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Scarsdale Library Receives Significant State Grant for Temporary Facility at Supply Field

librarydeckThe 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!"

Petitioners Call for Village to Negotiate a Settlement to the Article 78

gavelPetitioners 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.

Trustees Approve Renovations to Fire Station #1 and Hire Consultants to Review Assessor's Office

Station 1The Board of Trustees approved funding for a major renovation to the firehouse on Popham Road at the January 10th meeting. Before reviewing those resolutions, the Board discussed several other issues:

Assessor's Office:

Mayor Jon Mark provided an update on the Village's response to objections to the 2016 revaluation, and announced that the Village will retain a municipal management consulting firm to review the assessor's office and make recommendations on moving forward with the next revaluation. Vendors are now under review. 

Mark said that the Board had conferred with lawyers about the assessor, who was appointed in October 2013 for a six-year term. He said that personnel changes were under consideration. Formation of an ad hoc committee on a future revaluation will be deferred until the Village had a better picture of changes in the assessor's office.

As for J.F. Ryan, the contractor who conducted the 2016 revaluation, the Village is still holding $43,000 due from the contract and also has not paid Ryan an additional $6,000 he billed for his appearance at Village Hall in August 2016. Ryan's lawyer has sent two letters to the Village demanding payment.

Food Scrap Recycling:

The Mayor announced a new Food Scrap Recycling Program that allows residents to collect food scraps and bring them to the Secor Road Recycling Center where they will be collected and ultimately trucked to a composting facility. Michelle Sterling and Ron Schulhof joined the Mayor on the dais to display the new food composting kit that can be purchased for $20. See more about the program here. Community members can request an in-home demonstration on how to recycle food from a member of the committee.

Village Budget:

Village Manager Steve Pappalardo said that the Village staff is in the process of working on the Village budget for 2017-18. A first pass of the budget will be presented to the board and community on January 19 and the public is invited to attend.

Public Comments:

In the public comments portion of the meeting Mayra Kirkendall Rodriguez wished all Scarsdalians good health, happiness, love and peace. She invited residents of old Scarsdale to join the Old Scarsdale Neighborhood Association and she implored the police to enforce speed limits. She said, "People think Fox Meadow Road is the autobahn. This morning I chased a car down Fox Meadow Road to tell her to stop when the school bus is stopped." She urged all residents who are over assessed to email her and said she would file the article 78 on Friday. She said that the "Mayor and Board of Trustees do not seem to be troubled by tax distribution" adding, "This year we will be forced to pay more in county and school taxes for erroneously assessed homes." She claimed that, "Ryan gave breaks to those with the right connections," and complained that she had not received emails she foiled seven months ago from the Village." She thanked "Trustee Callaghan for not submitting to pernicious "group think" and voting against the library." About the CNC she said, "I hope the CNC vets candidates for competency and numeracy. Diversity is importance. I thank Ms. Conkling and Mr. Cole for their work – I wish we could clone you."

Village Attorney Wayne Esannason replied to Rodriguez saying that the Village had released 14,834 emails on July 18 and 15,496 emails in October. Of the 3,545 remaining emails, the Village turned over 1,142 in December. He said, "You will be provided with an explanation as to why the rest were withheld."

Gifts for the Library:

The Board of Trustees accepted the following gifts to the Scarsdale Public Library Addition and Renovation Capital Improvement Project, totaling $153,496.

Friends of the Scarsdale Library: $147,495
Zhenyu Wang and Cuiwei Lin - $500
Ning Yuan - $1,000
Yuan-Ting Yang and Kaechun Wang - $500
Qing He - $1,500
Jing Li - $1,500
Yutong Xie and Mengrong Cheng - $1,500

Additional Funds for Road Repairs:

The Board approved a supplemental appropriation for road repairs of $36,842, brining the total funds for road resurfacing in the 2016-17 budget to $1,337,086.

Village Election:

The Board authorized the Village Election to be held on Tuesday March 21, 2017 at a new location, The Scarsdale Public Library.

Renovation of Fire Station #1:

Discussion then turned to a series of resolutions authorizing renovations to fire station #1 at Village Hall. Currently, the station is too small to accommodate the equipment and the sinking driveway is being supported by 15 jacks. The Board has been reviewing plans for the renovation since 2007 and plans had to be scaled back when the construction estimates came in at $5.1 million, well in excess of the budget. Plans were modified, replacing a stair tower and an indoor elevator with a lift and outdoor stairway, but still include a full structural renovation of the building, new dormitories for female firefighters, a bigger, more modern kitchen and new bathrooms for the paid staff and the volunteers. There will be new HVAC and insulation, a sprinkler system and 90% of the electrical and plumbing will be replaced. The new fire communication system will exceed the system in the public safety building.

