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Water Bill Go Up? Here's Why

sprinklerSeveral people have noted that their water bill was much higher than usual this year. The most recent bills were for summer usage; mine covered June 6 to September 13 and includes the bill for the water we used to keep our lawn green.

The Village purchases water from New York City who charges us separate rates for regular and excess water usage. It was previously explained to me that usage is allocated by population numbers and that each household in Scarsdale is allocated about the same amount of water that would be used by a family of four in an apartment in the city. Any usage above that is deemed "excess," and billed at $8.75 per unit, roughly 3.5 times more than the regular rate of $2.50 per unit.

The bills seem higher because they actually have increased. According to Scarsdale's Water Superintendent Stephen Johnson unit rates went up from $2.05 to $2.50 in April 2016, and this is the first bill for residents that is calculated with this rate. A unit is 100 cubic feet of water, or 748 gallons. Johnson also noted that it was one of the hottest, driest summers on record, which caused residents to use even more water to keep their lawns and plantings green.

Also in order to replace the aging sewer system in Scarsdale, the Village now assesses residents a "Sanitary Sewer Rent Fee" which is assessed at .65 cents per unit of water consumed.

According to Johnson, the best way to reduce this bill in the future is to calibrate your sprinkler system correctly and to check your sprinkler system for broken heads or leaks. Johnson also suggested you install a rain gage on your sprinkler system so that it does not go on when it's raining.

See more here:

Mayor Provides Extensive Answers to Questions About the 2016 Revaluation

jonmarkThough some think enough has been said about the 2016 tax revaluation, others still have questions and continue to advocate to invalidate it. At the October 25th meeting of the Board of Trustees, Mayor Mark provided a lengthy response to questions posed about the 2016 revaluation in an email from Mayra Kirkendall-Rodriguez about the revaluation. 

Here are his comments:

From Scarsdale Mayor Jonathan Mark:

On October 14, 2016, we received two emails from Mayra Kirkendall-Rodriguez prompted by the Committee of the Whole meeting on October 13, 2016, which was held to consider whether or not to take steps to phase in certain assessment increases resulting from the 2016 revaluation for a limited number of certain eligible residents. That question was taken under advisement and will be considered further this evening.

In summary, the emails received asked the following questions:

1. What precedents and statutes prohibit the Board of Trustees from invalidating the 2016 revaluation?
2. Have any of you spoken to any counsel other than the Village Attorney?
3. Why was Tyler not given a chance to do the 2016 revaluation? Were Trustees aware that Tyler sent a proposal to the Assessor?
4. Can State Assemblywoman Amy Paulin be asked to introduce emergency legislation to invalidate the 2016 revaluation?
5. Who at the NYS Office of Real Property Tax Services (ORPTS) did we speak with on this subject?
6. When will an ad hoc committee on revaluation be convened? How will its members be selected? Will it be up to residents to volunteer?

I responded to the emails noting that I would address the questions in my comments tonight. Here is my response.

1. The legal framework in which the Board is operating was summarized in a 1972 opinion of counsel of the State Board of Equalization Assessment (SBEA) issued March 13, 1972 (Volume 1 – Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 75). The SBEA was the predecessor to the ORPTS. The question presented was "whether a town board has the authority to prohibit the assessor from using a reappraisal the board considers unsatisfactory and to direct the assessor to use a prior roll as the basis for the current assessment roll to be completed." The Opinion reviews relevant statutory provisions. It cites Section 2 of Article 16 of the Constitution of the State of New York noting that it provides, in part, that the Legislature shall provide for the supervision, review and equalization of assessments for purposes of taxation. The opinion then states that the State Legislature has delegated the exclusive authority to assess real property for the purposes of local real property taxation to local assessors (citing, Town Law, section 33 and Real Property Tax Law, section 500 et. seq.). The opinion concludes that: "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." Article 5 is the provision that establishes the Board of Assessment review grievance process. Article 7 establishes the process for judicial review of assessments through SCAR filings and certiorari petitions. The counsel to the SBEA issued an opinion stating the same conclusion on July 3, 1975 and again by way of update on February 10, 2012 (Volume 2 – Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 29).

2. No subsequent interpretation, regulation or case that asserts a contrary view has been brought to our attention and therefore these opinions appear to state a definitive view of the law.

