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letter to the editorTo the Editor: It is genuinely appalling that a board who prides themselves on architectural proficiency is willing to omit certain aesthetic criteria from their jurisdiction while impeding on issues beyond their expertise. The absurd decision to exclude solar panels from BAR review will haunt Scarsdale for generations to come. Notwithstanding the benefits of solar panels, their hideous presence deteriorates the nature of a traditional home, a distinct and defining feature of Scarsdale. Ironically, the esoteric implications of allowing more solar panels will directly impact the number of trees needed to be removed for adequate sun exposure for the panels to properly function. This is a matter that should be greatly considered before the character of the village is changed beyond repair.
Thank you

Regards,
Bobby Ben-Simon, President.
KOSL BUILDING GROUP LLC.
875 Mamaroneck Ave., Suite 400
Mamaroneck, NY 10543

MarcSamwickMarc Samwick, a former two-term Village Trustee, has received the nomination from the Scarsdale Citizens' Non-Partisan Party as their candidate for Mayor of Scarsdale. We asked Samwick to comment on the issues of the day, and below are his responses. Remember to vote in the Village election on Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at Village Hall, 1001 Post Road, from 6:00 am to 9:00 pm.

For those of us who don’t already know you, tell us about your background, your family and your professional career.

My wife, Cynthia, and I moved our family to Scarsdale in 1997. Our sons, Jason, Oliver and George, have grown up in Scarsdale and have all graduated Scarsdale High School. Like many, we moved to Scarsdale for the schools. But we had another strong draw -- Cynthia’s older sister, Andrea Seiden, and her family lived here, and we wanted our families to be close, especially our five boys. We expected to spend our days surrounded by a close family. What we didn’t expect was to also be immersed in the strength, generosity and support of the Scarsdale community. Cynthia and I and our boys have built very full lives with great friends, neighbors, and family. We love Scarsdale, and it means so much to us to give back to this wonderful community that has given us so much.

I grew up in Westport, CT and graduated with honors from Union College. I also received an MBA with honors from Columbia University Graduate School of Business.

Professionally, I am a real estate investor and developer, focusing on properties in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. As a developer, I work with many different communities, and I understand the roles, responsibilities and interests of residents, elected officials and staff. My experience working with various cities, towns, and villages provides me with a broad perspective and knowledge of different approaches to managing municipal matters. Over my two terms on the Board of Trustees, this experience assisted me in my role representing Scarsdale residents.

What were/are some of your volunteer activities in Scarsdale?

I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the Board of Scarsdale Little League. One of the highlights of my time on the SLL Board was a program I originated with Dave Feuerstein, a former professional baseball player, to “Coach the Coaches.” This program was designed to give coaches a solid base of fundamental baseballs skills to provide the children with a higher level of baseball instruction throughout the entire baseball season. Altogether, I have coached over 20 baseball teams in Scarsdale. I particularly enjoyed helping players develop over the course of a season. I remember working with one player that struggled all season at the plate. The greatest moment of that season was when that player hit a double in the final game of the season – and our entire team erupted in supportive cheers.

I currently serve on the Building Committee of the Scarsdale Library. I have been working to enhance the form and content of the communication between the construction consultant and the Library Board. I also served as an Alternate on the Village Planning Board and on the Finance Committee of Westchester Reform Temple.

What were some of your contributions during your 4 years as Village Trustee?

As a Trustee, I am very proud of the work I did on the project to renovate and expand the library. I worked closely with the Library Board and its Campaign Committee to determine the right balance between a “build once” opportunity based on record-breaking resident generosity and fiscal prudence that fit into the village’s long term financial plan. The process of striking the right balance was not easy – but it was the type of collaborative process that Scarsdale is known for. We listened to each other to determine how to manage the trade-offs needed to achieve our budgetary constraints while maintaining the core mission of creating a vibrant community hub that will benefit generations of Scarsdale residents. I believe my contributions as a Trustee helped the Library Board to balance the benefits and costs of the library project. Once comfortable that the right balance had been struck, I gave my full effort to marshal support for this exciting, transformative project. I am very proud of the work we accomplished and am very excited about the planned opening of our new library in 2020.

I am also very pleased to have been involved in the initiation of the Freightway redevelopment process about two years ago. Since $2.3 million would have to be spent to maintain and improve the aging, unattractive parking structure within the next few years regardless, the time was right to reexamine and rethink the site. From the start, we recognized the importance of extensive community input. We formed a steering committee comprised of key village stakeholders, including members of land use boards, realtors, a village merchant, the Scarsdale Neighborhood Association President, the President of the Overhill Neighborhood Association, an architect, and a member of the School Board. Former Mayor, Jon Mark, chaired the steering committee. I was very proud to have participated in the steering committee as well. We then retained BFJ Planning, an expert planning firm that has worked extensively in Scarsdale and the region, to actively engage the community. The resulting redevelopment study was based on numerous public workshops, focus group meetings, an online survey as well as commuter and merchant intercept surveys, two walking tours and even participation from the acclaimed SHS City 2.0 class. In total, there was input from well over 750 village stakeholders during the eight-month scoping process. The village subsequently issued a request for expressions of interest from the development community. It was very encouraging to see extensive interest from developers with seven responses submitted.

