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Residents Have Their Say at 4-10 Board of Trustees Meeting

MarkedTreesTuesday’s meeting of the Scarsdale Board of Trustees meeting featured well over an hour of public commentary on a variety of issues, ranging from trees and water rates, to property assessment, the village budget and historic preservation.

Cooper Clear Cutting
Zhen Zuo (Cooper Road) stated, “My new neighbor at 12A Cooper has cut 20 tall trees… Most…were a hundred years old (and) we bought (our) house because we loved the woods...“ She continued, “The trees were at least 50 or 60 feet away from the (neighbor’s) swimming pool. I called the engineering department; I was told that they had a permit… and there was nothing we could do. Why did the engineering department provide a permit? … When the (village) staff went to the site… did they consider the impact on neighbors? No, they only wanted to collect $1,000… We are paying $100,000 in property taxes, but the village isn’t protecting our rights.” Hu went on, “If people can cut trees that easily, the character of Scarsdale won’t exist… the replacement tree requirement for these 100-year old trees is only three feet… How many years will it take for (them) to grow that tall?”

Library Campaign Gets a Boost
Dara Gruenberg (Hampton Road) followed, representing the Scarsdale Library Capital Campaign Committee and Friends of the Scarsdale Library. She announced, “Thanks to three generous donors, every dollar now given to the capital campaign is doubled. We hope this challenge match will encourage every resident, at any level of giving, to participate in our campaign, joining over 425 donors who have already contributed.” She continued, “It is gratifying to experience the tremendous support of our library’s improvement project that will launch us to meet and even, perhaps, surpass our commitment to the village in time for construction to begin later this spring… Please visit the library’s website and click on the campaign page for easy ways to give. Every dollar counts for the match, so you can double your impact.”

Speaking of Trees
Bob Berg (Tisdale Road) followed up on Ms. Hu’s comments by stating, “I learned of this tree massacre this morning and it was really a horrifying story. This is exactly the type of destruction of trees we need to prevent.” He went on, “This conduct is permitted under the existing tree law and under the new proposed tree law… They did what’s required under the law, they applied for a permit and they’re planting replacement trees… And, yet, they’re clear-cutting this land… and they destroyed this lot for no reason… and trashed the whole neighborhood… You have to deal with this in the land use boards and the planning process, and bag this new tree law.”

Issues For Board of Assessment Review
Berg then changed gears to discuss property assessment procedures as a member of board of assessment review. He reminded the public, “If people want to grieve their property taxes... they have one opportunity a year to do so, and that comes on the third Tuesday in June… They must come to our board to present their grievance in order to file a claim in court, if they don’t agree with what we do with their grievance…”

He then stated his concerns about the board’s staffing and disappointment that Jane Curley was not reappointed after her term ended in September 2017. Berg read an email sent by the three remaining BAR members to the mayor and trustees, which emphasized Curley’s qualifications and prior service, and questioned the qualifications of new appointees Richard Pinto and Anna Karpman. He said, “By no means, do we cast any aspersions on Mr. Pinto or Ms. Karpman, who we expect are exceptionally civic-minded and, undoubtedly, well qualified for many other boards and councils in Scarsdale. But, the BAR requires specific qualifications that they simply do not possess at this time. We respectfully request that Jane Curley be reappointed to the BAR effective immediately and that a qualified replacement for Paul Sved, who has retired from the BAR, be sought as expeditiously as possible.”

Shutting Down the Proposed Water Rate Increase
Brice Kirkendall-Rodriguez (Fox Meadow Road) then came to the podium to discuss the proposed village water rate hikes. He began, “I was quite dismayed to discover that our recent water rate changes make it less expensive to consume excessive amounts of water… This year’s water rate increase, of over 12 percent for the first 50 units of water used and a rate decrease of more 3 percent for units of water above the first 50, has effectively raised the price for those that conserve water and rewarded the most excessive consumers of water with a rate reduction.” He noted that he didn’t object to the primary purpose behind the increase but felt that, “…by reducing the excess rate, there is an added shift of cost burden from those who use the most water to those that use the least.”

After researching the issue, Kirkendall-Rodriguez concluded that, “NYC has actually not raised water rates in the last three years,” which, he continued, raised the question, “What would possess the village to blame NYC for a water rate change that is entirely of its own discretion? The only explanation… is that the village… wanted to find some kind of relief for residents who were particularly vocal last fall when they saw high bills for their summer water usage.” He continued, “However, not all excessive water use is accidental. Much of it is by choice, to enjoy green lawns and in-ground swimming pools... we ought to own the fact that, we may recycle our food scraps, but we are probably one of the heaviest per-capital consumers of water in the region.”

Kirkendall-Rodriguez then went on to propose solutions to effectively manage usage and costs. “(First,) let’s fix our water rates… most communities in our neighboring areas have moved to a multi-tier pricing scheme… (Second,) let’s expand our guidance on how to conserve water… Finally… for the homeowners who want to continue to use significant amounts of water, without having to pay high excess water rates, a well may be a viable option… In the meantime, I beg you not to inadvertently create a moral hazard by reducing the excess water rate in this budget.”

Next Reval?
Jane Curley (Hamilton Road) then brought up the possibility of another property revaluation in the next couple of years. She said, “The Ryan revaluation was two years ago and New York State does recommend doing one every four years… If we were to do one every four years as recommended, that should already be being considered and talked about. Given that all our taxes effectively went up a significant amount and given that a lot of people were dissatisfied last time, I think there’s going to be a lot of interest in this and I think people are going to be very eager to hear about what the plans are. I would expect to see a tentative timeline or… a proactive decision to delay it beyond 2020.”

