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Localizing a Pastime

mets"What do they mean, 'where have I gone'?" Joe DiMaggio is said to have asked when he first heard Simon and Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson." Reading the post-election reckonings with how we got here has been like this, like being asked where you've been when as far as you can tell you've been here all along. But as post-election days fade and things go from worse to worst, you find yourself reckoning just the same . . . You recall an opinion article you submitted to your hometown newspaper round about 1980. The article didn't run. You were sixteen and lacked command of the idiom— you lacked command in general. Also, the newspaper was big, competition stiff, and your idea out of left field . . . But here you are half a lifetime later reckoning like everyone else with fear for the republic, and you recall the idea. You want to try again, to turn the clock back and forward at once and restate your case. Left field may be shallower now.

Five years earlier, in 1975, the sports page had gotten harder for an eleven-year-old. Charlie O. Finley's Oakland A's were found to have violated provisions of their contract with their $100,000-a-year pitching ace Catfish Hunter. Now a free agent, Hunter signed with the Yankees for $3.75 million over five years. That Christmastime, in a case brought by the Players Association on behalf of Dodgers pitcher Andy Messersmith, an arbiter nullified a standard feature of major league players' contracts, the "reserve clause," which allowed owners to renew contracts without a player's consent. The owners lost their appeal, and players with expired contracts were free to sell their services to the highest bidder. When the first big stories of the 1976 season had the owners locking the players out of spring training and the Atlanta Braves making Messersmith another millionaire, money-consciousness became an unavoidable part of major-league baseball fandom.

Notorious for venality and bigotry, major league baseball before free agency was also exploitative, as readers of Curt Flood's The Way It Is and Jim Bouton's Ball Four know. But the system that has replaced it, in which players earn what the market will bear and owners do everything to expand that market, exploits a different constituency. Contemporary professional sporting events are a mass of common people paying handsomely for the privilege of observing the actions of a few very rich ones, a phenomenon which mimics the current social order and reflects the inequality that marks it instead of offering a diversion from it. Of course, this description isn't quite accurate: common people can hardly afford the price of tickets.

Free agency has had other consequences: It has reduced competition, despite recent revenue-sharing agreements designed to give small-market teams a chance to keep their best players. It has turned spectatorship, whether in person or remote, into an advertisement and merchandising endurance test. It has led to frequent personnel changes and so to a depletion of team identities. These are supposed to reside in the team's local affiliation. But what does this amount to when most players come from elsewhere and the names of stadiums have been sold to multinationals?

And in bestowing its munificence on star players, free agency has commodified the player-fan relationship. The fan, aware of the terms of the player's contract, considers the player's performance in relation to his place on the payroll. Appreciation becomes assessment. In the definitive baseball story of our time, Moneyball, the hero is the general manager.

Here's a remedy, a nonstarter 35 years ago re-proposed in the hope that left field now has a shorter porch: Give professional sports teams to the localities they purport to represent. Put them in the public domain. Pay the players well, half million or a million, and give them pensions. Just don't pay them 20 million and turn them into tycoons in livery. Then take the surplus and lower ticket prices, banish the $12 beer and the $8 pretzel from the concession stand, and put the broadcast revenue and the millions that now go into tax breaks for ownership and write-offs for corporate patrons into parks, schools, libraries, hospitals . . .

All well and good, you say, but when ownership would resist an eminent domain claim for all it's worth, how? By a withholding of popular support, is how. Professional sports franchises rely on the indulgence of public policy, on local land and building subsidies and tax exemptions that allow businesses to write off ticket subscriptions and sponsorship and marketing costs. When cities resist a professional team's demands for special treatment, team management typically looks for a more accommodating city to threaten to move the team to. But if there were nowhere to go because the sentiment was general, if citizens everywhere saw when team owners tried to play cities off against one another that they were being had, owners might think of folding their tents. Not likely, you reply, and I can disagree only so far as to note that in this populist moment, stranger things have already happened.

