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The Teen Center Makes Sounds Financial Sense for Scarsdale

teencenterThis is a statement to the Board of Education and the Village Board from Scarsdale Teen Center Board President B. Kathleen Munguia:
Because there was no opportunity for public comment following the joint meeting of the School and Village Boards on Monday, March 6, 2017, and another commitment prevented me from attending School Board's Budget Session #3, I would like to address some of the comments made by both Village and School Board members that did not fully inform the community of the history of the not-for-profit organization, The Scarsdale Teen Center (the Center), whose doors have been open since May 1999. The Center welcomes Scarsdale teens, whether they attend Scarsdale schools or not as well as nonresident students attending Scarsdale schools. And despite the re-imaging of the Center by the current School Board as being established for teens at risk or that there is a "stigma" associated with using the Center, the Center was established by a community that recognized the risk to all our children as they grow more independent and that sometimes, they stumble. That community supported a supervised, drug and alcohol free place for teens to socialize, run an event and enjoy programming tailored to their ever changing interests.

Public funding from the Scarsdale School District has been $65,000 annually for the last five years, $22,500 less than the original funding committed by the district in 1999 despite rising costs in the operation of the Center, creating more pressure on this small not-for-profit to seek other sources of income including rentals of the space and charging for programming other than drop-in hours to meet the shortfall. Still the Center persevered and reached out to state and county grants, private foundations and private donors, mindful of its budget and never going into debt. Characterizing the Center as operating in the red is misleading and while the need for adequate public funding continues, the Center has shown that its creative Board and staff has met the shortfall between the public funding and the costs of operation and deserves to be supported by its community tax base to fulfill its mission.

The Village Board has continued to support the Center at $87,500 annually and realized that using the facility for its recreational needs for families with children of all ages made sound financial sense. Scarsdale's School District never understood that and made the "nonuse" and "disconnect with the School District" arguments a self-fulfilling prophecy by simply not using it or entertaining efforts to collaborate with the Center. The yearly dismissive response by the Administration seemed to infect the attitudes of the PTAs and PT Council despite the fact that it was some of its former leaders who helped establish the Center in the first place. It took years to gain some traction within the PTA organizations and recent collaborations have been encouraging as the goal of supporting the "whole" child no longer means only within the confines of a five day a week school classroom or ignoring parental concerns.

While they are many reasons for the lack of use during drop in hours which the Center curtailed in the wake of less public funding, less teen use on Monday through Thursday of the school year and in response to a different model for serving the community's teen population and families, the School Board only focused on drop-in usage and ignored the 2,220 visits to the Center and Center events held in larger community spaces from January through December 2016.

It is likely that both the School and Village Boards will not commit public funding to the Center for next year. They have asked for the Center to propose another model for operating at less cost, to them. The Center has had this discussion over the years with both Boards. The Center looked at other commercial spaces as well as School and Village spaces. None was as financially sound as staying put in the rental space the community remodeled and improved over the years, including an outside deck built by its volunteers. If either the School District or the Village has space to offer the Center, neither Board is raising their hand. In a community that has always had community space issues and may for some time be facing more with a library renovation and Greenacres School project on the horizon, does it make sense to walk away from a completed community space that the Village, the School and yes, even the library could use over the next few years should the Center have adequate public funding? One use that comes to mind is a Mandarin Project which can begin as early as this spring as an afterschool or weekend program at the Center and continue into the summer months before, during or after the Village recreational camps.

The Center will continue to operate through its fiscal year. There are several community programs in the works, the development of the OneLove Project empowering young people to understand and recognize abusive dating relationships and equipping them with the skills to help themselves and their friends. As the Center did for the showing of the documentary, "Screenagers" this past November, the Center is collaborating with the Scarsdale Edgemont Family Counseling Service and the SHS PTA and will conduct training workshops at the Center. The Center is sponsoring several soap box derby building projects at Fox Meadow School and with the Scarsdale Boy Scouts and can provide a number of already built cars that can be refurbished and raced in the annual Soapbox Derby held in New Rochelle in June. The Center is currently looking for new Board members to discuss the future of the Center, with or without public funding. Interested members of the community should visit www.thecenter862.com for more information or contact the Bonnie Yaseen, Chair of the Nominating Committee, bonnie@yaseen.com.