3. Last month we had a telephone call on this subject with Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and members of the ORPTS Staff. Included in that call was Amanda Hiller, the Deputy Commissioner and Counsel of ORPTS. She confirmed our understanding of the legal limits on this Board's authority as set forth in the SBEA (the predecessor to ORPTS) opinions. So in terms of speaking with counsel other than the Village Attorney, the answer is yes, we have spoken with other counsel who is conversant with the relevant regulatory scheme and so is an authoritative source for the purpose of confirming what our own research has shown.

4. In terms of whether or not the Board knew of Tyler's interest in doing the follow-up revaluation, I have not seen evidence that it did. However, given the level of resident criticism of the work Tyler did in 2014 it would have been an unlikely choice at the time to do a follow-up revaluation. By analogy, that would have been tantamount to asking J. F. Ryan to do the next revaluation. However, whether the prior Board knew of Tyler's interest or not, it is reasonably clear that at least a part of the answer to the question on why J.F. Ryan was chosen to do a revaluation in the manner it was done seems to have been based on budgetary considerations and the goal sought to be achieved by the 2016 revaluation. As we all now know, the 2016 revaluation was prompted in large part by the criticism of some residents of flaws they perceived and analyzed in the Tyler revaluation. It was hoped that a further revaluation would improve on what Tyler had done. In seeking to do so, budget concerns played a part in seeking a means for achieving that objective at a lower cost than the just under $1 million spent on the Tyler revaluation. It was believed that could be accomplished because the subsequent revaluation would utilize – and did utilize -- all of the property data collected by interior inspections made by Tyler of virtually all properties located in the Village. Having had an unprecedented 95% participation rate by residents in granting access to their homes to collect that data, it was believed that by using that current data, a subsequent revaluation would not have to involve access to residents homes and substantial savings could be achieved. In fact, ORPTS, in accordance with its Cyclical Reassessment Aid Program, requires all parcels to be "physically inspected" once every six years. This type of physical inspection does not necessarily require the kind of comprehensive Village-wide interior data collection completed by Tyler for the 2014 revaluation. The generally accepted industry standard for completing such a comprehensive interior inspection is no less than once every 10 years but certainly not two years after such an effort was accomplished.

5. As far as asking Assemblywoman Paulin to introduce legislation providing authority to invalidate the 2016 revaluation, whether or not such a request should be made is a matter with which members of this Board have wrestled. The issue is not whether we can make that request or not – any request can be made and Assemblywoman Paulin has always been supportive of Scarsdale. We have confirmed this point with her.

I have also had a similar conversation with State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins who also said that she would do what she could to be supportive of the Village.

However, 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.

For members of this Board who were on the Board at the time of the Tyler revaluation the similarity of the circumstances we face today with respect to the 2016 revaluation are several in important respects. There is a strong dissatisfaction with the results of the 2016 revaluation. The same was true in the case of the 2014 Tyler revaluation. There is a call to do another revaluation as soon as possible. The same was true in 2014. The two scenarios differ in those who are voicing these sorts of concerns, but the calls to action are essentially the same: the product is flawed, let's throw it out and redo it.

As I have said before, in my view replacing the 2016 revaluation which has been criticized for its flaws, with the results of the 2014 revaluation that were subject to similarly vehement criticism, does not address the issue at hand. This not a question of the Board being afraid to anger some residents. This Board has shown in the past year and a half that it does not shrink from exercising what it believes to be a reasonable judgment just because it might make some residents angry. So too in this situation, as the Board considers the issues before it one thing is clear, that probably any decision made by the Board will make some folks unhappy. That is simply the nature of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. As I have said previously, reinstating the prior assessment roll, with the flaws inherent in it, will undoubtedly precipitate a host of issues – some that might be anticipated and some unforeseen. Several sorts of legal and practical issues may arise.

• A legal issue that re-instatement would trigger is that those who may be grieved by the reinstatement of the 2015 roll would be denied an opportunity to file grievances. That inability must be seriously considered. A course of action that fails to afford residents their due process grievance rights would be an egregious result -- not simply a matter of angry residents. In contrast, those homeowners aggrieved by the 2016 roll were afforded the opportunity for – and did pursue administrative and judicial relief from the assessments through the statutory grievance process.