Firefighters attended a December, 2016 board meeting and said they had not been consulted about the renovations and complained that their needs were not addressed. However, the Board of Trustees later met with the group and reviewed their concerns.

At the meeting, the Board passed several resolutions designating funding and authorizing work on the project. The final estimate for the work is $3,834,165 of which $2.9 million comes from a bond offering with another $820,000 transferred from the unassigned general fund. The board passed resolutions awarding $2,246,400 for construction, $474,000 for electrical work, $314,600 for plumbing, $361,100 for mechanicals and $46,000 for lead abatement.

All the trustees were on board with the renovation, with the exception of Matt Callaghan who thought the plans were misguided and wanted the Village to begin the process again, using architects and engineers who specialize in the design of firehouses.

Callaghan said, "We are throwing good money after bad. Six years and there is no shovel in the ground. Griggs and Davis are structural engineers, not firehouse engineers. They have no firehouse experience. Do we entrust life safety issues of 5,700 homeowners and roughly 18,000 people to an organization such as this? We had a death on the Boulevard a few weeks ago... we had another one 42 years ago. We do not want that to happen again. The bitterness of poor quality lingers long after the cheap price is forgotten. ...I recommend we start again."

Trustee Stern answered Callaghan saying, "The idea was not to build a new firehouse. The idea was to make it safe and able to accommodate the new equipment. Expediency is very important here. We hired a firm who was focused on structural integrity. Dorms and bathrooms will be upgraded in the renovation."

Village Manager Steve Pappalardo reviewed the history of the project. "We began this project in 2007. Our initial goals were to handle the settlement of the driveway and the deterioration of girders. We hired Scarsdale engineers who worked on the public safety building. We needed to address the safety of bays so we put in supports for the girders and addressed the driveway. The plan includes new dorms and bathrooms for men and women, a new meeting room and a new generator for village hall. The finishing work will be completed by Village maintenance staff. We will have sprinklers, upgraded water, plumbing and gas. The construction meets the initial intent to repair deficiencies and adds space."

Fire Chief Seymour also endorsed the project. "If we had an endless supply of funds and a new parcel of property I would not endorse this. But if you look at the existing building, only one truck fits inside. After the project, all apparatus will fit into the building. Our building will be safer and fit the heavy apparatus. The ramp is now being supported by jacks to hold up the driveway. We will have a newer station
It will last for the foreseeable future. It will allow us to safely respond to the community and I support it."

Trustee Jane Veron questioned Paul Zaicek, the Director of Capitol Projects for the Village of Scarsdale about the use of the funds. He assured her that the money was being well spent and that the renovated firehouse would serve the Village for years to come.

Trustee Carl Finger expressed concern that the firefighters had not been given an earlier opportunity to weigh in on the project. He said, "I read the correspondence that we received from the firefighters and listened to the comments from Mr. Mancini and took that seriously. I have been to several meetings with the engineers and this project has been discussed half a dozen times. Money was borrowed for this particular project. I am disappointed that I wasn't aware that there were concerns that we didn't know about until now. I am not sure it would have changed what we may do tonight. In the future we will try to alert the community early and hear your concerns. We do want it to be safe --and I believe this renovation will put us in a better position to deal with issues. I look forward to a more robust and timely exchange on other issues in the future."

All the resolutions passed with everyone voting in favor save Trustee Callaghan.

Petitioners File Lawsuit to Void the 2016 Revaluation

countycourthouseA group of 151 property owners from the Village of Scarsdale, called the Scarsdale Committee for Fair Assessment, has filed an Article 78 proceeding and a civil action on behalf of themself and the other Scarsdale taxpayers in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of Westchester. The suit was filed on January 13, 2017 to comply with a deadline to file not more than three months after the official 2016 assessment roll for the Village of Scarsdale was filed.

The property owners, representing about 2.6% of the total property owners in the Village of Scarsdale, are represented by Attorney Robert Bernstein, an Edgemont resident who has been a champion of the incorporation of Edgemont for many years. The petition was verified by Mayra Kirkendall-Rodriguez of the Village of Scarsdale. The suit names Village Assessor Nanette Albanese, the Village of Scarsdale and the Mayor and the Board of Trustees of Scarsdale.

The petition asks the court to annul, void and rescind the 2016 assessment roll of the Town/Village of Scarsdale and permanently enjoin the Village from levying taxes on the 2016 roll while rolling back assessments to the prior tax roll which should be "adjusted by the results of any and all grievance proceedings, tax certiorari proceedings and any additions or subtractions to the assessment roll by the assessor in the ordinary course due to new construction and improvements."

