An Interview with Voters' Choice Party Candidate Robert Selvaggio
- Category: On Our Minds
- Published on 15 February 2017
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
Bob Selvaggio is running for Village Trustee on the slate of the newly formed Scardale Voters' Choice Party. To find out where he stands on village issues, we asked him a series of questions and received the answers below:
How long have you lived in Scarsdale and what do you like about living here?
Lisa and I moved to Scarsdale from Manhattan twenty-three years ago. We chose Scarsdale for our excellent public schools, but also for our exceptionally low crime rate, our intellectual, cultural, political and religious diversity and tolerance, and easy access to the city and activities we enjoy. We like being in a small town where we number so many neighbors as friends and the sense of community we feel even when shopping in our local markets, dining in our restaurants or commuting on Metro North with folks we've been riding with for years and even decades.
We'd like to keep Scarsdale affordable for young families such as we were in 1994, new empty-nesters with kids out of high school as we are today and retirees on fixed income as we'd like to be here in Scarsdale one day. I am running with the Voters' Choice Party to help instill a fiscal discipline that will make that possible.
What volunteer or civic activities have you been engaged in?
I am a Board member of Pelham Community Rowing Association, a charitable organization whose mission is to advance the art and sport of rowing by making it accessible to the lower Westchester community. Many of our Scarsdale High School students row at PCRA. I also teach Taekwondo fighting to black belt teens and adults in Harrison once a week. I started this class mostly with an eye to preparing Westchester kids, especially girls, heading off to college in high crime areas. In Scarsdale, I coached travel and rec basketball and Little League, and it's wonderful when I occasionally catch up with one of "my kids" from those many teams, or hear about them from mom or dad as I did on the train home last night.
Why do you think an alternative slate is needed at this time?
We all want and deserve choice in government. Competition fosters discipline and responsiveness to the concerns of our Village.
The reason choice is needed especially at this time is that there are clear differences between the Voters' Choice and Citizen's Parties that matter. The Voters' Choice Party is all about keeping Scarsdale affordable for all our residents -- young families, empty-nesters and seniors -- many of whose incomes simply cannot keep up with our rates of tax increases. We are for equitable ad valorem property taxation for all our homeowners based on honest, state-of-the-art property value assessments. We aim to: apply best practice cost-benefit analyses to fiscal policy and sound investment criteria to capital projects; and to start a cost-effective process of zero-based budgeting to "cut out the fat".
This election will be in part a referendum on the Citizen's Party's record of policies that include their destructive Ryan revaluation, above inflation and NYS cap guidelines tax increases, and inattention to our crumbling roads that send so many of us for alignments and new tires. These policies have hurt a lot of people.
Did you also put your name in for trustee to the CNC? If so, why do you think they did not choose you?
I didn't. They would not have selected me given my passionate positions on the necessity of: contested elections; equitable ad valorem property taxes for all homeowners based on competent and professional property value assessments; and spending policies that respect the fact that our neighbors who have very good uses for their hard earned money live under budget constraints and so should Village government.
In your statement you refer to "poorly budgeted capital projects." Please enumerate. Which project(s) are you referring to?
"Budgeting" in a municipal context must imply a rank ordering of projects from those required in order to provide essential services at the top of the list to those at the bottom that are "nice to haves". In my view, the capital project that has been most poorly budgeted is the essential repaving and repair of our 80 miles of crumbling village roads. I would support a bond issuance to finance this essential service and enhance the safety and comfort of Scarsdale drivers for years to come.
What are your views on historic preservation and land use in Scarsdale?
Prudent historic preservation policies enhance our quality of life in Scarsdale, and I believe firmly in our right to self-determination in zoning policies. In both cases, however, we need to take care not to create winners and losers via policy changes, e.g., homeowners should be compensated for historical designation or zoning changes that impact their property values negatively, and all impending changes need to be disclosed to both parties prior to a sale.
Do you support the renovation and expansion of the library – even if it means a tax increase?