Respectfully submitted,

B. Kathleen Munguia
President of the Board
Scarsdale Teen Center
The Center @ 862

Scarsdale Village Working to Improve Communications

CommCommitteeAs many readers may know, Scarsdale Village government recently launched a new, more user-friendly version of its website, scarsdale.com, which has proven to be an easier, more functional means of conducting business online.

The revamped site is also the first step in Scarsdale's initiative to improve communications and build a better dialogue with the public. Championing this effort is the Ad Hoc Committee on Communications, led by Trustee Jane Veron, which is charged with identifying opportunities to enhance village interaction with residents. Members were selected for their experience and expertise in pertinent subjects such as public relations, information technology and neighborhood outreach, and for their collective diversity. They include Justin Arest, Lee Fischman, Dara Gruenberg, Laura Halligan, Justin Hamill, ML Perlman, Barry Meiselman, Scott Rompala, Andrew Sereysky, Carol Silverman, and liaisons, Village Trustee Deborah Pekarek and Deputy Village Manager, Robert Cole.

Formed in October 2016, the committee quickly completed its first mandate – reviewing, refining and introducing the revised website. The previous site, developed years ago, lacked functionality and wasn't responsive to the myriad of mobile devices used today. According to Cole, "The site's organization, appearance, significantly improved functionality, new engagement tools, and richer, more advanced email/SMS functions all are major improvements over the old version."

The updated design allows residents to not only locate and access information more easily, but permits them to customize their website experience by choosing to receive specific information through text or email. It also encourages users to submit and track service requests online, and features a dramatically improved search function.

Residents Asked to Subscribe for Village Emails

Recreation Users: You Must Take Action to continue receiving notices and flyers

Due to the launch of the new scarsdale.com, Scarsdale Village will discard old email notification lists that have been in use over the past few years. Unfortunately, technical limitations preclude migrating subscribers to the new site's notification system. As a result, all residents who currently are receiving village email alerts must re-subscribe via the new website to continue this service. This includes all official government notices and, of particular interest, news from the Scarsdale Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department. To avoid disruption in communications, the public is asked to re-subscribe by March 10, 2017.

If you would like to continue receiving village emails (or would like to begin the service), please subscribe via the "Notify Me" tool, which appears on the home page of scarsdale.com, or by clicking here.

 To introduce the site's new features and assist users in navigation, the communications committee, Scarsdale Cable Commission and SPTV developed an online tutorial video, Welcome to Our Website. "The video epitomizes the collaborative spirit and determination that propels the committee's efforts. In no time, the group pulled together and produced a tutorial targeted to novice website users," Veron said.

In the first months after launch, the new scarsdale.com has generated a good amount of compliments and user feedback. "We'd like to receive additional input from the community to help us make the website a truly useful resource," says Cole. "Both village staff and the communications committee review all comments and implement immediate changes where possible."

By serving as a primary focus group for evaluating the site's features and organization, the committee will help iron out the kinks that always arise when introducing new technology. It also will continue its work to introduce scarsdale.com to the community and evaluate feedback.

Residents are invited to visit the site, and provide suggestions and questions to communications@scarsdale.com. Most important, all are encouraged to sign-up to receive personalized alerts and information from village government.

In addition to monitoring the website rollout, the committee has moved on to the next phase of its work – developing a formal plan to improve current communications practices and increase public awareness. This includes assessing the types of information residents want and need, when and how it should be delivered, and related costs. As part of the process, the group is working closely with village staff and relying on input from the public.

villagesite

Reports Veron, "Our combined efforts on the website redesign, in particular, present an important opportunity to engage our residents as we chart the future course of communications within Scarsdale. We are delighted to have resident volunteers with extraordinary talent and experience collaborating with the board of trustees and village staff."

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.

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:

cheertournamentcheerkinghtscheer westlake

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.

shsHockey2-8Ashshockey2-8

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