• During the period such legislation was working its way through the legislative process a period of months of uncertainty over assessed values in the Village would continue, with no promise of what the resolution would be. The legislative process would require action by each of the State Assembly and the State Senate and then action by the Governor. The formal legislative process could not start until January 2017 when the legislators go back in session. We have also heard that it is sometimes the case that individual legislators from one locality will withhold voting on legislation focused on another locality until the end of the legislative term in June. They use their vote as a negotiating tool for getting votes on measures they are sponsoring. What this means is that just because our representatives may support legislation we might request, passage could involve a very prolonged period during which the process plays out with little certainty as to the result. This sort of extended period of uncertainty would do little to ease the angst some have experienced as a result of the 2016 revaluation and if the legislation did not get adopted, would not address it at all.

• 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.

• Lastly, reinstating the 2015 roll does not squarely address the problem now confronting us, making pursuing this course undesirable in my view.

The framework provided by statute for dealing with the effects of a Village-wide revaluation are in process. 1,103 of our homeowners availed themselves of the administrative appeal to the Board of Assessment Review and based on data provided to me today, of those, 584 have filed for further review of their grievances either by way of SCAR proceedings (463) or Cert petitions (121). Any assessment reductions granted these property owners will automatically cause a redistribution of property taxes to the other property owners who did not grieve.

The point is that to address the present concerns of the residents who have spoken up, the path forward is to do another Village-wide revaluation – and do it in a well thought-out, well publicized and inclusive manner that is adequately documented and understood – even if there are some that may disagree with whatever its outcome may be.

Moving forward: process for considering future revaluation: So when and how do we go about doing another re-valuation. Once we carefully map out the "how" process, the "when" can be determined. In terms of the "how" we have asked the Village staff to draft an outline of a revaluation process that reflects what we have all learned from the 2014 and 2016 processes. The high points are fairly straight forward: locating a pool of qualified and available vendors and selecting a vendor through a suitable vetting process; drafting a clear and manageable professional services agreement including a detailed scope of work, achievable milestones and the necessary deliverables; oversight of the process in a manner that assures what has been contracted for is actually performed and delivered; allowance of a period in which residents can informally ask questions about preliminary assessment results and in which appropriate corrections can be made prior to the tentative assessment roll statutory filing date; and budgetary considerations.

We have commented that the process for considering a future revaluation should be a thoughtful one that included, among other things, resident input. In that regard, we had spoken generally about forming an ad hoc advisory committee of residents, with Village staff representation, for that purpose.
To that end, we are considering what the make-up of the Committee should be, taking into account the suggestions we have received from residents in that regard.

We will need to flesh out the mandate for the ad hoc committee but in general terms, it would be a vehicle for making recommendations to the Village Board and the Village staff on the process for the next revaluation; for providing input on the selection of a firm to do the work; and providing some level of oversight of the process, consistent with any legal or conflict of interest limitations. The scope of these roles will have to be thought out further, but it is not contemplated that the ad hoc committee would do the work or otherwise be involved in the conduct of the revaluation itself. It would be important for all residents to know that the execution of the revaluation will be, and was, in the hands of whatever vendor was engaged for the purpose and Village staff – and was not subject to the control of a select – albeit well-meaning – group of residents. The process of appointing this sort of ad hoc committee will be advanced in the coming months and we will let residents know when we are ready to start accepting applications.

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.

Board of Trustees Explores Possible Real Estate Tax Phase-In For Hardest Hit Residents

oaktreeShould people who received more than a 25% increase in their real estate taxes after the 2016 revaluation be granted some relief? That's what the Scarsdale Board of Trustees discussed at a special meeting on Thursday night October 13. Under consideration was the possibility of asking the state legislator to consider special legislation to allow residents who received greater than a 25% increase, are STAR eligible and meet certain other criteria to be allowed to phase in their tax increase over a period of three years. During that three-year period, the balance of taxpayers would pay more in taxes to make up for the shortfall from their neighbor's savings.

Deputy Village Manager Robert Cole reviewed a study done by Village Managers to examine how many residents might be eligible and what the effect of the phase in program would be on the balance of taxpayers.

The study estimated that only 128 homeowners would potentially be eligible – and that assumes that these people did not grieve their over the summer, bringing their tax increase below 25%. To qualify, they also need to be up to date on their taxes and to not have done a renovation that is responsible for their tax increase. Last, they would need to file their paperwork on time.

Cole presented data to show the estimated tax increase that the balance of taxpayers would have to pay to subsidize the loss in revenue from the phase in if 128 residents qualified. He estimated these increases for homeowners with homes at varying values.

