Village Seeks Dismissal of Article 78 Lawsuit
- Category: Village Voices
- Published on 18 February 2017
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
Attorneys representing the Village of Scarsdale, Terry Rice and Dan Vinclette filed a motion to dismiss the Article 78 brought by the Scarsdale Committee for Fair Assessments on January 13, 2017. Drafted by Scarsdale Attorney Robert Bernstein and verified by Mayra Kirkendall-Rodriguez for 151 petitioners, the Article 78 asked the court to annul, void and rescind the 2016 tax assessment roll for Scarsdale and roll back valuations to 2015 assessments. If the Village failed to roll back the assessments, they asked that the petitioners who would pay more taxes on the 2016 roll than the 2015 roll be refunded the difference.
The Village of Scarsdale countered by asking for the dismissal of the Article 78 based on a number of procedural issues and the petitioners' failure to "allege any cognizable cause of action."
In an affirmation of support of the memorandum to dismiss the case, the attorneys write, "The petition consists of nothing more than a host of unsubstantiated allegations that are designed to disparage the name and reputation of the public officials involved in the 2016 revaluation.... Moreover, Petitioner ignores the fact that property valuations made by tax assessors are presumptively valid and that the presumption can only be rebutted with substantial evidence of overvaluation through proof based upon both sound proof and objective data. Here, Petitioner failed to present any evidence to rebut this presumption."
Recounting the history of the revaluation, the affirmation of support explains the role of Scarsdale resident Mayra Kirkendall Rodriguez who has been a vocal opponent of the Village Board and organized the petitioners to file the Article 78. The affirmation says that after the Village filed the 2016 roll, "Mayra Kirkendall Rodriguez became an immediate critic of the results and the valuation process. Despite having been told repeatedly that the Assessor is independent and that elected officials did not have the authority to supersede the Assessor's determination to file the final 2016 assessment roll, Mayra Kirkendall Rodriguez continued to insist that the Town/Village Board engage in such unlawful conduct.... When she realized that the Board would not supersede the independent determination of the Assessor, she then insisted that the Board seek special legislation from the State Legislature and Governor to invalidate the revaluation. When the Board declined to pursue that political remedy she threatened the Board with litigation and subsequently facilitated the commencement of this action. It should be noted that Mayra Kirkendall Rodriguez exercised her rights under Article 5 of the Real Property Tax Law and received a reduction in her 2016 assessment, almost to the level of her 2015 assessment."
The Village also explains why a roll back to a prior tax roll would not be legal or feasible for the Village as it would "deprive certain property owners of their right to grieve their 2015 assessment because certain statutory deadlines have passed."
In a 44-page memorandum filed on February 15 they argue for dismissal because:
1) The suit failed to name of the County of Westchester and the Scarsdale School District who they call "indispensable parties" who receive taxes based on the assessment roll. Since they would be required to pay refunds and could be "adversely affected" the lawyers argue that the suit can't proceed in their absence.
2) The suit fails to provide a factual basis for "outlandish claims" related to the revaluation and did not provide "substantial evidence of overvaluation based on sound theory and objective data."
3) The Committee for Fair Assessments lacks standing to assert a claim as it is an unincorporated association who does not own property or pay taxes in the Village. The memorandum says that the claim does not demonstrate injury to any "members" of the committee and failed to establish that it is advocating a position fairly representative of the community of interests which it seeks to protect. It doesn't provide the specifics of how individual members were affected and does not establish whether or not the organization was open to all individuals who were affected.
4) The claim does not provide facts to support that the 2016 revaluation "constituted a waste of or injury to public funds" or that it was illegal, imperiled the public interest or "calculated to work public injury.
The Village contends that the claim that the group was denied equal protection is baseless for several reasons ... one because the petition fails to show how the petitioners were treated differently than "similar persons or entities." The motion says, since the group was an ad hoc organization it would be difficult to comprehend how any equal comparator could exist. It says, "The petition challenges broad methodologies of assessment but fails to provide a single instance of purportedly similarly situated person or property that was treated differently."
The memorandum cites extensive case law to show that rescinding a municipality's tax roll has not previously been supported in a court of law. In Hellerstein vs. Assessor of Town of Islip in 1975, the court said, "if we invalidate the assessment roll this could bring fiscal chaos to the Town of Islip. ... and cause disorder and confusion in public affairs." Mayor Jon Mark cited this same case repeatedly over the last year and a half when residents pleaded with the Village Board to throw out the 2016 assessment roll.
