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The State of the Village from Mayor Jon Mark

ScarsdaleVillageScarsdale Mayor Jon Mark delivered the annual "State of the Village" address at a meeting of the Scarsdale Forum on October 6 at Scarsdale Library. He indicated that the 2016 revaluation has consumed much of the Board of Trustees time this past year, preventing them from moving forward on other important issue such as land use, preservation and building regulations that continue to impact Scarsdale's landscape.

He conveyed the challenges of maintaining an independent municipal government due to decrease state funding, the tax cap and pressure to consolidate from Albany. He warned that the Village's aging sewer system will require millions of dollars in repairs in the next few years and discussed a lawsuit against the County and eleven municipalities for alleged violations of the Clean Water Act.

On the bright side, the Village has repaved 2.8 miles of roadways and expects to pave another half mile in the spring of 2017. He gave a report on the status of several capital improvement projects including repairs to the Heathcote Road Bridge, the Ardsley Road Water Tank and the renovation of Firehouse #1 and an update on where we stand with the proposed $17.9 mm library renovation, ending with a defense of Scarsdale's Non-Partisan system which has been under attack from those unhappy with the outcome of the 2016 revaluation.

Read the full text of Mark's speech below:

President Crandall and members of the Scarsdale Forum, thank you for having me here this evening. The following provides an overview with respect to considerations relating to the 2016 revaluation and an overview of some of the highlights of this year's budget and operational projects the Village is facing – or may take on. It also touches on a few initiatives that are, or may be, under consideration.

The 2016 Revaluation
I have spoken on this topic at prior Board meetings. The following is a brief re-cap and update of where things stand.

• The possibility of seeking legislation to permit a three-year phase-in of increases in assessments experienced by certain residents on whom the impact of the revaluation was sufficiently harsh as to put them in jeopardy of leaving the Village is to be considered at a Committee of the Whole meeting scheduled for 6:00 pm on October 13, 2016. The pros and cons of pursuing that course of action will be discussed at that meeting.jonmark

• The Village staff continues to collect and organize information that might support a claim against J.F. Ryan & Associates. In the meantime, the Village continues to withhold from J.F. Ryan approximately $49,000 in fees he claims are due his firm.

• We explored the possibility of contesting the preliminary state equalization rate issued by the NYS Office of Real Property Tax Services (ORPTS) and retained a consultant to assist with that effort. The consultant completed his analysis and submitted to it to ORPTS for review. After consulting with ORPTS regarding his work, the parties agreed that the consultant failed to undertake certain statistical procedures used by ORPTS in its analysis to make an adjustment in the sales ratio analysis data. The consultant then reviewed his work further and concluded that based on the parameters of ORPTS' approach, his calculation would be approximately the same as theirs. It therefore now appears unlikely that challenging the preliminary equalization rate would be successful. The Village Manager convinced the consultant to waive any payment for his work in light of this outcome. While the results are disappointing, they are not wholly unexpected in that they appear to validate ORPTS' preliminary equalization rate. This may help to support our claim against J.F. Ryan relative to the quality of his work, and we have asked the Village Attorney to determine how best to incorporate this information into our dispute.

• Regarding the question of whether the Village Board will take steps to void the 2016 revaluation, as has been stated at past meetings, the Village Board does not have statutory authority to take such an action on its own. We understand that should the Village wish to pursue this route, the earliest draft legislation could be submitted for initial consideration in Albany would be January 2017. Based on that timing, it is not likely we would learn whether or not the legislation passed for several months thereafter, close to the time the spring tax bills had to go out. Further, based on the report of the 2011 experience of the Town of Hamilton, New York when it sought legislation to simply extend the filing date of its assessment roll, it is possible that Westchester County might oppose any such legislative proposal as did Madison County in the case of Hamilton. That opposition proved persuasive in Hamilton's case and the Governor vetoed the legislation despite it having passed in both houses of the New York legislature. It is reasonably apparent that a request to entirely void an assessment roll – as contrasted with a request to simply extend a filing date which was Hamilton's request -- would be a more difficult issue for Albany to approve.

