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You are here: Home Your Career An Interview with Voters' Choice Party Candidate Robert Selvaggio
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An Interview with Voters' Choice Party Candidate Robert Selvaggio

SelvaggioPhotoBob 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.

Comments: If you would like to comment, please include your first and last name. If you have something to say, and are afraid to include your name, perhaps you should think twice about your comment. If you don't include your name, we will post only those comments that we deem appropriate. Do not include email addresses or URL's in your comments.

Comments   

+40 #29 Sherry Hock 2017-02-22 14:51
It is a great thing for the village that us residents have more choices than before. We can then do our research and vote for the best candidates.
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+32 #28 Mark Kane 2017-02-21 17:21
If those "years of experience as an appraiser." were worth anything why is it that the village is withholding payment?

"Never let the facts or logic get in the way when you have the opportunity to look the fool"


Quoting Revaluation:
Jane -- there is nothing to say that a model that "guesses" coefficients is inherently bad, especially since he was basing his "guesses" on years of experience as an appraiser.

But forget about the model for a minute because the main issue you say you have is with how the mayor and trustees handled the aftermath of the revaluation. Lets look at it from their point of view. The results come out. They are not trained appraisers, so they rely on their professional, licensed, assessor (nanette) who tells them that the model is good. Then they start getting letters from people like you, saying the revluation sucks. At the time, If i were them, i would have expected a healthy dose of upset residents because with any revaluation, some people will be happy with the results and some people will not. So no matter what they were going to get many complaints. Hindsight is 20/20 but if you pretend you were in their shoes at the time, you, too, probably would have trusted your licensed assessor over the X number of upset residents that wrote letters complaining.
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-29 #27 Revaluation 2017-02-21 08:19
Maybe Bob has behaved like a gentleman relative to others regarding the revaluation, but he has acted way out of line on many other matters in the past (take a look at how he treated others during our superintendent search, for example). Dont base this vote just on his actions during the revaluation. 7

And there are many benefits of the non partisan system, not just transitions.

As for hurricane Sandy, the mayor could have communicated better for sure. But getting things fixed faster? Dont know. And there is nothing to say that the candidates in the voters choice party would have handled it any better. I didnt see any disaster response experience in their bios.

Scarsdale is one of the most desirsble places to live in the country. It is not perfect, but the non partisan system works!
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+32 #26 Jane Curley 2017-02-21 07:00
Revaluation - Of course I will try to keep an open mind. But I read a little bit about the non-partisan system quite a while ago and my reaction was "That's nuts!" Under a lot of circumstances, it may facilitate smooth government, and especially transitions. That's nice, but I care less about "most circumstances" and more about what people are going to do in extreme circumstances. If there is an issue in play that is of critical importance to me, I want to know how a candidate stands on that issue. I've read more since then and my opinion hasn't changed. But that doesn't mean I wouldn't potentially vote for a CNC candidate. Even though I am not particularly opposed to the library, I respect Matt Callahan for dissenting and I share his desire to focus on emergency / safety issues. The town's response to Sandy seemed s little inadequate.

I agree with you that the mayor and trustees didn't react unreasonably. It's just that I want more. This reval thing isn't going away. People are sensitized to it now, and when a $100k swing in your assessment means +\- $2,500 in your pocket every year, people are going to be paying attention. Bob Berg recognized the importance of the reval and was asking the right questions when others were talking about streetlights and grass clippings. And while a lot of people have been worked up about the reval, and maybe not on their best behavior (with me being one of the worst offenders), Bob has behaved like a gentleman.
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-27 #25 Revaluation 2017-02-20 22:13
So Jane, I think we are on the same page with respect to how the mayor and trustees dealt with the revaluation. We agree that they werent acting maliciously or "corrupt" in any way and always had the best intentions. And that their handling of the post-revaluatio n uproar was also justified, in that perhaps most people in their shoes at the time, given the circumstances around all revaluations, may have acted similarly. I do agree that the one decision that may have helped -- possibly dramatically -- would have been a requirement by jf ryan to provide values before the roll deadline so that residents could review. This decision, though, was likely a detail that the assessor was responsible for. she should have recommended it.

I repeat all this because i hope you can see the big picture. This mayor and board of trustees is excellent. They made a mistake and should have pushed for a review period before the roll was published. But this new slate of candidates is using the revaluation to upend a century-old local political system. There is no need to do this. There is not a huge failure of government here. Their argument is that "voters should have choice." Well maybe, but there are a lot of drawbacks to having local elections run this way.

Lastly, running the village is much more than just dealing with the revaluation. The CNC candidates have the experience needed to do it. The "revaluation slate" (might as well call themselves that) do not. I urge you to reaad more about the non partisan system and why it has worked well here, and i hope you have an open mind on election day.
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+31 #24 Jane Curley 2017-02-20 18:53
I agree somewhat with you second point. But to me it seemed like there were a LOT of people saying the same thing, and it went on for a long time. I do think the mayor and trustees should have handled the process well enough to avoid the tentative roll being released so late. But everyone makes mistakes, that is completely understandable. However, given the fiasco with the timing (it's my understanding that there actually was a widow who was dealing with her husband's death and missed the greivance deadline), I think the initial complaints should have been taken more seriously. But that is just my opinion. Yours is just as valid, maybe more so. Maybe you understand local history and practices much better then me.