Under General Municipal Law 51 the plaintiff was required to furnish a bond to the defendant therein, to be approved by a justice of the Supreme Court. The memorandum notes that the petitioners failed to post a bond.
Several people who signed the Article 78 and paid $500 each to fund the action are now running for Scarsdale Village Trustee. Brice Kirkendall-Rodriguez, husband of Mayra Kirkendall Rodriguez, who led the challenge to the Village, signed the petition. Candidate for Trustee Robert Selvaggio is a petitioner and Robert Berg, candidate for Village Mayor supported the suit saying he would have signed it except for the fact that his assessment was reduced between 2014 and 2016 and he therefore had nothing to gain. In recent weeks these candidates from the newly formed Scarsdale Voters' Choice Party who supported the suit then asked the Village to settle it rather than spend taxpayer funds to fight it. They said, "We will, with the Court's assistance, fashion a fair resolution of the lawsuit."
However, the Village launched a defense against the Article 78 which, if settled, would cost taxpayers considerable funds and might lead to further lawsuits. The outcome of the case may impact the results of the upcoming Village election on March 21.
About the Village's motion to dismiss, Robert Berg, who is currently running on the slate of the Scarsdale Voter's Choice Party for Mayor in opposition to the Scarsdale Citizens Party, said, "It reminds me of the alternative facts from Donald Trump. It sounds like the Ryan reval was fine and these people just disagree with the results. It ignores the entire history of what happened here. Mayor Mark admitted it was a mistake, no one on the Village Board was happy with it and the Village is withholding money from Ryan. These are all legal technicalities. If you read the substance of the brief, there's nothing there. The bottom line is that the reval is arbitrary and capricious and they should settle it. They are fighting this ... but to what end?"
The case has been assigned to Judge Scheinkman and it is not known when a decision will be announced.
Three Suspects Arrested for Burglary on Drake Road
- Category: Village Voices
- Published on 15 February 2017
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
On Tuesday, February 14, 2017, the Scarsdale Police Department arrested the three young men and charged them with Burglary 2nd Degree, a Class C Felony, in connection with the burglary of a home on Drake Road, late in the evening on Febrary 13th.
Orgen Hoxha, age 21, of Overlook Terrace, New York, NY
Armand Selmani, age 23, of Northfield Terrace, Clifton, NJ
Gramos Muhaxheri, age 22, of 3444 Knox Place, Bronx, NY
The arrests are the result of the combined efforts of a Multi-Jurisdictional Law Enforcement Task Force that includes the Scarsdale PD, New Rochelle PD, Greenburgh PD, Eastchester PD, Greenwich CT PD and the Westchester District Attorney's Investigators.
All three defendants were arraigned in the Scarsdale Justice Court and remanded to the Westchester County Jail on $100,000 bail for a future court appearance.
These arrests are part of an ongoing investigation. Additional information will be provided in a future press release.
Scarsdale Library Receives Significant State Grant for Temporary Facility at Supply Field
- Category: Village Voices
- Published on 31 January 2017
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
The Scarsdale Public Library took a significant step toward the updating and expansion of its building with a grant from New York State that defrays the bulk of the cost to renovate a temporary facility.
With the advocacy of Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, the Village of Scarsdale has received approval for a $500,000 reimbursement grant from the state Dormitory Authority to refurbish the village-owned building at Supply Field on Heathcote Road for use as a temporary facility when the current building is closed. The project is estimated to cost $700,000 with the village benefitting from the upgraded building for future use.
This latest development gives additional momentum to a project that incubated about six years ago when the Library Board of Trustees developed a strategic plan after receiving considerable input from residents.
"Having a temporary facility so we could continue to provide library services for residents of Scarsdale while work is done on the library was an important component in planning for the renovation," said Elizabeth Bermel, Library Director. "Through the tireless efforts of Assemblywoman Paulin, the village has obtained a major share of the funds needed to convert the building at Supply Field into a temporary library. When the library renovation is completed the village will have a modernized building for its use."
"I'm thrilled to be able to be part of the Scarsdale community's efforts to renovate its public library," Paulin said. "A larger more modern facility will help the library's talented staff provide more programs and service for all Scarsdale residents, making it a true community center as well as a source of information, entertainment and connectivity. I look forward to attending many events in the renovated library!"