And if this less strange thing were to come to pass, mightn't stars leave for countries where they'd be able to earn more, Japan or maybe . . . Cuba(!)? What if they did? The difference between a 95-mph fastball and an 85 is barely perceptible to the batter, let alone the viewer. Besides, dominant players often make team sports less, not more, interesting, highlight footage notwithstanding. How many would pass up the chance to play before the nation's lonely eyes and for a home team we can root for with our better angels? Donald Trump is the George Steinbrenner of presidents. Where is the Bernie Sanders of commissioners?

Police Warn of IRS Tax Scams

PhishingThis note was sent to Scarsdale10583 by Scarsdale Police Chief Andrew Matturo:
It's tax season again and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has issued several alerts about the fraudulent use of the IRS name or logo by scammers trying to gain access to consumers' financial information in order to steal their identity and assets. Scammers use the regular mail, telephone, fax or email to set up their victims. When identity theft takes place over the web (email), it is called phishing.
The IRS saw an approximate 400 percent surge in phishing and malware incidents in the 2016 tax season.

Scam emails are designed to trick taxpayers into thinking these are official communications from the IRS or others in the tax industry, including tax software companies. These phishing schemes can ask taxpayers about a wide range of topics. Emails can seek information related to refunds, filing status, confirming personal information, ordering transcripts and verifying PIN information.

Variations of these scams can be seen via text messages, and the communications are being reported in every section of the country. The IRS is aware of email phishing scams that appear to be from the IRS and include a link to a bogus web site intended to look like the official IRS web site. These emails contain the direction "you are to update your IRS e-file immediately." The emails mention USA.gov and IRSgov (without a dot between "IRS" and "gov"), though notably, not IRS.gov (with a dot). These emails are not from the IRS.

The sites ask for Social Security numbers and other personal information, which could be used to help file false tax returns. The sites also may carry malware, which can infect people's computers and allow criminals to access your files or track your keystrokes to gain information.

Never respond to any telephone or Internet request for money or your personal identifying information (social security number, bank accounts, PIN numbers) without first speaking to a trusted friend, relative, legal advisor or your local police department.

Tax related schemes, scams and fraud can be reported directly to the US Treasury Inspector General at this United States Treasury website:

For more information on tax fraud scams and how to protect yourself, refer to this Internal Revenue Service website for additional information.

Math and Science Students Excel at Weekend Competitions Plus More News from the Scarsdale Schools

mathcountsThis past weekend students from the SHS science research program participated in the Westchester - Rockland Junior Science and Humanities Symposium. JSHS is designed to challenge and engage students (Grades 9-12) in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM). Individual students compete for scholarships and recognition by presenting the results of their original research efforts before a panel of judges and an audience of their peers.

Scarsdale had a number of students place, with three students in the speaker category of which two of them will move on to the statewide competition.

1st place in Neuro-Biology - Lauren Singer
1st place in Chemistry - Annling Wang
5th place in Environmental- Karen Zaklama

In the Poster Category:
2nd place Medicine and Health: Dan Beitler
1st place Neuroscience: Sabeen Kahn
1st place Behavior: Dexin Li

Dexin also won first place overall for her Poster

SMS Mathcouts:

The Scarsdale Middle School Mathcounts team finished second in a competition on Saturday February 4 at Pace University out of a pool of 16 teams. The team now qualifies for the state competition at RPI on March 18.

The following made up the 4-person team.
Curtis Chang C8

Ethan Gu P8
Michael Wei F7
Mathew Zhao B6

The following students competed as individuals.
Vivian Guo P8
Amy Hu C8
Sameer Kini B6
Sara Oba C7
Hannah Wang P6relayteam2

SHS Swim Team:

The Scarsdale High School Boys swim team competed in the Section 1 Swim Championships Wednesday 2/8/17 at Felix Festa Middle School in Clarkstown. They finished in 3rd place and for the first time in school history and they qualified all 3 relays ( 200 yard medley, 200 yard Freestyle, 400 yard Freestyle ) for the New York State Swim Championships that will be held in Long Island March 3 - 4. The boys that qualified for the State Championships are: Sr. Tanner McFarland, Sr. Liam McPhillips, Jr. Jack Callahan, Jr. Ryan Lee, Jr. Haofeng Liu, So. and Aidan Wilson.

