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realestatetaxesIt seemed like old times at Village Hall on Tuesday night June 6 when some of the most vocal opponents of the 2016 revaluation returned for a meeting on hiring a consultant to conduct an independent review of the Village Assessor's office. The Village held a similar meeting with the consulting firm Management Partners in late February, but at the time the trustees decided to wait to make a decision on retaining them until they could answer more questions on their expertise on revaluations.

Kevin Knutson from Management Partners explained that he was a former Village Manager of Coral Gables Florida who now works at Management Partners, an 85-person firm with over 700 clients in 41 states. All of the firms' employees formerly worked in government. For this meeting, Knutson brought in Thomas Frey, who has worked as an assessor, appraiser and as a project consultant on a revaluation in Mamaroneck to serve as a technical consultant on the work in Scarsdale.

The consultants will be charged with doing a review of the assessor's office, evaluating practices and processes with an eye toward improving their efficiency and effectiveness. Village Manager Steve Pappalardo said, "The study will not involve forensic evaluations of the Tyler and Ryan models," but will be an analysis to help improve processes. The project is anticipated to take four to five months to complete and the consultants would be paid $34,990 which will come out of the FY 2016-17 budget.

Frey introduced himself, explaining that he has been an assessor for 42 years, worked as an assessor for a municipality for 32 years and also as an instructor in the field. He has worked as a consultant for the City of White Plains and did appraisals for SCARS hearings. In Mamaroneck, he was the Project Manager for what he called a "reasonably successful" revaluation. When asked what he believed was the key to a good revaluation, Frey said, "...Explain what you are going to do and be as transparent as possible." Asked what he has seen as issues with the assessor's offices in other towns, he said, "They often don't have enough staffing." In response to a question about his role in Mamaroneck he said, "I worked on the RFP, met with contractor and the assessors office, communicated with the town board and rechecked samples of the data collection ... serving as the monitor."

Frey also commented on whether it was possible to conduct a revaluation without doing another round of data collection. He said, "Yes, as long as you maintain good records of sales and demolitions. Sometimes you can just "tweak" the values."
He said he did that within the office without hiring an outside firm. The comment about "tweaking" brought to mind Ryan's claim before he conducted the 2016 revaluation, using data collected for the prior revaluation in 2014.

Mayor Hochvert asked, "How do you fairly assess the quality and condition of a home? How do you develop these parameters? What does the range denote? AAA? C? Frey responded, "Condition and quality are the hardest to do – as they are subjective. Simplifying the grade is better. When the range gets too big it is hard to keep consistency." He added, "We do mass appraisal. We aim toward the middle and go up or down from there."

Amy Parlato wanted to know how Frey would get feedback, and the consultants said they would visit the office 4-5 times and interview residents. Mayra Kirkendall Rodriguez wanted to know what model Frey worked with when he was an assessor and he explained that he used "a model provided from New York State and adjusted for our municipality that worked with the RPS system." Asked if he back tested the model, he said yes.

About the diversity of the housing stock he explained that Mamaroneck was similar to Scarsdale in the range of housing. To another question from Steve Rakoff about what to do when there is a shortage of comparable sales during a specific period, Frey said that the office extends the sales period to gather more values. His wife Amy asked if Frey was aware of the situation in Scarsdale and he said that all he knew was what he read in the media.

At one point, the clear divide in opinion about future revaluations surfaced in the room; Bob Berg affirmed his desire for the consultants to work independently to analyze and make their recommendations and said, "I think we all agree that we need to do another revaluation in the near future," which brought cries of disagreement from Ron Parlato and Steve Rakoff who said, "No we don't... don't speak for us!"

Michael Levine who is a statistician commented that it would be difficult to separate problems in the assessor's office with issues with the models used. He said to the consultants, "I understand that this is a limited engagement. You may think you can get at this by analyzing the procedures. But below it is perceived flaws in the results that resulted from perceived flaws in the methodology or land evaluation. You will get into these questions. I suggest you anticipate this and when you see it you don't ignore it. Notice that and be aware – even if it's outside the scope of your work."

At the conclusion of the meeting it appeared that both the trustees and community members in attendance were in agreement that the consultants should be retained to do the study.  Following the meeting, the trustees asked village managers to draft a resolution to hire the consultants. This will be voted on at the June 13th meeting of the board of trustees. 

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fredricksmithjrThe Scarsdale Student Transfer Education Plan (STEP) Board is thrilled to announce that Fredrick Smith, Jr. a rising junior from Memphis, Tennessee, has been selected to join the Scarsdale High School class of 2019 this fall.