Voters Choice Party Challenges Non-Partisan Party Slate for Scarsdale Mayor and Trustees
- Category: Village Voices
- Published on 07 February 2017
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
(Updated 2-9) An independent slate of candidates for Scarsdale Mayor and Scarsdale Village Trustee have filed a petition to challenge the candidates selected by Scarsdale's Citizen's Nominating Committee in the March 2017 election for the Board of Trustees of Scarsdale Village.
The slate is led by Robert Berg who is running for Scarsdale Mayor, with Brice Kirkendall-Rodriguez, Carlos Ramirez and Robert Selvaggio for Village Trustees.
The newly formed party, named "The Scarsdale Voters Choice Party," is challenging the Village's Non-Partisan system which calls for the selection of candidates for the Village Board by an elected group of nominators who vet and interview candidates behind closed doors. The Voter's Choice Party promises to "usher grassroots democracy" back to Scarsdale by offering residents a choice of candidates to vote for in a general election.
The party's new website charges that recent "Village mayors and trustees have failed to carry out their fiduciary duties ... and failed to oversee Village operations and staff," and decry the "mishandled second town-wide revaluation" and "perennially crumbling streets. " They promise to "act openly" and bring "transparency" to Village government.
Absent from the statement are positions on some of the most pressing issues now before the Village, including plans for an extensive overhaul of the Scarsdale Library, development at the Freightway site, historical preservation and land use laws, storm water and sewer maintenance, renovations to Fire Station #1, sustainability initiatives and more.
Any resident who wishes to seek a position as mayor or a trustee can gather the necessary signatures and file a petition by the deadline to appear on the pre-printed ballot. Challengers to the non-partisan system can also run as write-in candidates.
This particular slate was formed around an almost two year battle around the second tax revaluation which culminated in an Article 78 proceeding against the Village signed by two of the party candidates among the 151 participants. The suit asks the Village to roll back the assessments to 2014 values, though the Village has no legal means of doing so. If they fail to roll it back, the suit asks that the 151 participants be paid back the difference between their 2014 and 2016 tax payments. It is not clear where these funds would come from and if the balance of taxpayers would be assessed to meet the payments.
The Article 78 was signed by Mayra Kirkendall-Rodriguez, wife of candidate Brice Kirkendall-Rodriguez for the Scarsdale Committee for Fair Assessments. She was the leader of the campaign to void the 2016 revaluation, which according to the suit, "resulted in a substantial shift of the tax burden to those larger properties to which their owners objected. Such systematic undervaluation of larger homes for the purpose of shifting the tax burden to smaller burden violates both the constitutional rights of owners of Scarsdale's smaller homes to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and under Article I, Section 11 of the New York Constitution, Equal Protection Clause and the statutory rights of Scarsdale home owner to be assessed at a uniform percentage of value as mandated by Section 305(2) of New York Real Property Tax Law."
In the process, for the last two years, Rodriguez and her followers filed FOIL requests for thousands of emails and spent countless hours building their case against the Village Board, Village Manager's Office, Village Assessor and John Ryan. The Village Attorney and staff had to defend the Village and review these emails before they were released which strained their resources. The controversy hampered the ability of the Village Board to deal with little else on their agenda. Among the charges in the suit are that the Village gave unfair tax breaks to public officials. However the tax rolls shows that Berg, Kirkendall-Rodriguez and Ramirez also enjoyed reductions in their assessments from 2014 to 2016. Although most agree that the revaluation model was sloppy and haphazard, it's not clear who was damaged or received favorable treatment.
If there is no settlement of the Article 78 lawsuit before the election on March 21, the new trustees and Mayor could have a say in its outcome and potentially benefit from the settlement.
Berg, who is now running for Mayor, is a former President of the Scarsdale Forum and in that role he chaired the Citizen's Nominating Committee, a group that he is now criticizing as secretive. Berg also championed the first revaluation in 2014 and in the summer of 2016 he served on the Board of Assessment Review and heard grievances from the 2016 revaluation. Before the second revaluation was filed, he repeatedly warned that it was a "train wreck waiting to happen."