Cheerleading:

SHS hosted their annual cheerleading tournament in the gym on Saturday February 4th. Take a look at these photos from Jon Thaler and see more here:

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SHS Hockey

The Scarsdale High School hockey team triumphed over Iona Prep 4-1 on Feburary 8.  See photos by Jon Thaler below and buy more here.

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Comments from the Mayor: Sanctuary Cities, Development at Freightway, the Village Budget and more

jonmarkMayor Jon Mark discusses the concept of a sanctuary city, planning a new development at the Freighway site, the possibility of retaining an organizational consultant to review Scarsdale's Village Assessor's office and the Village Budget in his remarks from the February 14 Village Board meeting.

Read below to learn more:

Welcoming Scarsdale: Approximately three weeks ago, President Trump issued an executive order related to immigration. One provision of the order concerns coordination between federal immigration authorities and local police departments and is, therefore, directly relevant to municipal policy and practice. The legal status of the executive order is the subject of widely reported litigation so its ultimate fate has yet to be determined. Presently, the executive order is stayed. However, prompted by that executive order many cities and towns across the country have responded with public statements affirming their position of welcome and inclusion of all people of good will. We in Scarsdale add our voice in affirming those values here in the Village. The following borrows freely from the joint statement issued by our neighbor the City of New Rochelle.

The term "sanctuary city" has no precise definition, and we do not use it in Scarsdale but we do make absolutely clear that all people of good will are welcomed, valued, and respected in our community, regardless of their origins, and that immigrants are an essential part of Scarsdale's identity and future.

I have spoken with our Chief of Police, Andrew Matturo, and Village Manager Steve Pappalardo. Chief Matturo has confirmed that for our Police Department, maintaining a respectful and mutually supportive relationship with all constituencies in Scarsdale is not just the right thing to do, it is also necessary to the promotion of public safety, which depends on mutual trust. That is why the Scarsdale Police Department has not previously nor will it commence engaging in immigration enforcement. In addition, as a budgetary matter, resources are not available to fund our police acting as immigration officers.

Of course, the Scarsdale Police Department will continue coordinating with federal authorities to apprehend and bring to justice criminals who threaten our safety, regardless of their immigration status.

It is important to note, that should the executive order that is presently stayed by the courts be upheld, the foregoing position would in no way violate the terms of the order as presently drafted.

Freightway Lot Planning: The Board's Land Use Committee held a public meeting last Monday, February 6th at Village Hall. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss future plans with respect to the Freightway garage and the potential development of the Freightway site. The Committee listened to a presentation by the Village Planner, Elizabeth Marrinan, discussed process and took questions from residents in attendance. The meeting was recorded and can be viewed on the Scarsdale Public TV web site. In summary, the Freightway garage was built in 1972 and occupies a portion of 2.38 acres owned by the Village. The property is on the west side of the Metro North tracks and extends south from Popham Road to the border with Eastchester. The Village also owns 0.84 acres of air-rights over the Metro North railroad tracks to the east of the Freightway site as well as the 0.49 acre Scarsdale Avenue parking lot on the other side of the tracks.

Quoting from a document titled An Update of the Village Center Component of the Village of Scarsdale Comprehensive Plan, "The Freightway lot is an unsightly parking lot that detracts from Scarsdale's historic character. The appearance and possible redevelopment of the Freightway lot have been debated for years." (Update at page 42) The Update Plan is dated August 10, 2010 and was the product of more than two years of work. It is available on the Village web site.

The Land Use Committee meeting was prompted in part by the fact that in the last ten years or so, and looking into the near future, the Freightway garage structure has required, and likely will require, maintenance and repairs that in the aggregate run into millions of dollars. The 2010 Update Plan referred to includes suggestions for possible development of the Freightway lot which obviously did not go forward. The thought at last week's meeting was to re-start the analytic process with respect to the site.