If the Village does not rollback assessments to the prior year the petition asks for refunds for the petitioners who "paid more than their fair share ... as determined by what they would have had to pay had there been a rollback of the assessment roll."

The 81-page lawsuit details the history of both the 2014 and 2016 the revaluations, questions the validity of the direct market model used in the 2016 revaluation and contends that owners of Scarsdale's smaller homes now bear more than their fair share of the local property burden.

The filing contains many exhibits, presumably gathered from FOIL requests for emails to and from the Village Assessor's office, Village Manager's office, John Ryan, Al Gatta, John Wolham and others.

It documents errors in the data collection process. In a May 31, 2016 email from Albanese to Ryan she writes, "Gerd marked parcels with plus location adjustments for reasons that are not readily obvious, understandable or explained. In a similar fashion , he also marked other parcels with location and/or size adjustments for reasons I can't figure out either. We'll need good explanations for these types of adjustments and will need them ASAP ... the phone will start ringing off the hook real soon ... Yikes!"

It also claims that prominent elected officials were given favorable tax treatment and presents emails to backup this assertion. In a May 10, 2016 email from from Albanese to Ryan concerning a house at 42 Olmsted Road, Albanese says, "FYI ... this sold for a very high price 2 years ago, or so ago and was subsequently completely gutted (see photos in PAS.) Geothermal heating system, new high-end finishes etc. She's the president of the Scarsdale Board of Education and could be ... Well, you know. Will keep trying .... Thanks." There is no evidence that any Village official requested special treatment.

The filing includes emails documenting many errors in data collection and valuations. A June 10, 2016 email from Patrick McEvily in the assessor's office to Ryan says, "Mrs. Kadison does not have a pool on her property. I removed the pool from the inventory but there is no change in the value. If we make changes in inventory and they impact value, shouldn't the new assessment reflect this change or do I make the change by hand?"

In one lengthy note, Albanese offers an explanation of how circumstances caused the perfect storm to undermine the second revaluation. She cites the following:

Staffing: The assessor's office was short staffed and under stress to handle 756 small claim filings from the 2014 revaluation to prepare and file the 2015 tentative assessment roll.

Complaints: "A never-ending bombardment of nasty complaints from residents, brokers and potential buys about the 2014 reval, including continued pressure and demand for responses to certain issues, documentation and questions about the 2014 reval, long after the May 27, 2014 presentation by Tyler Technologies."

Software: Inadequate assessment software system that is "not written in modern computer language, lacks valuation capabilities applicable to revaluation and the corresponding revaluation components." The department then opted to use NYS RPS software but struggled to bridge it back to the Village SCA software system.

John Ryan: "He became increasingly more difficult to work with and to pin down a timeline for delivery of final values and sometimes refused to do things that I asked of him by responding to my emails. He compounded our computer system problems by not staying on top of our vendor and did not see that it was his responsibility to our taxpayers to shoulder the burden."

The list of the 151 petitioners includes some who often spoke out at Village meetings including Mayra and Brice Kirkendall Rodriguez, Phil Maresco, Norton Rosenzweig and Gregory Soldatenko, but does not include others who also fiercely criticized the Trustees, the Assessor and the 2016 Revaluation including Robert Berg, Robert Harrison, Steve Rakoff and Ron Parlato. We asked Berg why he did not add his name to the list and he explained that since his assessment went down between 2014 and 2016 he had nothing to gain from the action. This may also be the case with Rakoff and Parlato.

One petitioner who was not over assessed joined the suit anyway. He explained, "I joined the Article 78 even though I wasn't over-assessed after grieving my initial valuation. The issues here go beyond economic harm. Taxation lies at the very heart of municipal government. If taxes cannot be assessed in the most competent and open way possible, it creates a fault line at the heart of the entire system. I do believe that the Trustees who voted for this latest assessment were misled and that the Village attorney has acted in good faith in laying out the Village's options or lack thereof. The blame seems to lie with the person who carried out the assessment, John Ryan, who misled, coerced and ultimately showed his incompetence. That being said, I view this Article 78 action as a way for residents to act on the Village's behalf. The Village cannot nullify its published tax roll, but residents acting on its behalf can do so. I do hope the Village sees the Article 78 proceeding as a lifeline that extricates it from a rotten situation and given that, chooses not to fight it."

We asked the Mayor and Village Attorney Wayne Esannason for a comment on the suit. Esannason declined to answer questions about who would defend the Village and what the potential cost might be to taxpayers. He said that the Article 78 had been received, but that the Village had not yet been served and he could not comment on active litigation.