This is not the first time Berg has sought to overturn the status quo. In 2013 he led a coalition of residents to successfully defeat the first Scarsdale School budget to fail in 43 years. He rented a list of the names and addresses of 3,200 households without children in the school and urged residents to vote against the budget. He galvanized voters to come to the polls, eliciting 1,720 "no votes," in an election that normally only attracts about 700 total voters.
At the time, Berg said, "The $1 million taxpayers are being asked to dole out this year for the proposed High School Wellness Center is "a pig in a poke." He contended that SHS already had "more than ample physical fitness facilities." Since that time, funds for the new Wellness Center were raised by the Scarsdale Schools Foundation, Maroon and White and a private donation from the Madoff family. The fitness center is now under construction.
Berg and Mitchell Gross also criticized the administration for holding what they called an illegal reserve fund for health insurance claims and ultimately pressured Superintendent Dr. McGill to retire a year earlier than planned. In his surprise announcement Dr. McGill said that detractors had called for him to retire as "a quid pro quo for a Yes vote on the budget next week," which was the second attempt to pass the 2013-14 school budget. The state legislature later gave Scarsdale permission to reinstate the health reserve fund as a hedge against medical claims from the district's self-insured health plan.
The formation of the Scarsdale Voters Choice Party was cheered by some residents who believe they are over-taxed and unfairly assessed. They hope that the new slate will bring strong fiscal management – and perhaps reduced property taxes -- to the Village.
Others who have invested time and energy in Scarsdale's Non-Partisan system defended Scarsdale's system of governance.
Scarsdale's current Mayor Jon Mark discussed the non-partisan system with members of this year's Citizen's Nominating Committee saying,
"The 2016 revaluation, initiated with only good intentions did not work out as planned. Going forward, I have little doubt that any subsequent revaluation will be better managed and executed. However, to make the leap from this one experience – as significant as it was and still is – to a conclusion that would throw out our entire non-partisan system is in my mind is unwarranted. The road forward is to do a better job on the next revaluation – whenever it occurs. I do not believe that the decision-making process – whether it be about the next revaluation or another major decision affecting the Village, the proposed Library renovation to name another example -- is best served by partisans who have a pre-conceived notion of what the results of the decision-making process should be."
About partisan politics, Mark said, "Partisanship will not bring us together as a community. It will not produce consensus solutions to shared problems. Partisanship means, by definition, taking sides. Under a partisan system candidates are elected because they take positions on issues and by doing so win elections by garnering the support of those who agree with them. Once in office, those officials may say they will act for the benefit of all citizens in the jurisdiction, but the reality may be quite different. Having been put in office by their partisan constituency, the minds of the officials may be closed to countervailing views and legitimate concerns of other community members on a particular issue. Following a partisan framework would have the potential of setting one group of residents against another -- a dynamic that in my view does not benefit the governance of a Village in which we all share a substantially common interest."
In a letter to Scarsdale10583.com, former Scarsdale Village Mayor Peter Strauss who support the CNC slate put this new development into historical context:
The announcement that the current slate of the Citizens Nominating Committee (CNC) nominees for Mayor and Trustees is being opposed by another full slate is unusual but not surprising. My concern is the nature and stated position of the group calling itself the "Voters' Choice Party". First a little history:
While the election of Mayor and Board of Trustees has always been open to challenge by other nominees, such a challenge has seldom been exercised by a full, or nearly full, slate of Trustees and Mayor. The last time I can recall that happening was in 1999, when a CNC slate led by Mayor Mark Bench was challenged by a responsible, talented, and long active group led by Lester Levin. It was a spirited campaign with the CNC slate supported by a large group organized by Neil Bicknell. I was part of that latter group and vividly recall election night when we had to count and recount the 2,000 plus votes. For the first time in over 70 years a candidate opposing the CNC slate, Joseph Zock, was elected – by one vote! Joe subsequently served two full terms (four years) as a responsible trustee.
Compare that situation with what we face today – a CNC slate is opposed by the Voters' Choice Party, two of whose Trustee candidates are themselves participants in the Article 78 proceeding against the Village, and whose candidate for Mayor has been a persistent supporter of that proceeding against the Village. To have potential Village Board members who, if elected, could influence the outcome of a lawsuit to their own benefit is an unsavory situation.
My extensive experience with the Village staff, and my personal knowledge of Dan Hochvert, who served as a Trustee when I was Mayor, convince me that a Board refreshed by the new CNC nominees, led by Dan Hochvert and our Village Manager is the appropriate way forward."