Two Cents on the Proposed Village Budget
Bob Salvaggio (Rochambeau Road) commented on the draft village budget, the inability for homeowners to deduct more than $10,000 in local property tax, and the village’s response to “this huge de facto increase in our property tax rates.” He said, “This year’s budget could almost have been cobbled together by applying a straight edge to the trend of previous years’ budgets… there’s no mention at all of tax reform, property tax deductibility or the like… There seems to be an inability… to respond to the new reality of budgeting in an era of significantly increased effective property tax rates.”

Salvaggio went on, “I had hoped to see some thought applied to cutting department budgets… Given much ink spilled over the role of union contracts, underfunded pension liabilities, etc., I would have liked to have seen a discussion of potential cost-saving alternatives to the way the village currently provides essential services.” He also volunteered that he and other members of the Voters’ Choice Party are discussing the feasibility of creating a “501(c)3 community chest” funded by tax-deductible donations from residents to cover the cost of recreation and sports programs, the library and social services (similar to the Teen Center and Maroon and White), and reduce the need for the village to fund these initiatives through property taxes. He welcomed community input on the idea.

Bob Harrison (Fox Meadow Road) later commented that the village should eliminate a proposed $100,000 allocation to review parks and recreation activities/facilities. “(It) is ill-founded… there’s no reason the board has to approve that… we can do some nice surveys ourselves… $100,000 can be used more wisely.” He also reiterated his desire for the village to take action on building a comfort station at the middle school. “The mayor has tried to work with the school board… I’m urging this board to take action… if you have to pass a resolution to buy a small piece of land (then do it).”

Bob Berg followed by discussing budget provisions for Scarsdale’s roads. “I have been calling for several years for an updated road survey or study… (and) was surprised that one had been completed… on November 28, 2017… (and) 50 percent of our roads are in poor or fair condition.” He continued, ”The budget for the coming year doesn’t do much to move the ball... It’s providing maybe a million and a half… to do road repair. We’ve never making progress on getting our roads back into drivable shape… I urge you to look into some sort of bonding mechanism in the coming year.“

In responding to the comments on the budget, Trustee Carl Finger said, “Based on our efforts… and the priorities that we’ve worked on as a board and with staff… it’s a successful budget.” He continued, “(With regard to) the idea of a nonprofit, the board is already aware of that, staff is aware of that… and we’re looking into it. (With regard to) health insurance… I wanted to point out that it’s not that we have certain health insurance plans, and whatever the rates are, we accept them. We have discussed with staff what the various options are… The increase (in budget) is reflective of not only the increase (in cost), but that the options available are not better or less expensive. “ Further, he stated, “Department heads are not tasked with reducing expenses… but they are tasked with taking a hard look at budgets to make decisions to save money or change the way services are delivered to be more efficient.”

With regard to the water rate increase, Finger said, “With respect to the water rate… we did consider the concept of relative increase of overage vs. base rate. We did discuss, specifically, the idea of tiered pricing… and its something we’re thinking about going forward, but we didn’t do it this year. We are aware of conservation concerns and are interested in that.” Kirkendall-Rodriguez later said that, since the budget wasn’t yet finalized, he didn’t see any reason not to retain the water rate structure used in 2017.

Asking for Village Priorities and Long-Term Plans
Mayra Kirkendall-Rodriguez (Fox Meadow Road) asked how the village will address priorities for 2018-19. She said, “I encourage the BOT and the mayor to involve all Scarsdale residents in determining… the priorities at village hall. I urge you to have an open hearing… I also recommend that you run a survey… I can attest to the richness of information that you can find, and the data would be very useful to village personnel… to design and implement budgets and long-term financial and capital plans.”

She continued, “In your first year, Mr. Mayor, there have been countless meetings and discussions devoted to trees, sanitation pick-up and recycling. Yet, what about other important village matters? What about having a fair and well-run property revaluation so that residents are taxed fairly… What about paving the 50 percent of the roads that… are only in fair or poor condition? What about reducing the number of aggressive drivers, especially around our schools and school buses?”

Kirkendall-Rodriguez also encouraged village trustees and administrators to address the recent federal tax code changes and macroeconomic factors in finalizing the budget and “in creating and implementing a long-term financial model and plan for our village.” She went on to say, “It has come to my attention that Scarsdale Village has not developed a long-term financial model… This is the time to be thinking about different macroeconomic stresses and how they could impact the village's fiscal stability.“

She concluded by discussing staffing of village boards and committees, and expressing support for Jane Curley. “I often hear… that it is so difficult to find volunteers for councils, boards and committees… If it is really true, that you reach out to a wide variety of residents… and have a hard time finding enough volunteers, why then would you not reappoint a very talented, decent, ethical and quantitative volunteer such as Jane Curley?”

In a Pickle Over Courts
Bob Harrison (Fox Meadow Road) finished the public comment session by expressing his unhappiness about lack of public notice for an upcoming Parks and Recreation Council meeting about pickleboard courts. “I’ve been a strong proponent that we need to let our community know about what is going on (with regard to) Parks and Recreation. There’s no reason why there shouldn’t be an agenda posted and be on the website.” He then went on to state his opposition to converting or sharing existing tennis courts for purposes of pickleball. “I’m totally opposed to any pickleboards being placed on the tennis courts… Why we would want to have disruptive lines on these courts is beyond me,” he said. He also pointed out a discrepancy between the cost of youth tennis permits as listed in the Scarsdale Parks and Recreation Department spring/summer 2018 brochure and the cost listed on the village’s website, and urged the village to accept the lower rate listed in the brochure, should anyone request it.

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