• We recognize residents' issues with the 2016 revaluation and the strong desire of some to reinstate the 2015 final assessment roll. However, it is less than clear that reinstating the 2015 final assessment roll, and it is not clear that that could be done, would be a prudent course to take since that roll too had its critics. One procedural issue that re-instatement might trigger is that those who may be grieved by the reinstatement of the 2015 roll would not have an opportunity file grievances. That inability must be seriously considered. It is my view that rather than reinstating a prior roll that also had its flaws and so could precipitate a host of additional issues, the Village as a whole would be better served by looking ahead and planning in a thoughtful way for the next Village-wide revaluation. If the Village were to adopt the phase-in approach just mentioned, those who felt the greatest burden of the 2016 revaluation and were in the least favorable position to bear that burden, would get some measure of relief (admittedly allocated to all other residents). In the case of the Towns of Greenburgh and Ossining, both of which adopted the phase-in approach, that approach was sufficiently bearable by all residents as to make it worthwhile.

• With respect to the Assessor and the Assessor's Office, the Board is studying what should be done within applicable legal parameters about the staffing and functioning of that office.

Overview of the 2016-2017 Budget and Certain Initiatives

The 2016-2017 Budget:

The budget process drives municipal operations. Since the 2008-2009 fiscal year, Village budgets have risen on average 3.59% per year. Due to reductions or little growth in non-property tax revenues, including Village building permit fees, New York State sales tax, mortgage tax and gross receipts tax, and the flatness of New York State aid along with the tremendous loss of interest income, a tax rate of approximately $4.2666 per thousand dollars of assessed valuation was adopted for fiscal 2016-2017. Compared to the $4.1147 rate established in 2015-2016, it represents a 3.69% rate increase year to year.

The 2016-2017 budgeted expenditures of approximately $55.5 million represent an approximate $1 million, or 1.85% increase, from the current fiscal year 2015-2016 adopted budget. A terrific effort was made by Village department heads, Budget Officer and Treasurer to minimize increases in controllable line items to achieve the overall 1.85% increase year over year. This effort was made more difficult by two factors. First, reductions or little growth in non-property tax revenues of the sorts mentioned. In the 2016-2017 budget, non-property tax revenues are only increasing by approximately $213,000, or 1.35%. The continued failure of the New York State legislature to provide options for local governments to increase non-property tax revenues has forced an overreliance on the property tax. New means for raising revenue for local governments have been rejected by New York State. These include calls for: the reinstatement of unrestricted general revenue sharing or Aid and Incentives for Municipalities (AIM) funding to statutorily required per capita levels (this previous funding source of over $1 million is budgeted at approximately $186,600 for 2016-2017); increases in annual Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) funding for critical road resurfacing; and, reform of gross receipts tax statutes to increase the percentage of utility gross revenues provided municipalities from 1% to 3%, while incorporating cellular phone revenue in the calculation which the State itself already collects. The failure to make these sorts of changes in the mix of municipal revenue sources are part of the Governor's effort to force the consolidation of municipal governments – a goal that also underlies the so called "2% cap" legislation.
In addition, the State continues to impose onerous unfunded mandates on local governments relative to pension costs, which have increased over 100% over the past six years, currently at $4.2 million; and health insurance costs, which have increased 30% over the past three years, with the 2016-2017 budget expense at approximately $7,361,000.

A more detailed discussion of the budget can be found in the 2016-2017 Adopted Budget posted on the Village web site.

Other matters:

The capital plan for fiscal 2016-2017 is summarized on pages 22-24 of the Adopted Budget. I will touch on just a few of the projects involved in the plan.
Road repaving: Approximately 3.5 miles of roadway, identified as being in poor condition, were repaved in 2015-2016 at a cost of roughly $1.2 million. Most of these roads also received new curbing or the resetting of existing curbing. A total of 2.8 miles of roadway with associated curbing has been completed to date during fiscal year 2016-2017. Pursuant to a Village Board supplemental appropriation from the unassigned fund balance in September, additional repaving work of roughly another half mile of roadway is planned for the spring of 2017.

Future work on sewers anticipated: At prior Board meetings, status reports have been given with respect to ongoing conversations with the County of Westchester regarding an inter-municipal agreement (IMA) arising from the County's need to comply with certain NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) consent decrees governing the County's sewerage discharge into Long Island Sound. Municipalities are engaged in this discussion because their municipal sewerage collection systems empty into the County's system. Although the Village did not execute an IMA, we are working toward compliance with the essential elements of the County's requirements by conducting a Sanitary Sewer Evaluation Study (SSES) and a Capacity Management Operation and Maintenance (CMOM) plan. The SSES will identify areas of stormwater inflow and infiltration ("I&I") entering the sewerage system, resulting in flows exceeding the 150 gallons per capita per day limit established by the County in its Sewer Act. These excessive flows that occur during certain rain events, contribute to the overtaxing of the County-owned sewerage treatment plants resulting in untreated sewerage being discharged into the Sound. The CMOM plan will provide a schedule of ongoing repair and operational protocols to best maintain the sewer system. Depending on what the studies show, remediation work will be required. The fiscal year 2016-2017 budget allocates a total of $350,000 in dedicated sewer rent fee funding to partially fund these two studies which are expected to continue into fiscal year 2017-2018. An additional $1 million in each of the next three fiscal years is also identified in the Capital Plan to fund the anticipated sewer system remedial work.