Your first point is just incorrect. For a lot of reasons, but I will give you one that is easy to understand intuitively. Ryan's "model" had a strangely high coefficient for central a/c. When questioned about it, he asserted that it might be capturing some other unknown factors, not explicitly captured by the model. That is sometimes acceptable in actual regression models (where coefficients have been calculated by regressing the dependent variable against the independent variables, not by GUESSING). Well, If he doesn't know what those factors are, how can he use his expert judgement to value them? That makes no sense. Also, he has no records or documentation of how he arrived at the final set of coefficients. Again, for the gaxillionth time, this is no more a matter of opinion than saying water is wet. Really.

Quoting Revaluation:
Jane -- there is nothing to say that a model that "guesses" coefficients is inherently bad, especially since he was basing his "guesses" on years of experience as an appraiser.

But forget about the model for a minute because the main issue you say you have is with how the mayor and trustees handled the aftermath of the revaluation. Lets look at it from their point of view. The results come out. They are not trained appraisers, so they rely on their professional, licensed, assessor (nanette) who tells them that the model is good. Then they start getting letters from people like you, saying the revluation sucks. At the time, If i were them, i would have expected a healthy dose of upset residents because with any revaluation, some people will be happy with the results and some people will not. So no matter what they were going to get many complaints. Hindsight is 20/20 but if you pretend you were in their shoes at the time, you, too, probably would have trusted your licensed assessor over the X number of upset residents that wrote letters complaining.
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+33 #23 Article78Petitioner 2017-02-20 17:57
Resident,

Please go to the Village website and look at the list of overassessed properties. 1,000 properties were overassessed by 10% and higher. Even more were in the 5-10% category. Your 151 number is way off. 154 properties are part of Article 78. That is about 300 residents.

Also please read and listen to stayements by Baturin, Curley, Frankel, both Kirkendall-Rodr íguez, Levine, Neelson, Selvaggio, and Tang to name a few. All these professionals with quantitative and modeling background disproved Ryan months ago. The New York State Office of Real Property Services also disproved Ryan's work.

Beyond the math, please read Albanese's original emails to Ryan. Face facts. The Ryan reval was a qualitative and quantitative abomination.

Quoting Resident:
Bob, no, more than 151 residents were affected by the revaluation. But in no way was it "corrupt." You can do 1000 well documented and well validated models and not everyone is going to be happy with it. The board, after much consideration, decided that for a number of logistical/clerical/legal reasons, a roll back to Tyler's (also flawed) values was not feasible, but going forward they recommended an investigation for a 3rd reval. I trust the board's judgment on that. You didn't and sued. Now the village has to waste more money defending or settling this lawsuit. Not good.

And you should do yourself a favor and look at all 2016 and 2017 sales vs Ryan's values vs Tyler's values. Ryan's "scandalous" and "corrupt" and "unvlaidated" numbers are WAY more accurate...
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-31 #22 Revaluation 2017-02-20 16:45
Jane -- there is nothing to say that a model that "guesses" coefficients is inherently bad, especially since he was basing his "guesses" on years of experience as an appraiser.

But forget about the model for a minute because the main issue you say you have is with how the mayor and trustees handled the aftermath of the revaluation. Lets look at it from their point of view. The results come out. They are not trained appraisers, so they rely on their professional, licensed, assessor (nanette) who tells them that the model is good. Then they start getting letters from people like you, saying the revluation sucks. At the time, If i were them, i would have expected a healthy dose of upset residents because with any revaluation, some people will be happy with the results and some people will not. So no matter what they were going to get many complaints. Hindsight is 20/20 but if you pretend you were in their shoes at the time, you, too, probably would have trusted your licensed assessor over the X number of upset residents that wrote letters complaining.
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+34 #21 Jane Curley 2017-02-19 20:51
P.S.

The village DID get model validation services for free. They were ignored. Bank employees typically can't work second jobs, but private citizens who happen to be bank employees can certainly voice their opinions.
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+36 #20 Jane Curley 2017-02-19 20:18
I have not read all the comments, but wanted to respond to Resident. I think maybe you don't realize that John Ryan created the impression that he used some kind of "model." Anyone knowledgeable looking at the variables (sq root of sq ft, a/c, # baths, etc.) would, have assumed it was a linear regression model. Even assuming that, it was obviously flawed. But I think that was the assumption a lot of people made, including myself.


Except he actually didn't and he admitted it. He just took a trial and error approach to come up with coefficients. He GUESSED And when he got close enough to what he thought (or wanted) the coefficients to be, he stopped guessing. This is not "a matter of opinion" as the trustees and mayor maintained for so long. It is completely indefensible.

I appreciate that the mayor and trustees donate their time. I believe they have the best interests of the town at heart, and I have absolutely no doubt that they were NOT motivated by personal gain. But a big mistake was made and they didn't act promptly. I think the most egregious aspect of this is that the results of the reval were released so close to the deadline to file a grievance. I don't blame the current officials for what happened, buy why did it take so long for them to listen to their constituents, and why did they continue to make payments to Ryan even after it was brought to their attention? Have they answered these two questions? The problem isn't that they got conned by Ryan. It's that they ignored the residents who bought it to their attention. I sent the mayor a letter within a day or two of getting my new assessment urging him to start trying to get funds back from Ryan. Instead, he continued paying him. The mayor doesn't know me, maybe I am a lunatic. But since he has proven that he isn't capable of understanding the problems with the revaluation, he should have taken the time to understand why I was urging him not to pay Ryan. Scarsdale is not that big. We should all have a voice.
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