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No Village Debt for the SCC

moneyTo Scarsdale10583: These are comments I made at the December 14 Board of Trustees meeting based on a more detailed letter I had previously sent the Clerk and Mayor for the public record.

There is a saying on Wall Street that when things are priced for perfection that the situation is ripe for financial catastrophe. In January of 2000 tech stocks were priced for perfection, in the first quarter of 2008 credit was priced for perfection. As soon as something started to go wrong in both these cases financial decimation occurred. These are just two recent examples of this principle, the consequences of the latter we will continue to live with for many years.

It is time we all started looking at the SCC’s financial plan critically and objectively. Importantly, each of you as individuals needs to conduct this work. Not spend taxpayer money to outsource it to a consultant who can be blamed down the road when something goes wrong.

I have started that review process myself and here are just a few of my early observations:

Forecast SCC revenues do not resemble the start up curve for any business I have seen in my over 25 years as a business and Wall Street professional. No business goes to 100% revenue on day one. If the SCC misses their revenue projections they cannot cover their costs or service the debt.

In my opinion they make the bold assumption that charter members will rewrite a contract and voluntarily raise the fee they pay in years 1 – 3 by 70%. If this circa $500,000 per year in revenue doesn’t materialize the SCC will lose money and not be able to service the debt.

A full 41% of forecast revenues go to debt service. Let me repeat that. 41% of revenues go to pay the debt service. This is really the only number you need to know. The debt service coverage ratio is 1.2 times. No private business could borrow at this leverage level. They require the Village debt guarantee as lenders have learned, many times quite painfully, that this is too much debt. If our society learned any lesson in the last three painful years it is that financial leverage kills. This is extreme financial leverage.

If nothing else I said puts the financial risk that would be imposed on the taxpayers into stark contract the comparison of the SCC to the Greenwich Y will. It is a similarly affluent community, though over three times the size of Scarsdale. In 2009 they launched a $25 million above ground pool project very similar in scope and dollar magnitude to the SCC. Except they already had in place $3.24 million a year in like-kind revenues and an established donor base for contributions. It didn’t turn out too well. They ran out of money and had to halt construction. They are saddled with $17 million in debt that they are working with their lenders to restructure. In a GO bond there is no restructuring. The taxpayers pay.

To summarize: Y and SCC are both $25 Mn projects. Debt level is $17 mn for the Y and $16 mn proposed for the SCC. Revenues for the Y on an apples to apples basis are 25% higher for the Y than the SCC. The Y failed on their debt. How can the SCC expect to service the same level of debt with 25% less revenue without recourse to the taxpayers?

The reality is that the SCC’s financial plan is “priced for perfection” as currently presented. It will go wrong. There is no cushion or protection for taxpayers and we will end up paying for it.

Other financial professionals in our community are also writing letters regarding the financial risks posed to the Village’s borrowing costs, AAA rating, tax base, etc. These letters speak for themselves and only add to the case I am presenting here tonight. I urge you to read them thoughtfully.

It is pretty simple, actions speak louder than words. If this really is self financially supported why do they need the Village’s balance sheet. The answer is obvious. In reality it isn’t self-supporting. They need the Village to pay in order to build it.

Now more than ever is not the time for a leap of financial faith that benefits a minority in the community but is underwritten and paid for by all taxpayers.

Once again, I call on the Trustees to conclusively and irrevocably fulfill your fiduciary responsibility to the community’s taxpayers and enact a resolution that if ever built the SCC must be 100% self financed with exactly zero debt support from the taxpayers. This is long overdue.

Truly yours,
Michael Weinstein
Butler Road

 

 

The SCC Proposal is Unhealthy for the Financial Health of Scarsdale

letterDear Scarsdale 10583: The Scarsdale Community Center's ("SCC") proposal for an indoor pool and the Village of Scarsdale to provide a $16 million bond is a potential financial disaster that the Village of Scarsdale should avoid. Approval of the SCC's proposal and $16 million bond is an asymmetrical risk that financially binds the entire Scarsdale community for the benefit a minority interest group that desires a luxury indoor pool. The SCC co-president Ed Morgan said it best, "We're asking the whole village to assume the financial responsibilities of this project, whether they will use it or not." Additionally, a decision of this magnitude that gravely affects the entire Scarsdale community should be done by public referendum and only after thorough due diligence at the expense of the SCC, not the Scarsdale's tax payers.