Clean water mandates from the Federal, State and County governments will likely cost the Village millions of dollars over the next decade. NYS and Federal grants are limited and extremely competitive. In addition, a civic group entitled the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, also known as Save the Sound, commenced a lawsuit last August naming the County of Westchester and eleven municipalities, including Scarsdale, for alleged violations of the Federal Clean Water Act. The Village retained outside counsel and has since entered into a joint defense agreement with all of the defendant municipalities except the County. The defendant municipalities as well as the plaintiffs agreed that a resolution whereby all parties work together on a County Sewer District basis to analyze, identify and perform the required sanitary sewer improvements is a more efficient and effective method of addressing these long-standing issues. Our attorneys have met with representatives of the NYSDEC and the judge assigned to the case relative to this approach, which has been well received by both parties. More to come on this important item in the future.

Fire Station No. 1 Renovation:

This project continues to struggle to get to the starting line. After certain project design modifications were made as a result of certain site conditions discovered during the final design phase, construction bids were opened on September 13th with the lowest base bid exceeding the construction budget funding by 22%. As such, these bids will be submitted to the Village Board at our October 13th meeting with a staff recommendation to reject them. Staff is currently working with the project engineer on a revised contract which will separate the major project items allowing the Village to add or deduct items depending on need and cost. The new schedule provides for rebidding the project this month with an objective of making a bid award in November. It is hoped that this exercise will allow the project to move ahead in the coming months.

LED Street Light Project: In April 2015, the Board of Trustees reappointed the Ad Hoc Committee to research Light Emitting Diode (LED) street lights in order to improve lighting, reduce Village costs for electricity and maintenance, and conserve energy. To that end, the Committee was asked to develop a pilot program and make a recommendation on how best to move forward. The Committee conducted extensive research on LED street lighting, met with vendors, examined LED streetlights installed in neighboring communities and tested various fixtures to determine the proper lights and locations to pilot in Scarsdale.

The LED project is now at the stage of a pilot program that began in mid-July 2016. The pilot was intended to last until mid-October 2016. That time-frame is now going to be extended. The reason for the extension is that the manufacturer of the LED lights being used is making some material changes which are expected to improve the light fixtures being tested.

Based on discussions with the manufacturer, the Ad Hoc Committee is expecting the fixture in the upcoming version to have:

• Improved optics (the lens that sits over the LEDs and directs the light) that will improve the distribution of the light on the road
• Improved LEDs that will produce a more uniform light color
• Increased energy efficiency
• Additional color options including a softer color
• An updated installation bracket to address potential damage to the fixture during installation

While the extent of each of the improvements will not be known until the new version is released, and while the Ad Hoc Committee has noted that there will always be technological improvements, the Committee has advised us that these potential improvements are worth extending the pilot period to enable the new fixture to be evaluated.

Residents are encouraged to view the LED lights installed during this pilot phase and provide comments to the Ad Hoc Committee, electronically at LED@Scarsdale.com or by using a comment box located at the first floor counter at Village Hall. In addition, residents can follow the progress of this important project through Ad Hoc Committee reports posted on the Village web site when the Committee has significant developments it wishes to report.

We thank the members of the Ad Hoc Committee, residents Ron Schulhof, Chair, Farley Baker, David Raizen and Michelle Sterling, and Department of Public Works Superintendent Benedict Salanitro for the hard work they have put into this project over an extended period of time.

Possible Village Code Provisions regarding Solar Panel Installation:

At a Board meeting in late spring, the Village Board charged the Conservation Advisory Council, or CAC, with studying the question of whether the installation of solar panels on the street facing roofs of residents' homes should be made easier to accomplish. From time to time requests for such installations are made to the Village land use boards and they are frequently turned down principally for aesthetic reasons.

Resident interest in sustainability initiatives, including installing solar panels, continues so the thought was to examine the issue to see if some best practices might be recommended to make it easier to grant such requests from a sustainability standpoint while continuing to balance them again aesthetic concerns.