The Village is seeking competitive proposals from qualified planning firms, one of which would be retained by the Village, with experience in successfully navigating complex community and site dynamics to achieve, through thoughtful, meaningful public engagement, realistic goals and objectives for the redevelopment of the Freightway site. The intent is to provide clear, community-based guidance which a developer can translate into a pleasing, economically viable project to enhance the Village Center and meet local needs. The Village intends to establish a Steering Committee consisting of stakeholders such as residents, business and property owners, representatives from neighborhood associations, land use board members, commuters and other users. The charge for the Steering Committee will be to create realistic goals and objectives for the redevelopment of the site, providing the basis for a Request for Proposals/Request for Interest in order to solicit proposals from the development community. What may ultimately be done on the site cannot now be predicted, however, with thoughtful planning and stakeholder engagement it could be transformed into an asset for the Village center and the community at large. Time and a great deal of hard work by many folks will tell.

Organizational Assessment of the Assessor's Department: One item on tonight's agenda is a resolution to retain a firm, Management Partners, Inc., to make an organizational assessment of the Assessor's Department. Such a project has been mentioned in very general terms at prior Board meetings and the Village staff has been working over the past several months to search out and vet consulting firms that have the expertise to conduct such a review at a reasonable cost. The scope of the services to be provided would include a thorough review of the Assessor's Department structure, staffing policies, workflow processes, revaluation methodologies and use of technology. The review would include interviews with Village management, employees in the Assessor's Department, other department heads and customers interacting with the Assessor's Department, the Westchester County Tax Commissioner, the New York State Office of Real Property Tax Services and personnel in other Westchester municipalities that have completed revaluation projects. The goal of this project would be to produce actionable recommendations that would provide a clear roadmap forward thus helping to restore and maintain public confidence in the Assessor's Department and its functions. It is estimated that the project, once commenced, would take three to four months to complete. The consultant has proposed a fee of $34,990 for its work.

The background of the search and vetting process is set out in the Board materials which are publicly available. It will be my recommendation to my fellow Board members that this agenda item be referred to a meeting of the Board as a Committee of the Whole on February 28, 2017, prior to our regular Board meeting on that date. We will invite a representative of Management Partners to attend the meeting to answer Board questions, as well as questions from residents who attend the meeting. We can discuss this suggestion further when we get to that item on tonight's agenda.

2017-2018 Proposed Budget: The Village Staff and Village Board have been working on the 2017-2018 budget for several months. As has been the case since June 2011, one of the myriad questions that has to be addressed is whether or not to aim to keep the budget within the so-called 2% tax "cap" set forth in NY State law that applies to increases in real property tax levies. "So-called" because the "cap" is actually 2% or the rate of inflation plus a "growth factor" as defined in the law, whichever is less. Thus, for example, last year the "cap" as calculated under the law was 0.45%, a percentage that would have allowed a year-to-year increase in spending of $168,840 – far less than 2% -- and an immaterial amount in the context of an approximately $55 million budget. Last year's budget exceeded the "cap." For 2017-2018, the "cap" is 1.37%, a percentage that would allow a year-to year spending increase of $516,436. Clearly a larger amount than last year, but still a relatively low number. Staying within the "cap" is made especially challenging since there are significant budget expenses that are mandated by unfunded state programs – mainly health insurance and related benefits that are overseen by New York State which are not subject to Village control. Other salary-related increases are governed by multi-year contracts with the unions representing certain municipal employees. The cap can be overridden by municipal governments by a vote of 60% or more of its governing board. This differs from the rule as applied to School Districts which can adopt budgets in excess of the "cap" only if the School District budget is approved by a vote of 60% or more of the voters voting on the school budget. One other note: the rules for how compliance with the "cap" is calculated are different for the Village and the School District. Under the tax "cap" legislation, the School District is permitted to exclude the cost of debt service and capital expenses in calculating its compliance; the Village is not permitted to make such exclusions. If the rules were different and the Village was permitted to calculate "cap" compliance in the way the School District is permitted to, approximately $3,700,000 of aggregate debt service and capital expenses in the 2017-2018 proposed budget would be excluded from the calculation and would result in a Village budget that was well under the "cap." In short, a comparison of Village and School District "cap" compliance is not an apples-to-apples comparison.