  • If you own a house that is assessed at $629,000, you would pay $38 more in year one and $19 more in year two.
  • If you own a home valued at $1,500,000, the increase would be $92 in year one and $46.40 in year two.
  • For a home valued at $3.5 million, taxes would increase $214 for the first year and $107 for the second year.

If the Board did decide to move forward, it would need to pass both houses of the NYS legislature, be signed into law by the Governor and there would be ample time for public hearings. It would be put into effect in March before the following year's tax roll was filed with the state.

Commenting on the proposal, several people at the meeting asked why the Village would go to all this work to benefit fewer than 128 people. Others asked the Village to use their energy to invalidate the 2016 revaluation, rather than attempt to ameliorate its effects.

Mayra Kirkendall Rodriguez said, "Given that this will take an enormous amount of village resources and time for people on the Board of Trustees, why would you spend political capital in this manner and not ask the legislature to invalidate the entire revaluation?"

Mayor Mark explained, "This was done to help those who were most seriously impacted by the revaluation. We know that this has past muster with the Governor. It is unprecedented to invalidate the revaluation. In fact, the Governor vetoed legislation to invalidate a reval due to objections from the county."

He added, "The Tyler reval was criticized as well. If we went back to the 2014 revaluation, there would be an equal number of people who were unhappy with that result. That is not a practical way to address this issue."

Mark said that the Scarsdale Forum was studying the revaluation and that perhaps the League of Women Voters and an ad hoc committee would also be assigned to look into the best way to do the next revaluation. He said, "That's where we should focus our energy."

Robert Berg said, "I believe the phase in is a bad idea. I object to any legislation favoring any one group of taxpayers. It is inappropriate and unprincipled. I think the number of eligible parcels is less than 128. What about those who filed grievances? Some may have filed SCARS? There might only be 20 eligible properties. It is ridiculous for legislation to be passed by the state for a very small number of residents. It does not make sense to use our pull with Albany to do this. Let's get approval from the state to allow Scarsdale to void this revaluation. I am serving on the Forum committee on the revaluation and I think our committee will ultimately say we need to do a new revaluation using the Tyler methodology."

Village Manager Steve Pappalardo responded to Berg, indicating that the Village needed more time before implementing yet another revaluation. He said, "We have found that revaluations that went well had a tremendous amount of community outreach before and during the process. It is also good to give the residents their assessments early and let them have the chance to meet with the vendor. We have learned a lot – and we don't want to make those same mistakes again. The community is going to need be informed. It probably will not be done for 2017... and will take until 2018."

Sherry Berkowitz of Ross Road said, "My assessment went up 40% Why will this work only for people who are STAR eligible?"

You can watch the meeting on Scarsdale Public TV here: 

After the meeting, the Board of Trustees held their regular meeting and Mayor Jon Mark offered comments on the phase-in and the equalization rate, which the NYS Office of Real Property Tax Services (ORPTS) has determined to be 89.14. The Village considered challenging this rate, but a consultant analyzed the data and determined that his calculation would be the same as ORPTS and did not recommend a challenge.

Read the full text of the Mayor's remarks below:

Comments by Jon Mark
Meeting of Board of Trustees
October 13, 2016

2016 Revaluation Related Matters Update

I provided an update on 2016 revaluation related matters as part of my State of the Village address at the Scarsdale Forum meeting last Thursday. What follows is an updated version of those comments.

• 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 was considered at a Committee of the Whole meeting held this evening just prior to this meeting. The pros and cons of pursuing that course of action were discussed, we listened to public comment on the proposal and the Board has taken the matter under advisement. To repeat comments made at prior meetings, any New York State legislation that would authorize the Village to adopt a phase-in Village Code provision would have to be approved by both houses of the State legislature and be signed into law by the Governor. If those events occurred, the matter would be back in the hands of the Village Board. At that stage, the Board would have to consider, at a public hearing, whether to adopt a Village Code provision that would put the phase-in into effect. Since the State legislature is not scheduled to re-convene until January 2017, it will be some months and several procedural steps before a phase-in Village Code provision is adopted, if it is adopted at all.

• 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.

• This week the Village received notice from the NYS Office of Real Property Tax Services (ORPTS) that a tentative state equalization rate for the Town of Scarsdale of 89.14 had been established. This rate is minimally higher than the preliminary equalization rate of 89.06 issued by ORPTS on September 7, 2016. Soon after receiving the preliminary rate, the Village staff explored the possibility of contesting the preliminary state equalization rate issued by 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. The Village Manager convinced the consultant to waive any payment for his work in light of this outcome.