Both slates of candidates filed their petitions with a minimum of 100 signatures on February 7, 2017 and each candidate will be required to provide a signed certificates of acceptance to the Village Clerk by February 17, 2017.
In order to decide which party would receive the top line of the ballot, Village Clerk Donna Conkling tossed a coin and the Citizens Nominating Party won, which means that their slate of candidates will be on the first line of the pre-preinted ballot.
Have comments? Please include your first and last name.
Petitioners Call for Village to Negotiate a Settlement to the Article 78
- Category: Village Voices
- Published on 26 January 2017
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
Petitioners who filed an Article 78 proceeding to invalidate the 2016 revaluation showed up at the Village Board meeting on Tuesday January 24 to ask the Board of Trustees what action they would take and to request that the Village seek to settle the suit rather than spend tax dollars defending the assessment roll.
The Mayor opened the meeting by saying that since the Article 78 was pending litigation, neither he nor the Village Attorney would comment on it. However, the petitioners repeatedly asked the Board to tell them how they would address the suit.
In the public comments portion of the meeting many spoke out about the revaluation, scolding the board and repeating claims made at prior meetings.
Greg Soldatenko, of Lenox Place, who introduced himself as "Co-chair for the Committee for Fair Assessments" said that "Ryan and Albanese "cooked the books" to arrive at the assessment roll. ... Albanese took good care of formerly and presently elected officials.... This has resulted in an erosion in trust." He then called for the Village to "release all the remaining FOILED emails," saying, "There are no national security issues here ."
Mayra Kirkendall Rodriguez spoke at length, saying, "I am here to implore you not to spend taxpayer dollars. Sit down with our lawyer Robert Bernstein and resolve this amicably." She continued, "I have lost all faith in our process....Clean up Scarsdale government.... this is what residents have written me... I have been witness to horrible injustice since the Ryan reval train wreck came to town. I am an accidental activist. Every time I think I cannot go on I get another phone call...Your fiduciary responsible is to protect everyone-- not those who curry favor." About the petition she said, "I do not know if the court will rule in our favor... Simply because we live in small houses – we are not children of a lesser God."
Phil Moresco said "Don't waste a penny of our hard earned tax dollars. No punitive action is sought. ...Undo a wrong."
Susan Grosz of Carthage Road said "I live on less than ¼ of an acre. There is no bathroom on the first floor. My assessment went up 10% ... Don't contest the Article 78."
Billy Jacobs of 41 Drake Road said he has lived here since 1987 and served on many Village committees and commissions. He said, "I am disturbed that I have to be here tonight. It is time for answers. Why was the reval done? It made no difference to the Village as they collect the same revenue. The Village tried to do the right thing – the Village tried to be fair. But our Village was exploited, harmed. It is now a scandal beyond which I have never seen. In good faith, mistakes are made. That's why there are erasers on the ends of pencils. I am not here to place blame or point fingers. Nothing has been done to solve the problem. This is not acceptable. Many are frustrated by inaction and have taken action against the village. None of us did so with glee or to point blame or to obtain undue rewards. The Article 78 is an extraordinary remedy but it is simple. There is no doubt that what happened was unfair and was a mistake. Since everyone knows that material harm occurred it is time to take action and fix the problem. Either agree to the plaintiff's requests or sit down with our counsel and negotiate a settlement. If you don't do that the Village will become mired in expensive litigation and scandal. Tell us what you are going to do tonight. You are the only people that can solve the problem now. Tell us tonight what you think your choices are and what you will do now to address this."
Brice Kirkendall-Rodriguez said "I have worked in software development for 25 years. It is human nature to over value work we did ourselves. The idea of suing ourselves seemed at first preposterous. Think of it as an intervention.... Scarsdale has weathered significant controversies in its past. We will get through this one too....This was a poorly conceived an executed attempt to improve on the Tyler Revaluation. Find an amicable settlement so that we can move on." (see his full comment below.)
Robert Berg reminded the Board that he urged them not to go through with the Ryan reval. He said, "I begged you to pull the plug while you still had the chance. Now as a taxpayer I am very concerned how you will react. The Village assessment roll is a set of unverified evaluations. I am worried that you will spend tens of thousands defending a roll that can't be defended."