My family and I are active library users and do personally support renovation and expansion of the Library. In my opinion, the fact that generous private philanthropists are stepping up to finance 43% of the renovation and expansion likely makes this a big win for Scarsdale. We need to encourage such private/public partnerships and appreciate and honor our wealthy citizens who donate so much to the betterment of Scarsdale. However, I am concerned that there appears to be no reserve established against construction cost overruns, and the private funding in dollars is not being indexed to the likely increase in construction costs over the period of time that the funding is being raised. Thus, the $9.9mm bond is at risk of an increasing par amount or the project may have to be scaled back.
It is also important to remember that the November 25, 2016 report of the Scarsdale Forum on the "Scarsdale Public Library Renovation and Expansion Project" presents survey results showing that a scant 24% of the 441 respondents would support a 2 year relocation of library services for an extensive renovation, and only 29% of respondents indicate that a bond of $8.4mm is a reasonable cost for renovation (38.5% indicate renovation is not necessary at all and 18.3% replied that the cost is too high for the proposed project). What makes these results more striking is the fact that the survey indicates a Village expenditure that is fully $1.5mm below the $9.9mm agreed upon. When our busy citizens take the time to fill out a survey on an important issue their concerns must be addressed.
As far as tax increase goes, we all need to realize that a bond financing is not a free lunch, but rather represents a stream of future tax liabilities. So renovation and expansion of the library does mean a tax increase.
We noticed that your name is on the Article 78 proceeding against the Village. The Article 78 says that those who paid "more than their fair share" of property taxes on the 2016 assessment roll should be entitled to refunds of excess taxes paid.
Where would those funds come from? Would others be billed retroactively to come up with the money for the refunds? If your slate is successful and the suit goes on past election day, the new trustees/Mayor could be making decisions about the lawsuit. Do you see a conflict of interest there? How would your slate deal with it?
The Voters' Choice candidates have all agreed that we will not waste tax dollars litigating against our own residents over the failed and possibly corrupt Ryan revaluation. We will, with the Court's assistance, fashion a fair resolution of the lawsuit. Once we undo the damage, we will establish a committee of knowledgeable Village residents, to work with appropriate staff, agencies and the Board of Trustees to establish best practices for conducting periodic Village-wide property revaluations and to hire an ethical mass appraisal firm that employs fully validated state-of-the-art models and methods in carrying out the next town-wide revaluation.
What would you do to restore faith in Village government?
We're doing it now. Establishing The Voters' Choice Party and providing for contested elections going forward allows our community as a whole to take ownership of our government back from an entrenched single party that has become indifferent to the hurt that they cause. Again, competition will foster discipline and responsiveness; mistakes will be made, to be sure, but going forward our community can use the ballot box to hold our elected Board of Trustees accountable if they do not address and remediate them.
To read more about my personal and professional background or to contact me, please visit www.voterschoiceparty.com.
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Administration Favors Long Island Architects for Scarsdale Schools
- Category: On Our Minds
- Published on 09 February 2017
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
After the Scarsdale School Board reversed their decision to hold meetings with prospective district architects behind closed doors, an interested group of residents and reporters attended two sessions with presentations from the five finalists on February 1 and 3, 2017. The five firms offered a wide array of capabilities and experiences and the district appeared to be back on track with the facilities plan that had been put on hold in the fall due to a polarized community.
The five finalists included some of the tri-state areas most recognized school architects, including Peter Gisolfi, the former architect of record for the Scarsdale Schools, Dattner Architects, who has been selected to redesign Scarsdale Library (partnering with Geddis Architects) as well as CS Arch, KSQ Design and BBS. See their work and summaries of those presentations here.
According to the notifications from the school board, following these five presentations, two finalists would be invited back on Tuesday night February 7 to make subsequent presentations and answer questions.
However, on Tuesday, without any explanation from the administration, only one firm was invited back; Burton Behrendt Smith (BBS) from Patchogue New York. Among the five finalists, this firm had emphasized their engineering capabilities over their design expertise and addressed how they would approach structural issues at the Greenacres School. While many of the others focused on the design of educational learning spaces, this team promised proficiency in dealing with the mechanics of structural and system repair.