The STEP board now seeks a Scarsdale District family to host Fred for the academic year, starting in late August 2017. Interested families should call Nan Berke at 914-472-8387 or email info@scarsdalestep.org.

For over 50 years, STEP has brought promising students of color from economically disadvantaged households to Scarsdale to attend the High School for their junior and senior years. The program specifically seeks students who have demonstrated leadership qualities and a commitment to applying themselves academically.

Fred Smith is an honors student at KIPP Memphis Collegiate High. He is a member of his school's football team and he enjoys reading and volunteering to help coach the Orange Mound Raiders, a youth football team. Fred loves Science and Math and is driven to understand how things work. Last summer he attended the National Flight Academy in Pensacola, FL and this summer he is attending the Math and Science Scholars Summer Enrichment Program at the University of Michigan. He describes himself as "outgoing, a leader and an all-around helpful person".

The 30 plus-member STEP Board and 24-member Advisory Board provides a strong network of consistent support to host families, including a generous stipend to cover expenses. The experience can be life changing, not only for the STEP student but also for the host family. Host families gain a wider cultural perspective and often form lifelong relationships with their STEP student.

For more information, go to the Scarsdale STEP website.

Jill Hyman and Julie Stonberg are the Co-Chairs of the Scarsdale STEP Board.

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31 WhigRoadA new study by a website called 247Wallst.com has determined that Scarsdale residents have the highest median household income in the country, earning 15 times the typical household income in Centreville, IL, which was found to be the poorest town in the U.S. with a median income of $16,553.

The study found that the "typical" U.S. household income rose $2,500 to $53,889 in 2015 from $51,425 in 2009.

The site is based on household income data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey.

The study found that the wealthiest communities are largely suburbs near major U.S. cities like New York, Washington D.C. and Chicago. It says, "In 21 of the 25 small wealthiest towns, more than 80% of the workers commute outside of their place of residence for work."

The study also notes the impact of education on wealth, finding that in 23 of the 25 richest towns 70% of adults have bachelors' degrees while only 15% of adults in 20 of the poorest 25 towns have a four-year degree. On average, those with bachelors' degrees earn $23,000 more than those without a college degree, while graduate degree holders earn $40,000 more than those without a degree.

Read the entire article here.

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ForumMLLenaWhat is your vision of an ideal Scarsdale? Do you wish that your neighbor would say hello in the morning? Or that builders would stop tearing down all the trees... or that more outdoor cafes would open in the Village? These were just of the few ideas that were proposed at a recent meeting of the Scarsdale Forum when the Scarsdale Community Support Council was invited to hold a workshop on Strengthening Community. Jay Genova and Linda Chayes led participants through an exercise on "Breaking Down Barriers to Create Community Cohesion."

The audience was divided into groups of ten or so to consider the following questions:

What can we do to break out of our bubbles or comfort zones?

Do you see stepping out of your familiar circle or bubble as a benefit?

Are there ways that you could make your life richer by challenging yourself or stepping out of your comfort zone or by doing something unfamiliar?

In what ways could you do that?ForumMark

The groups were given time to share experiences and consider ways to build community involvement and empathy. The discussion at my table centered on what community means to different people and how to reach out to those that may feel isolated or alienated. It was noted that many became engaged in the controversy over the recent revaluation and the Village election –but we questioned whether that served to make the community more polarized or more cohesive?

We explored other ways that residents might come together through programming, recreation or a more vital downtown.

Each person completed a card providing their ideal Scarsdale and these were read aloud. Here are just a few of the wishes that were shared:

Preserve the village in a park

Civil discourse

A more diverse community

Stronger neighborhood ties

Inclusion

An indoor pool

More restaurants with outdoor seatingForumChayesGenova

More collaboration between the Village government and the school administration

A vital, thriving downtown

More housing options for seniors and retirees

Reasonably sized new homes

Better traffic control

What are your ideas? Send them to scarsdalecomments@gmail.com and we'll share them here.

Also at the meeting, the Scarsdale honored former Mayor Jon Mark for his service to Scarsdale, which former Scarsdale Forum President said was "all the better for Jon's leadership."