I am excited to continue to work closely with the community on the next steps of this lengthy and deliberate process over the coming years. Regardless of what is done at the Freightway site, I intend to remain vigilant about protecting village resources to ensure that we maintain sufficient commuter parking and protect the integrity of our schools, among other things.

What are some of the challenges that face the Village?

There are challenges every year in balancing Village finances with the high tax burdens we face as residents. It is important to keep in mind that village taxes represent about 18% of our real estate taxes (school and county taxes make up the remainder). It is also notable that about 75-80% of the village budget is related to personnel costs, and that the vast majority of Village employees are represented by unions, and subject to binding, collectively bargained contracts over multiple years. Lastly, we should be aware of reduced state aid in the face of added unfunded state mandates, and the possibility of further cuts out of Albany as they seek to balance the state budget.

As a result of this confluence of challenges, the realistic focus of managing the village budget is about working to control costs in the few areas where we have discretion while still providing the essential services that our residents demand and expect. We are very fortunate to have strong professional Village management, led by our Village Manager, Steve Pappalardo, who has created a culture of cost consciousness, teamwork and efficiency that permeates throughout Village staff. For example, Fire Chief Seymour developed a plan to reduce the total number of fire apparatus by adding more flexible equipment to our portfolio. This creative approach is actively encouraged by the Board of Trustees and Village management in all our departments as we actively work to find budget efficiencies. I hope to further encourage this type of creative thinking to bring about more long-term budgetary savings.

Please share your views on our current building code, lot coverage code and historic preservation.

As Land Use Chair, I was proud to be part of the group that convened a meeting of the Planning Board, Board of Architectural Review and the Zoning Board of Appeals to evaluate what is being done well and what could be improved upon with respect to land use in Scarsdale. We received thoughtful and constructive comments that addressed administrative and legislative matters. There have been subsequent meetings and discussions over the past year, and I look forward to picking up on the work that has been done and continuing to move this process forward.

How would have voted on the resolution to join the lawsuit against the IRS re: SALT rules and regulations?

First, we have to be clear that the new limitation on SALT deductions was created at the federal level and it can only fully be addressed by an act of Congress.

Second, the communities of Westchester County will feel it far more than most, Scarsdale included, through a combination of state income taxes and local property taxes. It is up to us to attempt to mitigate the harshest impacts to our residents while we advocate our Congressional representatives for relief. It should be noted that our Representative, Eliot Engel, is already the co-sponsor on a bill to restore the full SALT deduction.

Third, at the Village level, we have to do whatever we can to protect our residents. We started that process when we allowed for the prepayment of 2018 property taxes in the final days of 2017, prior to the SALT deduction limitations that commenced in 2018. I support measures that protect our residents while keeping the village and its residents from exposure, including Scarsdale joining with 18 other municipalities, plus counties and school districts, in an effort to push back on proposed IRS regulations that would have further limited options for our residents. Most recently, Assemblywoman Amy Paulin has done phenomenal groundwork and found top-notch attorneys to press a future federal lawsuit in defense of our taxpayers on a pro bono basis. Assemblywoman Amy Paulin has also established a separate social welfare non-profit to cover any expenses. Therefore, the Village’s finances are sufficiently protected, and the only potential risk that has been identified is to Scarsdale’s reputation. I believe that the balance of the potential risks and rewards of this lawsuit tips firmly in favor of fighting for our residents.

Finally, to date we have only been able to speculate what the impact will be on our residents. At the close of the current tax filing season, we’ll have data on who in our community is truly affected and how badly. I anticipate there will be more ideas to come, and more circumstances to respond to on behalf of our residents. So long as our finances and our liability is sufficiently protected, we owe it to our residents to do everything we reasonably can to help them with this ongoing issue.

When you speak to residents about their concerns, what are some of the complaints or issues you hear most often?

The most frequent comments I have heard recently relate to two things: (i) taxes and the village budget, including SALT deduction limitations, and (ii) Freightway. Both of these items I discussed previously.

What do you hope to accomplish as Mayor of Scarsdale?

I am genuinely excited by the potential to continue to serve Scarsdale. I am particularly eager to work closely with the community on issues such as Freightway and land use matters.

