Comments from the Mayor: Sanctuary Cities, Development at Freightway, the Village Budget and more
- Shout it Out
- Published on Wednesday, 15 February 2017 19:01
- Joanne Wallenstein
Mayor 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.