Crandall completed her term as Scarsdale Forum President and the group approved new leadership for the forum. ML Perlman will serve as President with Jon Mark as Vice President. Here are ML's remarks from the meeting:

Members, Board, and Guests:

It is my pleasure to have the opportunity to acknowledge and thank our outgoing President Lena Crandall. Lena and I have worked closely together the last year and I am therefore uniquely qualified to speak about the outstanding dedication she has shown this organization and our community through her tireless efforts and enthusiasm.

Lena's care and attention to the smallest details – while simultaneously having the broad vision to oversee the implementation of the Forum's new communication strategy shows the depth of both Lena's engagement with – and value to the Forum.

forum1Through our many conversations I learned that Lena is a champion of important values within our community; specifically the inclusiveness of our organization in that we accept all residents as members regardless of citizenship; Lena values respectful – but vigorous - debate that allows all points of view to be expressed and considered; and finally Lena values the simple act of saying "yes" – that when someone has an idea, Lena is there to say "let's go for it!" With Lena as President, we were always talking about what more we could do and what more was possible.

And more we did. This year the Forum as an organization through its public meetings, committee discussions, written reports, and community engagement touched upon just about every important issue within the Village; whether the Library Renovation and Expansion upon which the Municipal Services Committee authored two reports and issued the Forum's first community wide survey, or the Sustainability Committee's incubation of the food scrap recycling pilot program – which has evolved today into Westchester County's first food scrap recycling drop off program. Bravo. – or the Education Committee's reports on the 2017-18 budget, the Greenacres School, and recommended Strategy for Long-Term Fiscal Planning. In addition to committee study and discussion, the Program Committee of the Forum has brought the community together for meaningful engagement such as the experience we all had here tonight – this past year's programs have included distinguished guests such as Mayor Jon Mark, Superintendent Thomas Hagerman, Lee Maude, County Legislator Ben Boykin, Congressman Elliot Engel, Former Scarsdale Inquirer Editor Linda Leavitt, Extreme Weather Scientist and Scarsdale High School graduate Anton Seimon, the Alzheimer's Association Hudson Valley Chapter, and of course our guests tonight from the Scarsdale Community Support Council just to name a few.

While the accomplishments of our organization belong to our members and committees and our Chairs and Co-Chairs, one cannot deny that Lena has for the last year brought our organization together collaboratively and productively. The immense respect Lena has - both from me personally and from our organization - is well earned and deserved.

As I assume the position of President of this organization,ForumEli I am humbled and grateful to have the opportunity to give back to a community from which I have gained so much. When I moved to Scarsdale two years ago, the Forum was a place of engagement, learning, and acquaintances. In such a short time I have forged meaningful friendships and collegial ties to so many wonderful people I have met here. As President, I hope to establish a mentorship process for new members so that as many people as possible can find the support and encouragement I find here and from all of you everyday.

Before closing, I would like to note my sincerest thanks to Jon Mark for volunteering to be Vice President. I will be relying heavily on his knowledge, guidance, and support in the coming year – and I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to work together. I know that our organization will be all the better for Jon's leadership and involvement.

Finally to our members: Thank you for your involvement. Thank you for your ideas. Thank you for your opinions. We look forward to seeing you at the next meeting.

Thank you all and good evening.

ML Perlman
Scarsdale Forum President

Photos by Lisa VanGundy

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letter-to-the-editorThis letter was sent to Scarsdale10583 by the Westchester Putnam School Boards Association in advance of the May 16 budget vote and election of school board members.

To the Editor: In recent months, Local Control has become the hot buzzword. There is a renewed sense that local actions matter, and indeed, all politics is local. The board of education exemplifies this, as school board members address two things that are important to most people - their children and their money!

The 2017 data on Westchester/Putnam school board candidates is revealing:

• While the number of districts with contested elections had been trending downward, this year it increased from 40% to 51%.
• A record 141 people are running for 95 seats, and the percentage of non-incumbent candidates on the ballot increased from 46% to 57%.


Before you fill in your ballot, consider that the board of education is a policy-making body whose fiduciary responsibilities include finances and the education of children. Select candidates who will leave their own agenda at the door and focus on the long-term needs of all children through thoughtful consensus building, while considering local taxpayer constraints. A well-functioning board focuses on strategic issues - district vision, standards, goals and policies - and allows the superintendent to be the CEO, setting objectives and plans, managing staff and operations, making recommendations to the board and providing data for decision-making. The right mix will facilitate a culture of continuous improvement, student success and respectful, open, honest communication; the wrong mix, or too many egos in the mix, can tip the balance and thwart district progress. When you go to the polls, remember that every vote matters, particularly in local elections!

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