The tax "cap" Village budget analysis is therefore a relatively simple one to summarize: on the one hand, a decision to stay within the "cap" could be effectuated by eliminating certain services or deferral of capital expenditures with the resultant decrease in budget allocations to a point below the "cap." On the other hand, maintain services and incur the most pressing capital expenses and risk exceeding the "cap." Since the tax "cap" legislation went into effect in 2011, Village Boards have adopted budgets that maintain services, made the most needed capital expenditures and have exceeded the "cap" with one exception. The 2015-2016 budget was kept within the "cap" by making a larger than usual transfer from the General Fund so that certain residents could receive a tax rebate under a New York State program that is no longer in effect.

Tonight's agenda includes a vote to adopt a local law to authorize adoption of a 2017-2018 budget that would exceed the "cap". This vote is taken to provide flexibility to exceed the cap and not for the purpose of simply performing a less than rigorous budget process. Should such flexibility not be provided, and a budget that was intended to stay within the "cap", in fact exceed it – even if such excess was due to a mathematical error in calculating the "cap" amount – operations would have to be conducted pursuant to the prior year's budget even if that meant some services would have to be reduced or eliminated, or planned capital projects would have to be deferred. In short, it would nice to simply say the budget will stay within the "cap", but like so many things, the detailed analysis and the line-by-line decisions that would meet that goal are complex and require the balancing of the desire for certain levels of service reasonably expected by residents against fiscal constraints. The discussion of the proposed budget will continue over the next several months and among other things public presentations on the operating budget and the capital budget scheduled for 7:00 pm on March 2 and March 8, 2017, respectively, will be televised and recorded. Interested residents are urged to tune in. Note also that because of the way the fiscal calendar works, adoption of the 2017-2018 proposed budget being focused on by this Board will, in fact, be an agenda item for the next Board.

Emails relating to the Village-wide Revaluations: Some of the focus of dissatisfaction arising from the 2016 Village-wide revaluation has been with respect to FOIL requests for emails that related to that process and the prior Village-wide revaluation. In particular, we have heard repeated requests to release some 2,400 emails that were not produced since upon review by the Village attorney, it was concluded that they fell within certain categories of documents not required to be produced under FOIL. An appeal of the decision not to release those emails has been made to the Village Manager and as a result those emails are being re-examined. A decision on the appeal is expected on or prior to February 28, 2017.

What has been left out of this particular discussion is that in response to FOIL requests relating to the 2016 Village-wide revaluation approximately 30,000 emails were in fact produced. This production was the result of approximately 995 hours of Village staff time taken to review the emails called out by the FOIL request. This equates to the work a full time employee for a period of six months. There is no debate about the fact that those who made the FOIL requests were fully entitled to make them. However, to ignore the hard work put in by the Village staff in processing this large volume of material does a disservice to the effort they made to respond. The FOIL process is one part of the framework under which municipal governments operate and the Village fully intends to comply with its obligations under that law and within the parameters it provides.

Boys Raiders Basketball Team is 12-4 for the Season

bball1After handily defeating Harrison on Monday January 30 by 25 points, the Scarsdale High School varsity men's basketball team is having a stellar season at 12-4 so far. Led by senior captains Josh Wasserman and Max Bosco, the team has practiced hard and worked together to be competitors in the section. Wasserman attributes their success to the great chemistry the team has, and said, "all of the guys on the team are really close both on and off the court and this has helped tremendously throughout the season. We are all confident that our teammates will make the right play and trust each other completely." The team's chemistry shows when the bench cheers enthusiastically at every layup or three-point shot made and loudly echoes calls from head coach Bill Murphy to ensure everybody is on the same page. Despite the success that the team has had so far, not everybody expected such a strong performance before the season started, given the changing roster. As senior Bradley Tatz says, "The season has really been an amazing experience. No one expected carroll2us to be 12-4 this year losing so many starters after last year, but a ton of guys have stepped up and we really feel like we can make a run if we keep playing the way we have been." The Raiders should be competitive enough to compete for the section championship, and hope to continue exceeding even their own expectations.

Photos and text by Alec Carroll.

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