It is bewildering why the SCC believes an indoor pool and fitness center is necessary in a six square mile town when there are so many gyms and fitness clubs (JCCs, YMCAs, Equinox, NY Sports) in each of our surrounding communities which would become direct competition to the SCC facility. Also, many Scarsdale residents have home gyms or use fitness centers near their work.

Since Scarsdale is now contemplating going into fitness center business with the SCC, we need to ensure the accuracy of SCC's projections and their ability to construct and successfully operate the proposed Scarsdale Community Center. The financial consequences on our community are critical and long lasting. The SCC projections and assumptions should be evaluated and validated by an expert before any approval by the Village of Scarsdale. If the SCC projections are flawed, it will be Scarsdale and all of its citizens funding the ongoing operating losses and capital requirements at the SCC indoor pool facility which will be in addition to the ~$1.2 million annual projected bond debt service. Similar to business applying for a business loan, the SCC's projections need to be questioned and tested for realism and a downside scenario to see if the SCC can operate profitably and generate sufficient cash flows to fund the operations of the indoor pool facility and service the debt Village of Scarsdale is asked to assume.

The SCC's projections assumptions are highly optimistic with regard to membership, revenues and profitability levels. The SCC projections assume 1,600 founding members, or a 48% membership increase over the 1,080 remaining active members of the SCC. These 1,600 members (75% of the indoor pool's total projected membership) are projected to remain members of the SCC indoor pool throughout the five year projected period. Is this a realistic assumption given the SCC has already lost 10% of their original 1,200 founding members and these remaining families have yet to pay the $1,219 annual dues. This membership retention assumption is also flawed by the fact that families move away from Scarsdale and membership decisions change as children grow older, children move away or as interests change. New membership is projected to grow from zero to 394 by year five with net membership increasing in all five years. Within the health club industry other firms experience a high level of membership loss. For example, Lifetime Fitness ("LTM") and Town Sports ("CLUB"), the operator of NY Sports Clubs, experience approximately a 40% membership loss per annum.

The SCC projections also assume a level of operating profitability well in excess of both Lifetime Fitness and Town Sports. Is it reasonable that the SCC can achieve a level of profitability well in excess of for profit sports clubs and sports club management? The SCC projections assumes an average cash operating profitability (before interest and rent expense) of 58% of revenues compared to 30-35% for Town Sports and Lifetime Fitness. Assuming a 45% level of operating profitability at the SCC ( ~50% higher than the public companies), the SCC's annual cash flow is negatively until year four.

While I am not in support of moving forward with an indoor pool and fitness complex and believe that any approval should be subject to a public referendum, the Mayor and Trustees should not lose sight of the fact Scarsdale owns the intended land for the complex and controls the credit rating that the SCC wants to support the project. As such, if the Village of Scarsdale decides to move forward with the SCC on the indoor pool facility, the Village of Scarsdale should negotiate a better deal than the one on the table with the SCC. Scarsdale should require the SCC to raise a greater amount of funds from its membership. Additionally, will the SCC founding membership stand up and be accountable for their projections by having the founding members commit in writing to maintain their SCC memberships until the SCC achieves a projected positive cash flow of $830,000 after debt service and 10% contingency expenses as projected in year five? If not, then how can we be comfortable that the SCC projections are accurate? Scarsdale should not sign up to a financial transaction where heads the SCC wins and tails the entire community loses

Michael Goldberg
26 Broadmoor Road

 