Based on the review of the preliminary equalization rate through the Assessor and the consultant, and subsequent discussions with ORPTS, it is highly unlikely that any new information will be available to persuade ORPTS at an administrative hearing to increase the equalization rate substantially. It is therefore unlikely that further proceedings with regard to the equalization rate will be pursued. However, this may help to support our claim against J.F. Ryan relative to the quality of his work. The Village Attorney has incorporated this information into the bill of particulars he has drafted for this purpose and sent to J.F. Ryan's counsel.

• 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. However, as has been stated previously, no decision has been made whether to implement a phase-in as described.

• 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.

Timing of SCARS Filings

The Staff has informed me that because the statutory filing deadline for the SCAR appeals of October 15, 2016 falls on a weekend, the filing deadline is extended to the next business day, which in this case, is Monday, October 17, 2016. This will allow homeowners the weekend and another business day to finalize their SCAR appeals.

Hyatt Field Parking Issues

The Parks and Recreation Department had been discussing with certain residents who live directly adjacent to Hyatt Field means for reducing the in-street traffic issues that are being exacerbated by the popularity of the new playground at Hyatt Field. The Village staff had been receiving complaints that residents could not get out of their driveways at times, due to the amount of additional traffic parked on their streets. In order to address that issue, Parks & Rec revived a plan that had been discussed in prior years to pave a driveway ingress at the border of the field and create a parking lot that would allow some number of park users to get off the local streets. When this plan became known to other residents, both in the neighborhood, and in other areas of Scarsdale, there was an outpouring of concern that open space was about to be paved over without due consideration of resident desire to preserve open space.

In light of the broader based concern expressed, a public meeting of the Parks and Recreation Council has been scheduled for October 19, 2016 at 7:30 pm in Rutherford Hall. At the meeting an overview of the proposal will be presented and resident comment will be solicited. In the meantime, no work on the part of the plan which would involve the paving of a driveway and a parking lot will be done. Note however, that as part of the re-paving of Potter Road, an additional three feet of width will be added to that street. This will allow cars parked along Potter Road to pull a bit further off the main part of the street and permit better traffic flow on that street.

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 agenda for tonight includes an item for the formation of an Ad Hoc Communications Committee. If the Board adopts the relevant resolution, 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.

Update on LED Streetlight Test

LEDStreetLightRon Schulhof, who heads the LED Streetlight Committee for Scarsdale Village sent in the following update on a pilot program to test the use of LED lights on Village streets in Scarsdale. The pilot is now underway, but since one of the manufacturers is planning to release a new and improved version of the fixtures that address some of the concerns residents have raised, the committee has decided to extend the pilot program until these new lights are available to test at the beginning of next year.

Here is the report:

The Committee on LED Streetlights has been piloting LED streetlights at seven locations on high traffic roads and town and country locations since July 12, 2016. The initial timeframe for the pilot was planned at three months, to conclude on October 12, 2016. One of the manufacturers of the pilot LED Streetlights recently informed the Committee that a new version of their fixture will be released in early 2017 with material improvements to the lighting. The new version will also address a potential defect in the housing that could cause damage to the fixture upon installation. These upgrades are expected to address some of the concerns expressed by residents and Committee members in regards to the current Pilot fixtures.

The pilot lights impacted are those on Mamaroneck Road (Garden Road to Sheldrake Road) and White Plains (Post) Road (Crane Road to Wayside Lane). These lights will be removed and replaced with the non-LED streetlights that were previously installed at these locations. The other pilot light (from other manufacturers) will remain installed.

In light of these developments, the Committee recommends the extension of the pilot program to allow for testing of these new fixtures that are expected to be available in early 2017.

New fixture update:

Based on discussions with the manufacturer, we are expecting a number of material improvements to the fixture in the upcoming version:

-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 the a more uniform light color
-Increased energy efficiency
-Additional color options including a softer color
-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 the Committee realizes that there will always be technological improvements, the Committee feels these potential improvements are worth extending the pilot period to include this new fixture.

What we'll be doing while we wait:

Over the next few months the Committee will continue working with the industry to find appropriate fixtures for our various types of fixtures and streets. We will also continue our research and discussions of LED Streetlight upgrades with other municipalities (both locally and nationally).

For questions regarding the LED Streetlight Project our Committee email us at LED@Scarsdale.com. We welcome questions and feedback from the community.

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