On Tuesday they responded to questions from the Board about challenges facing Scarsdale and how they had dealt with similar situations in other districts. These meetings were not televised so the public cannot review the discussion.
In response to a question about the challenges facing the Scarsdale School District, they said, "We need to get a handle on the mold and asbestos issues."
What have they done in the face of a divided community? They responded that in the case of the Harborfields School District they "presented a number of schemes and "answered questions in a transparent way." When deciding whether to renovate an existing school or build a new one at Washington Drive Elementary School in Greenlawn, they "presented information so that everyone could make a decision." They said they considered redistricting but ultimately "picked the best solution for the community and it was not all about money."
When asked how they address building issues the architect replied, "Structural issues are not uncommon. The building envelope is usually the problem. Slate roofs are wonderful and have a 75-100 year life span. It's the interfaces with plains and the areas where materials meet where the problems occur. To the extent that we can access them we are usually able to see where the problems happen and can re-flash the places where the water comes in."
He continued, "We would rather opt for local reconstruction than try to fix things. It is better to use modern materials and to try to divert the water. Older buildings are a challenge. It's not easy to run services around plaster walls... it creates a challenge. Old ventilation and heating systems are not designed to today's standards. (Older classrooms have) electric with two outlets. How do we get power into these rooms? It's more challenging -- not something that can't be overcome but it makes it more challenging. We have seen it before. We handle dozens of vintage buildings."
They were asked how they make old classrooms more aesthetically pleasing and said they use paint, new floor tile and acoustic tiles on the ceilings.
The architect then shared an experience that the firm had with a gut renovation of the Prospect School, a 100 year-old school in Hempstead, New York that had been closed for 10 years. They architect said, "The school was not open at the time – it had not been for years. It was an empty building so we had the luxury of not working around children. We had environmental issues to address upfront. Environmentally it was a challenge. Had to gut it before we could do a full renovation. Everything got ripped out. The building was taken down to its studs. It needed all new systems."
As the session drew to a close, Superintendent Hagerman cast doubt on the previous engineering reports on Greenacres School that the district had received. He said, "We want to respect the work that has already been done. Some of the data we collected from our past architects ..... We were not comfortable with it. We need to go back and confirm that there are issues." He seemed to infer that he questioned the severity of the mechanical and structural issues previously reported at Greenacres.
The Board then retired into executive session to discuss hiring the firm.
The Request for Proposals for the architects, which had not previously been available to the public, was posted on the district's website on Wednesday February 8. It indicates that among other capabilities, the district is seeking a firm that can maintain the current plant and historical character. Perhaps design capabilities were not at the forefront of the decision.
Here are the requirements as stated in the RFP:
1. Provide services needed for the planning, design and construction phase t address various renovations and improvement at the District's numerous facilities.
2. Provide services which develop creative and innovative approaches in the renovation of older buildings while maintaining their historical character, when appropriate.
3. Provide services which develop creative and innovative solutions for 21st century educational facilities.
Following the session, since only one firm was invited back and the Board retreated into executive session to discuss retaining them, it appeared that BBS would be the district's choice.
We questioned Dr. Hagerman about why he had selected this firm and he said, "They had substantial paper and presentation materials which speak to their 3 billion dollars worth of public project experience in new construction, renovations, athletic field renovations, and the like. In fact, they are the largest and most utilized school architects on Long Island, and they have a 40+ year track record of creative design, planning, and consulting services. Additionally, they have received numerous national, regional, and local awards, including those on excellence in design and sustainability." He continued, "They did address in-house engineering abilities, technical strengths, project approaches, and master planning experiences. They also showed 12 different major projects that demonstrated their capacity to build new buildings and to renovate extensively, and explained the processes they used actualize each of these projects."
When asked why only one firm was invited in for a second round he said, "This decision was reached in Executive Session. I am not at liberty to share these confidential conversations."
We went to the district office to review the proposals, and perused the cost estimates for several firms. The bids involve hourly fees for the architects and engineers as well as fees as a percentage of the construction costs. Though BBS was less expensive then several of the other firms, they were all within close range of one another and it was not clear whether or not the district had attempted any negotiations with any of the other firms.
