berg wants to go beyond sharing space. It's vital to preserve the independence of the School and Village Boards.

In my view our priority should be to maintain and enrich the schools and the services that that attracted all of us to Scarsdale to begin with. We need to finance education, programming, services, facilities and infrastructure and refrain from balking if the tax bill goes up by a few hundred bucks. Young families will benefit from this and empty nesters will too.

If Scarsdale continues to flourish and its schools remain on top, the value of all of our homes will increase. Making Scarsdale into an ideal retirement community should not be the goal. Rather, the priority should be investing in Scarsdale, to attract young families to town to live in this extraordinary community. As an empty nester, this is something I will look forward to when I sell my own home.

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