I firmly believe that one of the most important things we can do as Mayor and Trustees is to listen. To that end, I plan to roll out a less formal way for the community to communicate with our elected officials. I will hold casual meetings open to all residents in less formal settings than our semi-monthly meetings at Village Hall. The intent is to provide more open and accessible communication so our elected officials can do a better job representing our residents to improve our outstanding community.

forumgeorgeThe Scarsdale Forum invited County Executive George Latimer to present the state of the county on Thursday February 7 at the Scarsdale Womans' Club. Latimer explained the size and the scope of the county’s $1.9 billion budget and the pressure to maintain costs on a large budget that few seem to appreciate. Scarsdale residents pay about 20% of their real estate taxes to Westchester County, few seem to know where those dollars go. Though the county runs the second largest regional bus service in the state and an1,800 bed county jail, Latimer said that most of the Scarsdale taxpayers who fund these services don’t ride the bus or spend a night in jail.

Another chunk of the budget is consumed by unfunded state mandated programs that the place an additional burden on the county.

In order to raise additional revenues the county is considering the transfer of the parking lot at the county center to private ownership and has closely examined all contracts. Latimer has proposed a 1% increase in the county sales tax to replenish county coffers so that they can maintain the parks and roadways that were neglected under the previous administration.

Moving forward the county hopes to build a biotech center on 60 acres of county owned land near the Westchester Medical Center and dental school. They have given a 99-year lease to the land to Ferrari and Associates to build the center.

Speaking about his goals for his administration, Latimer said, “People need to see government that is open, bi-artisan and transparent. We need to re-establish confidence that we can govern ourselves.”

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Photos by Lisa Van Gundy

JonathanLewisThe Citizens' Nominating Committee has nominated Jonathan Lewis to serve as Scarsdale Village Trustee. Why is he running and what does he hope to accomplish? Read his answers below:

After a run for Congress, why did you decide to run for Village Trustee?

My father was a decorated officer in World War Two and he taught me that the most important duty in life, after taking care of your family, is service to your community. When the Citizens Nominating Committee asked me if I would consider serving as a Village Trustee, my answer was yes.

Tell us about your professional and volunteer experience and why it led you to apply to serve as a Village Trustee.

I am an entrepreneur who co-founded and built a successful asset management business, Samson Capital Advisors, that managed municipal bonds. When we opened our doors for business, we had no clients or revenues. By 2015, when we sold our company, we managed over $7 billion in assets, and had developed a national reputation as experts in municipal bonds and public policy. While building my company, I’ve also served in a variety of volunteer and board positions including as a member of the Scarsdale Board of Education, president of the Scarsdale Forum, president of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation of Westchester, and treasurer of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, where I also chair the Foundation’s investment committee. I have built cost-effective budgets in my business, as a member of the Scarsdale Board of Education, and in a variety of not-for-profit leadership roles. I hope to bring my skills in finance and entrepreneurship to the Village Board. I think these skills will enable me to make positive contributions to conversations about the budget, expense management, and innovation.

What do you hope to accomplish as Village Trustee?

My career has taught me to do more with less, while being entrepreneurial, impactful, and taking the long view. I am proud that Scarsdale is my home and grateful to live here. I believe that a Trustee listens to the community, critically evaluates how we deliver services and builds a budget to provide the services that residents expect and deserve in the most-cost-efficient way.

As a Village Trustee, I would bring the skills I have developed in the private sector and in public service to strengthen our unique “brand” as a community and to always look for cost-effective means to deliver on the core value proposition of Scarsdale. This brand is the cornerstone that supports our property values.

I would hope to work with my fellow Trustees to seek ways to refine and redefine the quality and breadth of village services in a way that reinforces our village’s brand. These efforts should be focused on how we make Scarsdale an attractive and desirable place to live now and in the future. We should always be asking “What do we do in Scarsdale better than anywhere else?” and then make sure the tough budgetary choices we face each year help reinforce the answer to that question.

I’m running for the Board of Trustees to engage in that conversation with the community, other Board members, and the Village staff.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing Scarsdale?

The Board of Trustees faces a great challenge today - it has to act as a responsible steward of our neighbors’ taxes while delivering high-quality services and public safety in the face of so many external factors, including policy changes at the state and federal level, unfunded mandates imposed on the village by New York State, and the possibility of economic headwinds. Of course we should strive to be as cost-efficient as possible, resist unnecessary expenditures that don’t have a clear benefit, and look for new areas to find savings, but I believe there’s another side of the equation that will help us meet these challenges.