Michael Levine, a mathematician and a statistician who has studied both revaluations pointed out that if the Village did a rollback, people who were unhappy with their assessments in the prior roll would not have had an opportunity to grieve, which is their legal right. He said, "If the Ryan reval is rolled back, some will have been denied an opportunity to grieve. Those over-assessed by Tyler who did not grieve will potentially be affected by a rollback. I don't think that a settlement should deprive people of a right to grieve."
Despite the fact that the Village has acknowledged that the 2016 revaluation was poorly executed, the Mayor maintains that the Village Assessor is the only person with the legal authority to file a tax roll, and once it is filed, the Village does not have the legal power to voide it or roll it back to a prior assessment roll. He believes that the legal path to contest an assessment is to file a grievance or initiate a SCAR proceeding.
The 151 petitioners, represeting 2.6% of Scarsdale taxpayers, are requesting that the Village rollback assessments to the prior tax roll. If not, they are requesting that "any property owners in the Town/Village of Scarsdale who paid more than their fair share of property tax as determined by what they would have had to pay had there been a rollback of the assessment roll should be entitled to receive refunds of excess taxes paid." From the draft of the petition it is not clear if all residents or just the participants in the Article 78 would be entitled to refunds -- and for how many years going forward they would receive these refunds. For one year? Or until there is a subsequent revaluation?
We spoke to a few attorneys who were familiar with NYS tax law. One, who favored the petitioners, hoped that a judge would negotiate a settlement that would allow the Village to go back to the adjusted 2014 tax roll and also assign a grievance period for those who wished to dispute their assessments. The legal grievance period is proscribed by NYS law and neither the Village nor the assessor appears to have the power to change these dates.
Another said, "If only the participants in the Article 78 are entitled to refunds these property owners are essentially demanding that the rest of the Village residents "pick up the tab" for changes in their tax bills, even if the reval is not rolled back. Isn't that a what a grievance proceeding is designed to accomplish? If these residents grieved successfully, they have no injury. If they elected not to grieve, or unsuccessfully grieved, they shouldn't be allowed a second bite at the apple. And now they are looking for the Village not to defend this lawsuit and just to settle with them ... i.e., pay them out and afford them special treatment outside of the grievance process."
Looking at the facts, a third attorney suggested that perhaps a court would find that the filing was "arbitrary and capricious," and would order the rollback to the previous assessment roll as adjusted by grievances.
On a practical note, if the court ordered the reinstatement of the adjusted 2014 tax roll, the Village might very well be overwhelmed with lawsuits from those whose tax assessments were higher in 2014. These residents might file appeals and argue that the court decision unfavorably impacted them and ask for rebates for overpayment. The 2014 revaluation was based on market values for luxury homes that were much higher in 2012-13 than what they are today. Rolling back a tax roll might cause years of litigation, uncertainty and chaos in the real estate market.
Other solutions to the assessment question have been discussed in the past year including the formation of an ad hoc committee on revaluation to investigate best practices in property assessment and to make recommendations to the Village on next steps. The Trustees have also considered changes in the staffing of the assessors office – however since this is a personnel matter these meetings were held in executive session and the outcome is unknown. Ultimately the answer might be a third revaluation by a firm that has the trust of the community.
With elections for Mayor and Village Trustees just a few weeks away, it is doubtful whether this Board will move forward on any of these proposals. However, they will be forced to either negotiate a settlement on the Article 78 or litigate to defend the revaluation, both of which will consume man hours and taxpayer funds.
Care to comment? Please include your first and last name.
Comments submitted by Brice Kirkendall-Rodriguez:
I have worked in software development 25 years. Understanding human behavior is a critical part of developing successful products. Stamford Business School Professor Nir Eyal is a renowned leader in this area and has written extensively on building habit forming products and the methods behind the creation of Facebook, LinkedIn, the iPhone, and Google Search.
One of the critical steps in the habit-forming cycle is called "Investment". It is predicated on the idea that we attribute more value to something we have helped create. For example, lotteries sell more tickets when buyers pick their own numbers. IKEA succeeds in part because customers attribute more value to furniture once they have assembled it themselves. In fact, it is human nature to overvalue work we do ourselves relative to the same work performed by others. Thus, even though the contract price for the Ryan reval was only 20% of what we paid for Tyler, we give the Ryal result equal weight because of the investment of time on the project by the current village staff and Board of Trustees.