We understand that the CAC is well along in its work and received substantial feedback from residents, both pro and con, in response to a survey they conducted. We look forward to getting a report from the CAC in the near future with a view to taking up this issue in public meetings going forward.

Ardsley Road Water Tank Replacement:

The Village is currently out to bid on a capital improvement project to replace the roof of the 750,000 gallon water tank on Ardsley Road. The tank provides water storage in conjunction with our secondary water pump station at Ardsley Road. The steel roof has experienced structural failure and will be fully replaced and painted with an epoxy coating. Related ancillary piping and valve work will also be completed. The total project cost is estimated at roughly $1.9 million. Bid award and contract execution are planned for this fall/winter with construction commencing in spring 2017. Construction duration is estimated at six months.

Heathcote Road Bridge Project: The Heathcote Road Bridge was built in 1910, and carries traffic of roughly 8,200 vehicles daily along Heathcote Road over the Heathcote Bypass. Originally a railroad right-of-way, the Heathcote Bypass is now owned by Westchester County, and connects New York State Route 125 at two separate locations (Weaver Street and Palmer Avenue). The Bridge is owned by the Village.
Following its biennial inspection in June 2014, the Heathcote Road Bridge received a "Red Flag Rating" from the New York State Department of Transportation. The report indicated that the abutment located on the southern portion of the bridge needed immediate attention. In order to properly address the red flag, the Village of Scarsdale hired a structural engineering firm to design a temporary support structure, as well as assess the entire structure for stability. In November 2014, the Village contracted to install the support system, and notified the State of the work being completed. An additional temporary support was installed in December 2015 to further safeguard the bridge.

While the temporary supports addressed the immediate issue, our structural engineer has determined that a larger scale project is needed to improve the overall long term stability of the bridge. This work would include replacing both bridge abutments along with other incorporated structural improvements. Our design engineer has advised us that the proposed project will cost approximately $1.5 million and take six months to complete. Funding through a bond issue is identified in the fiscal year 2016-2017 Capital Budget and the Village is actively seeking all grant opportunities. The project schedule provides for the completion of contract documents by the end of November 2016, bid advertisement in December with a bid award in February 2017. Construction would commence in spring 2017. Other than intermittent lane shifting, the bridge construction will not impact daily traffic on Heathcote Road or the Bypass.

The Proposed Library Project: libraryentry

The Village Board and Village Staff continue to work with the Library Board on the proposal to upgrade and renovate the Library. The Library Board has done considerable work in refining the proposed project with a view toward reducing cost. The Library Board remains committed to attempting to raise at least $7.5 million from private donors, and continues to look to the Village to fund the balance of the project. Based on the work and analysis done to date, the cost estimate for the project is now in the range of $17.9 million. This is down from approximately $20.5 million that was estimated at one point last year. Assuming private contributions of at least $7.5 million and receipt of a $500,000 New York State grant that the Library Board hopes to secure with assistance of Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, the Village would have to fund roughly $9.9 million of the project. This is a reduction from the $12.5 million of Village funding requested by the Library Board in the last iteration of its proposal.

There are a few considerations that put this reduced $9.9 million figure into perspective. First, the Library Board has estimated that there will be operational savings of approximately $1.5 million during the year and a half the Library is expected to be closed for renovation and a temporary facility with greatly reduced services and staff is operated, probably at the Supply Field building. This cash savings, if realized can fairly be netted against the $9.9 million for a net cost of $8.4 million. Second, the Village staff and the Library Board have estimated that there are approximately $4.5 million of deferred capital projects for the Library that would have to be done over the next several years to maintain the existing building. These include roof repair, HVAC upgrade, and renovation of the bathroom facilities to make them ADA compliant, among other things. If one assumes that this $4.5 million would be spent eventually, then the incremental cost of a fully renovated Library could be said to be $3.9 million. Of course, debt service on a $9.9 million bond is the cost that will be borne by tax payers if the project as presently proposed goes forward. However, putting the $9.9 million figure into context may be one useful factor that can be considered in weighing the pros and cons of this project.

The Village Board has had a number of public meetings on the Library proposal over a period that now spans several years. However, other than adopting a resolution in 2013 to support the funding of $4.5 million of the project conditioned on the Library Board privately raising at least a similar sum, the Board has not taken any further action with respect to the project as it has evolved and as it is presently proposed. It has been part of the Board's consideration for many months that should a decision be made to move ahead with the project, the decision to issue the required Village bond would likely be put to a Village-wide referendum vote. Though no decision on going forward has yet been made by the Village Board, based on recent discussions I have had with the Library Board President, she has requested that another public information meeting on the present revised proposal be scheduled for late November, after the Thanksgiving holiday. The Library President has further stated that it is the Library Board's intent at the late November meeting to urge the Village Board to put the matter of a bond issuance to a public referendum vote at a special election sometime in February 2017. Should such a request made, I expect the Village Board will take it under advisement and consider the matter at future public meetings.