Throughout Westchester County, and the country for that matter, the basic service model that underlines local government has been largely unchanged and unexamined. I believe we have the opportunity to rethink our Village government to meet the economic, fiscal, and competitive challenges of our times. In my private and public sector positions, I have always felt my most useful role was to challenge assumptions and to raise questions that haven’t always been fully explored. I believe my training as a historian and my role as a Chief Investment Officer have given me that discipline. I look forward to bringing that same passion for improvement and critical reexamination to village government.

On the local level, what do you think Scarsdale can do to ensure our home values and our schools in the face of the new limits on state and local tax deductions?

In many ways, the challenge of adapting to the federal cap on the SALT deduction is similar to what we’ve had to do to successfully adapt to the state property tax cap.

When I served on the School Board, we had to contend with the implementation of that cap. We had to balance the need to provide a great education for the 21st century, while being mindful of the economic challenges our stakeholders faced in the aftermath of the financial crisis. One of the most impactful new ideas we funded was called the Scarsdale Center for Innovation. It was a low cost initiative that had the power to unleash the creative energies of our teachers and administrators for the purpose of reengineering our curriculum. Since its launch, the Center has fostered important forward thinking initiatives within the district. Developing low cost ways to transform how we think about policy and delivering services is a lesson I carry from that experience.

Our leadership in education and our reputation as innovators in that field is what sets our community apart, and I believe we need to innovate and reinvent how we think about local government to succeed in this challenging era. We need to imagine what a more vigorous local economy might look like, beyond the basic need for retail in our commercial areas. Are there non-retail businesses that could be supported and developed here? Can we diversify our economy in a way that is consistent with our values and our village character? Is there a way we can expand our tax base or more broadly share our tax levy that takes the pressure off individual homeowners? I believe if we approach the challenges of our time with fresh perspectives and new questions we are more likely to innovate our way to a solution. That effort will help us deliver on the value proposition of living in Scarsdale. If we succeed, we will remain the most attractive choice for home buyers seeking to build a happy and successful future for themselves and their families.

What are your views on historic preservation? Do you think the Village is doing enough to safeguard historic properties?

I have had a keen interest in how we preserve the character of our neighborhoods. When I was president of the Scarsdale Forum, I established a committee on Neighborhood Character to empower neighbors to explore these issues. I’ve served in the past on the boards of the American Jewish Historical Society and the Scarsdale Historical Society - so history is important to me. There is a constant and natural tension between the property rights of individuals and the need to safeguard our history and preserve our community for future generations. A tear down is not always to the detriment of the neighborhood, and preserving an old home is not always good preservation. Yet, much of the academic literature suggests that the preservation of truly historic and distinctive properties actually supports and enhances the property values of the surrounding neighborhood. Especially important, what makes a neighborhood special is more than the homes, it’s how they interact with their environment, and how the beauty of the natural world and the character of the homes interact and enhance each other. It’s a balancing act and an ongoing conversation, and one that the whole community should always feel that they are a part of. In that context, I would look forward to joining the conversation about how to balance progress with preservation in our village.

Scarsdale resident Mark Lewis (no relation to Jonathan Lewis) sent in the following comment.

"I have known Jonathan for several years and feel he will make an excellent Trustee. His knowledge of finance will help guide us over the next two years with well thought out budgets. He seeks out and listens to people and takes their comments seriously. His knowledge of history will also shape the way he makes decisions. I trust Jonathan to lead Scarsdale in the right direction.

Jonathan will keep an open mind on all issues and will be inclusive of all people regardless of which party they belong. I have full confidence that Jonathan will work to meet the needs of all the people of Scarsdale. I have worked with Jonathan and will do whatever Jonathan requests of me to help him get elected as our next Village Trustee. I hope that all Scarsdale residents will support Jonathan no matter which party they belong to."

Forum CousinsBen Boykin, Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Jon MarkWinterfest 2019, Scarsdale Forum's eleventh annual membership party, hosted over one hundred members and their guests last Saturday evening, February 2 at the Scarsdale Woman's Club. Forum member Bruce Wells held court at the ever popular beer and hot dog stations in the main room while Forum member pianists entertained throughout the evening. Guests enjoyed a buffet dinner provided by Plates Catering and the various desserts baked by members and several local vendors. The a capella group, Counterpoint sang during the the dessert hour in the Club's library. Forum president Jon Mark and Vice President Tim Foley welcomed Congressman Eliot Engel, State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, State Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and Westchester County Board Legislator Benjamin Boykin as well as Scarsdale Mayor Dan Hochvert and Village Trustees Justin Arest, Lena Crandall and Seth Ross. It was truly a winter blast!Forum2Justin Arest and Eliot Engel

Photos by Lisa VanGundy and text by BK Munguia

counterpointA Capella singing group Counterpoint with Forum member Michelle Sterling.

ForumWellsMarkBrewmaster Bruce Wells with Jon Mark

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