The percentage declined as the fees went up. For instance Dattner/Geddis would charge 8% for jobs from $10mm to $19.9mm, Gisolfi 6-7%, CS Arch at 6.75% for renovations between $15mm and $20mm and BBS quoted 5.75% for state education department submitted projects from $10mm to $19.9mm.
Most in the audience in Tuesday seemed surprised that no rationale was given for the decision and that a second firm was not invited back in for a second look.
Diane Greenwald, who is a former marketing director for a large architecture firm in Manhattan and was also on the Scarsdale Schools Building Committee for the 2014 capital projects said, "I hate to second-guess those making this decision who have the full picture, but I admit I am surprised by this choice for a district architect. While I saw strengths in several others, my impression of BBS Architecture was not favorable. They did not demonstrate to me that they would be deft at navigating the critical community outreach and buy-in aspects of this work. I read them as more technically oriented and after review of their portfolio, I worry that the design aesthetic may not fit the context of our community character. I certainly hope this is not a decision based solely on low fees. Scarsdale may be extremely cost conscious, but we are also an exacting and sophisticated group who expect excellence and innovation. Hopefully those responsible for this selection have a better understanding of how this firm's strengths match our needs. It is important that our administration has a trusted rapport with their district architect, so let's hope my impressions are wrong!"
The board will meet next on Monday night February 13 when a "proposal concerning a new District Architect" is on the agenda.
Gary Belsky, Author of “On the Origin of Sports,” to Speak at the Scarsdale Library
- Category: On Our Minds
- Published on 18 January 2017
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
Gary Belsky, co-author of the New York Times bestseller, "On the Origins of Sports: The Early History and Original Rules of Everybody's Favorite Game" will speak at Scarsdale Public Library on Sunday, February 5 at 2 p.m.
Belsky has spent much of his career in the world of sports. He is the former editor-in- chief of ESPN The Magazine and espn.com/insider and is a seasoned commentator on sports topics. His writing on both sports and business topics has appeared in publications including The New York Times, Money magazine, Crain's New York Business and Sports Illustrated. He has also been a guest on numerous television programs including Oprah and Inside Edition.
"On the Origins of Sports" is filled with little-known information about the beginnings of numerous sports. By taking an in depth look at 21 of the world's most popular sports, Belsky and his co-author Neil Fine have created a resource for sports enthusiasts everywhere.
"Gary Belsky is respected for his work as a journalist and editor," said Library Director Beth Bermel. "'On the Origins of Sports' is an example of his comprehensive knowledge and his ability to convey that information to the public."
This program is co-sponsored by the JCC of Mid-Westchester and the Friends of the Scarsdale Library and is free and open to the public. Copies of "On the Origins of Sports" will be available for purchase and signing.
Space is limited and registration is required as the library website, scarsdalelibrary.org, or by calling the Reference Desk at 914-722-1302.
Letter from the Scarsdale Citizens' Non-Partisan Party
- Category: On Our Minds
- Published on 06 February 2017
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
This letter was submitted by representatives from the Scarsdale Citizens' Non-Partisan Party
The Scarsdale Citizens' Non-Partisan Party is pleased to confirm that in accordance with the standards expected of candidates for office, Dan Hochvert, Carl L. Finger, Matthew J. Callaghan, and Seth Ross attended the 2017-2018 Village Budget Meeting on Wednesday February 1st 2017. The meeting began at 10:30 am and concluded around 9:45 pm. (This meeting is not televised, so in-person attendance is the only way to participate.) Carl Finger and Matt Callaghan attended in their capacity as existing Trustees.
As a result of their participation, these candidates better understand the reasoning behind the financial support the department heads requested for fulfillment of services upon which the residents rely.
As the Campaign Committee Chair, I asked our them to comment on why they feel attendance at this pubic hearing is important. Here is what they said...
Why is attendance important?
Presentations by various department heads and village staff on their budgets were heard and discussed and questions answered. Each presentation reflected and included a discussion of priorities of staff and provides an opportunity for the Board and public to question those priorities, add it's own opinion on priorities and issues, influence the budget that is ultimately considered. The budget reflects not only present expenses but actually determines the priorities for the upcoming fiscal year, and beyond, for various policy initiatives that will require an expenditure of funds. Thus the budget is not only an income and expense analysis but also a policy prioritization discussion.