Yes, there was dissatisfaction expressed following the Tyler reval. It was the first mass appraisal in over 40 years and no one in Village Hall had any benchmark by which to compare the level of media coverage, scrutiny and outrage expressed by the most-impacted residents. It seemed painful and unprecedented and there was a strong desire to seek a remedy.
Enter John Ryan. He offered a solution that was anticipated to fix the problems of the first reval without disrupting what had worked with Tyler. It was described as a "tweak". The Assessor, Village Manager and Board of Trustees then began to invest themselves in the endeavor. There were vendor negotiations, public hearings, and private meetings. This collaborative investment by village officials served to negate the impact of dissent by NY State ORPTS and some residents, because certainly those engaged in making Ryan a reality couldn't ALL be wrong. The Ryan reval became a village habit.
Right up until June of last year we could have quit. However, this became a whole lot harder when the release of the tentative role created at least 1,000 beneficiaries, those who saw a 10% or more drop in their Assessed Values. This also gave reason for the Board of Trustees to feel more invested in final acceptance. What could you possibly say to these homeowners? We heard the Village Attorney cite 40-year-old case law that gave the impression that the Board of Trustees had no legal authority to kick the habit. Scarsdale had become a Ryan Junkie. Those 1,000 beneficiaries were now an existential threat and on more than one occasion it was suggested that doing the right thing and invalidating Ryan was not only without legal precedent but would invite legal challenge.
During my months of effort of examining the Ryan model and its impact on our community, I have met hundreds of Scarsdale homeowners. Not all detractors of Ryan were hurt by Ryan. I have met some homeowners that had a million dollars removed from their home valuations. They have told me privately that they know the number is wrong, but shrugged and considered it a random life perk like the Monopoly card stating "Bank error in your favor, collect $200". Others were hurt by Ryan but felt they couldn't contest it legally because they are public figures or have a relationship with the village that might create a conflict of interest. The point is that support for the Article 78 action to invalidate Ryan extends well beyond the official list of litigants. At this point, I doubt any informed person in Scarsdale whether or not she benefited from Ryan now believes that he acted in Scarsdale's interests. To suggest that there is legal jeopardy to invalidating Ryan is probably a straw man argument and a sign of a habit that has veered into the territory of self-destructive or in this case village-destructive behavior.
Those of us participating in the Article 78 proceeding against the village did not engage in this lightly. The idea of suing ourselves seemed at first to be preposterous. However, consider this an intervention! The Board of Trustees and Village management are so invested and so hooked on the outcome of Ryan, that it has become blinded to the reality. We have learned in this very hall that there is no available mathematical evidence to support the valuations allegedly created by Ryan. The Article 78 filing provides ample exhibits documenting arbitrary changes made to component multipliers to alter home values when they did not suit the objectives of Ryan's model. Some of the exhibits include the Assessor's own emails suggesting that some public officials were accorded special treatment to receive a more favorable assessment of their own homes.
Last summer, the Board was told you have no legal foundation on which to invalidate Ryan. Problem solved...now you do. Article 78 presents you with the legal foundation you were previously missing. We should not delude ourselves into thinking that invalidating Ryan puts the matter of fair home valuation to rest. However, it does return us to a set of valuations that proportionally hold up better under scrutiny and have already been tested through two rounds of grievances.
The 2015 role is a much better foundation from which we can now have a frank Village-wide conversation about the way we value homes and levy taxes. We should consider all of the issues raised by both Tyler and Ryan. Does a dramatic increase in a tax assessment lead to a reduction in property value? Probably. Should we advocate changes in Albany to modernize state assessment standards and oversight? Most definitely. Can we achieve the right balance of taxes and services in this village, such that we don't drive homeowners away after children have left the nest? I hope so.
Scarsdale has weathered significant controversies in its past. We will get through this one too. I believe in the talents of our residents and the passion of our volunteers in public service. I do think we attract capable people to our school and village payrolls. I believe in the promise of Scarsdale and do think we have it within us to be a model of good governance and transparency. Let us recognize this Ryan episode for what it is, a poorly conceived and executed attempt to improve upon the Tyler reval that instead, became a cure worse than the disease. Support for it, has become a destructive habit, and those still addicted to its endorsement have been victimized by the psychology of the investment effect gone wrong. I urge the Board of Trustees to break the habit of support for Ryan and find an amicable settlement to Article 78, such that we can move on to rebuild confidence in our government and village.