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Math and Empathy Should be at the Center of Good Governance

letter to the editorThe Scarsdale School district has been spending a lot of time in the last few years emphasizing math and empathy. I urge you Mr. Mayor and trustees to also make math and empathy the cornerstone of good governance at Village Hall.

Since I accidentally stumbled into the disastrous Ryan reval June of 2016, I keep noticing that there is a deficit of math and empathy at Village Hall. Ryan still has not produced documentation for his model, and you have not gone after taxpayers’ money that you paid him on our behalf. You are still not helping residents who are paying more taxes than they should.


For over a year, most of Board meetings have been about trees. Scarsdale Official last week was about trees and plants. You just passed an ordinance without even being able to give us numbers. How many trees are cut and planted each year in Scarsdale? It is the net number that matters!


Unfortunately, you are ignoring my husband’s math, showing that you are giving a discount to excess water users in Scarsdale, and without empathy, penalizing the rest of us, who do conserve.


Over a year into your administration, you still have no numbers showing what residents’ priorities are. This is dangerous, because Scarsdale need a long-term financial model and plan.


Recent market signals are showing that anyone invested in municipal bonds should be looking at municipalities very carefully. This last quarter, the Bloomberg Barclays Municipal Bond Index had its biggest first-quarter decline in 15 years. Additionally, investors pulled about $830 million out of state and local government bond mutual funds during the week ended April 11, the biggest outflow since January 2017, and the second straight week of investors pulling cash from muni mutual funds.


Municipalities are challenged by uncertainties caused by the new federal tax law, rising medical costs and pervasive underfunded pension problems. Additionally, having to operate in a rising interest rate environment and with a potential trade war looming, municipalities need to factor how potential economic, market, or operational risks, such as natural disasters or cyberattacks, could impact their financial stability.


Based on my professional expertise working with different kinds of private and public sector entities, having a long-term financial plan provides a dynamic tool to help organizations preserve assets, determine investment needs, and to identify potential income shortfalls. Elected officials and municipal personnel should quantitatively determine the priorities of their constituents to help determine funding needs for infrastructure development or other community priorities, and to identify potential income shortfalls from residential or retail tax payers.


Sharing my view are also international standard setters and state comptrollers. For example, the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada, an important best practices standard setter for public finance officials, advocates for “long-term financial planning as a highly collaborative process that considers future scenarios and helps governments navigate challenges.” State comptrollers and treasurers also advocate that municipalities create and implement long-term financial plans. The Office of the New York State Comptroller for example recommends that municipalities create a long-term financial plan to cope with ‘future stresses.’


GOVERNING, the US’s leading media platform covering politics, policy and management for state and local government leaders, just published its annual survey "Equipt to Innovate." Of the 74 top municipalities participating in the survey, 32% had long-term plans that look ahead by three to five years.


Unfortunately, a lack of long-term financial planning leaves Scarsdale vulnerable to being more reactive than proactive. Recently, Standard and Poor’s public finance analyst Kurt Forsgren stated that “What bond-rating agencies are hoping to learn and are increasingly asking cities is how they are approaching long-term planning, both from an asset and revenue-stream perspective.”


Lastly, I ask, where is the importance of math and empathy when it comes to you not reappointing a talented volunteer for the Board of Assessment Review and instead appointing friends and relatives to boards? Justice Thurgood Marshall once said that “Truth is more than a mental exercise.” I urge you to give up verbal calisthenics and tell us the truth. Please, do not hide behind jumbled explanations and closed door executive sessions which no law requires. The more opaque you are, the bigger flashlight I will have to get. I look forward to your answers, and I know that all Scarsdale residents deserve answers as well.

Mayra Kirkendall-Rodríguez is a Fox Meadow resident.

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