Speeding Jeep

jeeplibertyDear Editor: There have been several instances when a teenage boy driving a navy blue Jeep Liberty has been speeding along Brite Avenue. It is extremely disconcerting to be walking your small children to school and having to hustle them up onto someone's lawn for safety. It would seem he lives in Greenacres and is traveling to and from the High School. I would like to remind all parents and teenage drivers that a car is not a toy and excessive speed can and does kill people in the event of an accident. Thank You

 

 

Say No to the Scarsdale Community Center

scc2.jpgDear Scarsdale10583: I think the citizens of Scarsdale should wake up and see this proposal for what it is: a small group of well organized, very vocal individuals who are orchestrating a staged and well planned campaign to build a private club backed by the full faith and credit of the Village of Scarsdale. They want to build this facility on Village owned property and sustain its operation by ongoing revenue which may never materialize. The taxpayers of this community may be forced to bear the burden of maintaining the facility and possibly face the ruination of a fantastic asset of Scarsdale already in operation, namely the outdoor pool and its environs. The Mayor has stated the belief of the Board of Trustees of Scarsdale that “we don’t want residents who don’t use it to pay for it” and I am quite fearful that is exactly what will happen.

The cost of this proposed facility is $24 million, $8 million from private donations and $16 million by general obligation of the Village of Scarsdale. In addition to that amount being completely obscene for the village to even consider spending in the current economic climate, the SCC co-president himself stated, “We are asking the whole village to assume the financial responsibility for this project.” It is time for the great silent majority, the taxpayers of the Village of Scarsdale to speak up with a unified voice and tell them “NO!” The few spearheading the SCC have been trying to get this project built for years and they will not go away until we finally put this issue to rest for good. Stop spending our money. Stop ruining our open spaces. Stop adding to the debt of this Village. What part of NO don’t they understand?

Jimmy Fink

 

 

Say Yes to the Scarsdale Community Center

scc1.jpgI am in favor of the current Scarsdale Community Center proposal to build the indoor pool at the Scarsdale outdoor pool site, because the underground design will have the following unique advantages: the preservation of open space in our fully developed community, lower maintenance costs as compared to conventional buildings, wind, fire and earthquake proof public space that could shelter residents during an emergency; and energy efficiency.

Yes, I am concerned about the financial impact on our community, but I trust the SCC Board of Directors and this Village Board to find a way to continue to invest in Scarsdale. We need to keep our village  as the place to live, not only for our excellent schools, but also for our Village amenities.

Here is my research on this topic:

Advantages of Building Underground

Underground houses have many advantages over conventional housing. Unlike conventional homes, they can be built on steep surfaces and can maximize space in small areas by going below the ground. In addition the materials excavated in construction can be used in the building process.

Underground houses have less surface area so fewer building materials are used, and maintenance costs are lower. They are also wind, fire and earthquake resistant, providing a secure and safe environment in extreme weather.

One of the greatest benefits of underground living is energy efficiency. The earth's subsurface temperature remains stable, so underground dwellings benefit from geothermal mass and heat exchange, staying cool in the summer and warm in the winter. This saves around 80% in energy costs. By incorporating solar design this energy bill can be reduced to zero, providing hot water and heat to the home all year round. An additional benefit of the surrounding earth is noise insulation. Underground homes are exceptionally quiet places to live.

Finally, underground houses blend with the natural landscape, and have minimum impact on the local ecology. This is not only aesthetically pleasing but ensures that the maximum habitat is left alone for wildlife.

Designing Down for a Sustainable Future

Underground construction is not a new industry, but it is often overlooked as a design strategy for sustainable building. A well-designed underground home can be a stylish, comfortable, secure, bright and inspiring place to live. More than that it is an excellent example of the eco-home ideal, demonstrating energy efficiency, low-impact design and harmony with its natural surroundings. With the increasing demand for more development sites and ever-diminishing green spaces, along with the enforcement of stricter regulations for greener homes, building underground seems the obvious way down. http://www.sustainablebuild.co.uk/ConstructionUnderground.html

Very truly yours,

Lena Crandall
227 Fox Meadow Road
Scarsdale, New York 10583

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