An Interview with Voters' Choice Party Candidate Robert Selvaggio
- On Our Minds
- Published on Wednesday, 15 February 2017 14:55
- 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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