In the past, Mayor Jon Mark repeatedly owned up to flaws in the 2016 revaluation, but said that the grievance process was the way for residents to address inequities. At the October 16, 2016 meeting of the Village Board, Mark quoted legal precedent which says, "The town board, therefore, has no authority to substitute its judgment for that of the assessor and the exclusive remedy available to a property owner, who considers himself aggrieved by reason of any assessment made by the assessor, is that which is provided by Article 5 and Article 7 of the Real Property Tax Law."

He also reviewed the possibility of asking the NYS Legislature to void the revaluation, offering the following; "The threshold question before us is not whether we can make such a request, but rather if we did and even if it were granted would that be the best result for the Village as a whole. It is on this threshold question that I have a different view from those residents who have urged us to make such a request. I believe that even if the final 2015 assessment roll could be reinstated, that would not be the best result, have stated so previously and will repeat some of what I have said before on this subject."

He explained, "As a practical matter, if authorizing legislation was passed, implementation would likely not be feasible until deep into 2017 either concurrent with the time for issuance of initial tax bills – or even after initial tax bills went out based on the 2016 valuations still in place. This would create a chaotic scenario in the administration of taxes on the County and local level increasing the possibility of incorrect billings, the need to issue refunds and additional tax bills. Such a scenario would be another source of distress for residents that cannot be dismissed."

Robert Berg, who headed The Assessment Revaluation Committee who recommended the first revaluation, said that he repeatedly raised red flags about the 2016 revaluation before June 1, 2016, calling it a train wreck waiting to happen.

Berg said, "The Village has already acknowledged that Ryan screwed up. The New York State Office of Real Property Assessment found that the Ryan reval undervalued Scarsdale real estate by $1 billion and assigned an equalization rate to bring Scarsdale up to fair market value."

Berg predicted that "It was going to be tough for the Village to defend this revaluation," and suggested that it might be less expensive for the Village to settle the case, give refunds for overpayment to the 151 petitioners and rollback assessments to the adjusted 2014 tax roll than to litigate and perhaps lose in court.

About the Mayor's claim that the Village had no recourse once the flawed tax roll was filed, Berg said, "The Village had a basis to challenge this and should have pursued it." Berg concluded, "The Village is in a real pickle here and it could have been avoided had they waited another year or two to do this next revaluation."

Another resident took the long view. "It is their right to sue, and I am not suggesting that the reval situation was/is a good one, but legal merits aside, it will cost the taxpayers more money, so it seems a counter-productive action to me. The Village will now have to hire counsel and pay for the defense of the suit, using already stretched time and money resources ... and these very people will have to pay for that, too. It's illogical to me! Can't help but wonder if they will be the first to complain that they are not getting the treatment they feel they deserve on the ordinary business of the community? As for the merits, the legitimate concerns about the practices and oversight of the Ryan Reval are unquestioned by most, including the Trustees, so accusations of corruption on the part of our volunteer Board of Trustees? Really? That is way WAY too far! I am further confused by the energy spent to return to the last reval... didn't it also have over 1000 grievances? Didn't a whole bunch of folks hate that outcome too? Isn't that why the Village pursued a reval adjustment in the first place? Seems like we should remember the big picture -- the real issue is that 40+ years went by without a reassessment, leaving a great deal of unfair tax burdens around. And now, its painful getting that fixed. Its not going to be easy, and there needs a good deal of work done on this, and probably quickly. Ryan was a step backward, but let's move forward... and spend our resources productively."

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Village Loses Two More Retailers

Emily5The new year begins with the loss of two more stores in Scarsdale Village. Candy 'n Cards, marked 50 years in Scarsdale by announcing that it would close it's doors on January 31. The 99 year-old owner, Emily Hirsch is a Village treasure and celebrates her birthdays with a public celebration each June

Last June we asked her for her secret to longevity and here is what she advised:

  • Get up everyday and go about your business
  • Be happy
  • Hopefully have good genes

Though Hirsch is beloved, she struggled to maintain sales recently and decided that now is the time to move on. Everything will be half off at the store until she closes on January 31, 2017.

Pure Raw Juice on Harwood Court, that offered juice blends and natural food snacks is also closing, leaving yet another vacant storefront downtown. Imagine Candy, also on Harwood Court closed in October after making a valiant effort to make a go of a profitable business in town.

As vacancies increase, it becomes more and more difficult for the existing stores to get enough street traffic. One successful retailer told Scarsdale10583 that he considered expanding his operation into the adjacent empty storefront. However, the landlord was unwilling to negotiate the rent, despite the fact that the space has been unoccupied for almost two years.

Is it time for Scarsdale landlords to reduce rents? With more reasonable rents, perhaps the Village can attract some mom and pop or individually owned stores, selling everyday necessities and food to attract buyers to Scarsdale. Frozen yogurt, stationary, small electronics, children's shoes plus a variety of restauranteurs would be welcome additions to town.

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