We have received numerous emails on this project over the last several months expressing a range of views. The emails are posted on the Village web site and interested residents can review them if they wish to. It is hoped that residents will attend or watch the next public meeting on this project and provide further feedback to the Village Board on the project as then proposed. Before deciding what next steps should be taken, the Board would be greatly aided by receiving significant input from residents and a better sense of the level of support or opposition for the proposed Library.
Ad Hoc Committee on Communications: The Village Board perceives a need to improve its communications to residents. To that end and as the result of the efforts of Trustee Jane Veron, the October 13, 2016 Village Board agenda will include an item for the formation of an Ad Hoc Communications Committee. The Committee will consist of 10 residents who responded to a general request for applications from residents interested in serving on such a Committee. Deputy Village Manager Rob Cole will also be a Committee member and the Committee will be chaired by Trustee Veron. Trustee Pekarek will also serve as a liaison to the Committee.

The Committee will serve for a period of one year. Its mandate will be to support the successful launch of the Village's new website, a communications platform intended to support 24/7 resident access and engagement. The Committee will also be asked to present written recommendations for strengthening Village communication strategies and cultivating engagement opportunities with the diversity of audiences served by the web site. We are excited by the creation of this Committee to provide focused resident feedback on this important and necessary function.

Revisiting FAR:

Some residents continue to express interest in taking a look at what more might be done to preserve the architectural character of our neighborhoods. Over the coming months, the Board may hold public meetings to examine and consider this issue and whether changes to the existing Village Code FAR provisions might be a way to address this topic.

Development of the Freightways Open Lot:

Village staff has received informal inquiries from parties interested in pursuing development of the open lot surrounding the Freightways garage. On the Board's annual Village tour last June, this was one of the sites we visited. At that time, the Village Planner described how the lot might be developed for multiple uses, including residential and commercial uses while retaining the existing parking capacity. This sort of project is something that we might start exploring with the community in earnest over the coming year. It is noted that there are pending capital improvement needs in the Freightways garage to re-install a waterproof parking deck membrane on all floors and for other related items, which are presently identified in the Village Capital Plan and are estimated to cost approximately $1.2 million. With those capital costs looming, there may be reasons for looking at a more comprehensive approach to this developable property.

I will conclude by seguing into the next part of this evening's agenda with the following observations on the 2016 revaluation and our non-partisan system.

The 2016 Revaluation and Our Non-Partisan System

The fall-out from the 2016 revaluation has overtaken a large part of the Village municipal agenda for the past four months and have I commented generally on where things stand at the beginning of this talk.

What I wish to comment on briefly is the broader impact of the 2016 revaluation controversy on Village government and how it is perceived. It is clear that, putting aside the economic burden on residents that was triggered by the revaluation, the biggest impact has been a loss of confidence by certain residents in how the Village is governed and managed. A corollary of this is the view of some that our non-partisan system is broken and should be replaced with a partisan, issue-based process for selecting Village Board members, among other things.

While this point of view is understandable as a reaction to the discussion that has been going on over the past four months, in my view it is to some degree an overreaction. If it is a view that carries the day, we risk tossing out a system that in very large part has served our Village well for over a century and should continue to do so for the future.
I have spoken on the non-partisan system in the past and so some of what I have to say I have expressed previously – but I believe it bears repeating.

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 the minority 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.

The non-partisan system that on the whole has served our Village well for over one hundred years is in dramatic contrast to that sort of partisan model. Rather, it encourages us to listen to each other and to at least try to make decisions that best serve the Village as a whole and not simply one subset of residents. Is the system perfect? No. Does it always succeed in making the best decision? No. But when compared to the sort of dysfunction we see in Congress and the recent spate of corruption trials flowing out of Albany – a lot of which can be attributed to partisanship – I submit our non-partisan system appears preferable to a large degree.

The 2016 revaluation, initiated with only good intentions and under circumstances very similar to those existing today, did not work out as planned. Going forward, I have little doubt that any subsequent revaluation will be better conceived, 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 our entire non-partisan system into the trash bin is in my mind an unwarranted over reaction. 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 -- is best served by partisans who may have a pre-conceived notion of what the results of the decision-making process should be.

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