What are some key issues that came up that might be good to discuss with residents?
- The overall budget results in the anticipated tax burden facing the residents in 2017-2018. While much of the budget it is determined by contractual increases in salary and benefits, health insurance, and pension contributions, all of which cannot be changed for the most part, the areas where the board has discretion involve careful consideration and analysis.
- Additionally, the Village Board reviews fees to be charged to residents for various services such as recreation and water thereby influencing the income aspect of the budget.
- Finally, the departments and the staff provide an analysis of the present and future capital needs and manner of funding such projects, equipment, and items.
- The Board directly influenced this year's budget in a number of ways but one particular decision was by directing staff to remove $455,000.00 for multi-space parking meters from the budget and directing staff to start a pilot program at little or no cost to the Village, of new single space meters using new technology.
Members of the public and press are welcome to ask the candidates questions directly via email: email@example.com.
Sports Are More Than Just a Game
- Category: On Our Minds
- Published on 12 January 2017
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
Youth sports is no longer about winning the game. In fact, the Scarsdale Recreation Department and the school district are emphasizing everything but the final score in a move to use sports as a means to develop self discipline, confidence, resilience and teamwork.
A panel of experts, sponsored by the Scarsdale PT Council and moderated by SHS Principal Kenneth Bonamo held a "Community Conversation about Youth Sports: Placing Our K-12 Students on the Road to Wellness and Long-term Success," on Tuesday night January 10th at Scarsdale Middle School.
Panelists included Scarsdale High School Athletic Director Ray Pappalardi, SHS Girls Varsity Soccer Coach Mindy Genovese, Scarsdale Recreation Department Supervisor Brian Gray, Youth Sports Development Director Danny Bernstein and local pediatrician Dr. Amy Eisenberg.
Pappalardi who made changes in the coaching staff at SHS at the beginning of the school year, said that it is "important to define the purpose of sport to support development and success, inspire self discipline confidence, hard work, a can do attitude, resilience, leadership and service." He recalled his experiences growing playing self-directed games which included everyone who showed up. The rules were adjusted to accommodate all skill levels and boundaries were naturally set.
As a varsity gymnast, a no-cut sport, he thrived in an "Environment framed on personal development and strong peer leadership." He said, "We need to be careful about how we treat our students and define success and make sure that kids have the right opportunities early on."
Pappalardi shared the results of interviews he had with graduating seniors about their athletic experiences at the school. He found that team dynamics, team chemistry and playing with friends were most important. He said, "Athletics is about the social enterprise – about playing with friends and representing community."
Recreation Department Supervisor Brian Gray also emphasized participation in "Activities that allow children to have fun and develop physically and emotionally."
The recreation department offers programs for hundreds of children where the rules dictate equal playing time in a positive atmosphere.
SHS Soccer Coach Mindy Genovese said her coaching philosophy is "to make kids better players and better people." She teaches her players to "Respect the officials, the opponents and yourselves," and tells that kids that they will make lifelong contacts on the field. She shows her kids how to deal with failure and stress and tells them that mistakes are okay. When she looks for players she evaluates them on their skills, vision, game sense, sportsmanship, leadership, work ethic, determination and willingness to be coached.
Danny Bernstein, who runs youth sports program, including ones for kids with special needs and economically disadvantaged kids shared his outlook. He said, "What do you want for your kids when they graduate?" He answered by saying, "You want them to be compassionate, have friends, navigate for themselves and be passionate about something." He sees sport as a way of learning these life skills.
Dr. Amy Eisenberg who is a pediatrician and school and sport physician for Rye Neck Schools said she was concerned about pressure on kids, overscheduling, and lack of mobility, as kids are on phones and laptops rather than moving around. She said too many are getting physical therapy or seeing orthopedists. She encouraged parents to help their children set goals and to also help those who may be too intimidated to try athletics.
Everyone agreed that sport should be as much about the process of playing as the end result.