Friday, May 24th

Village Board Passes Budget and Issues Warnings on Water Meters and Signs

DenimDayThe Village Board wore denim to the 4-30 meeting in recognition of Denim Day.The Village Board voted unanimously to approve the budget for fiscal year 2024-25 at their April 30, 2024 meeting. The budget calls for a tax levy of $48,803,000 which is a 4.93% increase over last year and will translate to an increase of $348.39 for the average household in Scarsdale.

The increase exceeds the NYS Tax Cap which allows for an increase of the levy by the lesser of 2% or the rate of inflation. Given the Village’s non-discretionary costs, such as insurance premiums and pension costs, staying within the tax cap would require a decrease in Village services and the quality of the infrastructure. Therefore, the board agreed that the increase was necessary. See more on what is included in the Village budget here:

Trustees all supported the budget and felt the increase over the tax cap was necessary.

Karen Brew said, “it is important to strike a balance on a budget. We spent a long time hearing from department heads and the list of needs is far more that we could undertake at this time. But we know that these things are coming down the pike. We are investing in the community while striking a balance. I fully support this budget.”

Jeremy Gans agreed, saying, “I think we have done a good job of meeting the expectations of our community. I think the expenditures are necessary, and in some cases overdue, and I hope the community appreciates that.”

Sameer Ahuja said, “I plan to vote yes on the budget. There was a lot of great work by the Village staff and some great debate about how our funds should be invested.”

Jeremy Wise said, “I am new to the board and I am exceptionally impressed by the Village staff and the members of the Village Board – everyone gave it a considerable amount of thought.”

Dara Gruenberg said, “….The Village Board has worked extensively over the course of the last six months to ensure that we deliver a Village budget that balances the needs and wants of the community while also ensuring that we are being fiscally responsible and investing for the future. I feel confident that we have done just that.

This budget includes significant investment in stormwater infrastructure, monies for our parks and recreation facilities as well as renovations and updates to this building, which if you have spent time in this building, you know is in need of attention.

Exceeding the tax cap is a consequential decision for the board, but as many have noted, in prior meetings, the increase from FY 2023-24 in non-discretionary budget items exceeds the allowable levy increase under the tax cap formula before we even consider other areas that need attention for the well-being of the village.

Between the third and fourth pass of the budget, the board made a conscious decision to decrease the amount of fund balance that would have offset an increase in the tax levy. We did this because the philosophy of this board is that we should use fund balance for one-time expenses and not for operating costs. As we have unfortunately seen in some surrounding communities, using one-time monies to fund operating expenses is not only unsustainable but ultimately can lead to the major budgetary issues that are to the detriment of the residents and the welfare of the community. I understand that some do not agree with this approach, and I of course respect those opinions. However, I feel we, as a board, have acted in a manner that is fiscally prudent and balances the needs of all current and future stakeholders in Scarsdale.”

Justin Arest said "Work on this budget started over six months ago and developing a budgetary document like this which has to deal with myriad competing demands so much time in advance is never an easy task. The goal, however is always simple: to create the most responsible fiscal roadmap for our community that takes into account the needs and desires of our residents and tries to effectively provide as much as it can in the most efficient manner possible. There are always tradeoffs, and, there are always deferrals. Much work has taken place in recent history to address a potential overuse of deferrals and to work with the community to determine what is the correct level of programs, services, and infrastructure offerings and improvements that can be provided responsibly. More work will continue on this but I am proud of the improvements to the process and the overall fiscal management and oversight that has taken place and I must thank our Acting Manager, our Treasurer, their teams, and so many more on staff that have made these changes possible.

This will be the highest tax increase I will have voted on since my time on the Village Board. I nor any of my colleagues take that lightly. But we also recognize the inflationary environment we have been living in and hope that the worst of its impacts are behind us.

I want to begin to finish my budget comments specifically on the NY state tax cap. I and I believe all of my colleagues are generally supportive of the concept of a tax cap. While it is not really a cap, having an additional burden to approve a budget over a certain threshold increase is something that makes sense. Where I hope the state can look at the tax cap formula again relates to the inflationary factor. The increase includes inflation but only at the lesser of CPI or 2%. When the cap was created and for many years after, we were in or near a zero interest rate environment. In order to reflect the practical impact of the cap when inflationary pressures are much higher than that 2% limit, and potentially strengthen the tax cap's impact, revisions to the formula should be discussed.

I appreciate Trustee Wise’s comments as a newcomer as I have always felt that while I may not have always agreed with colleagues on the Board over the years, I do believe we have always worked hard and professionally with staff to find the best budgets for our community and always strived to deliver what is needed and expected with the lowest tax increase possible.

Finally, I have tried over the years to share information with residents in different ways to best explain the impact of budgetary changes. We can discuss the increase to the tax rate, the increase to the tax levy, the increase to the budget, I could go on. There is also the impact that these increases have on your total tax bill. Village taxes account for approximately 20% of your total tax bill. So, tonight I am just going to use actual tax numbers for residents in dollars based on the average household. Using market value, not assessed value, the average household is currently about $2.1mm.

The average household in Scarsdale currently pays $8,161.53. The tax cap formula would allow an increase of $231.64. The Treasurer provided the Board with helpful information early in the process that illustrated how just the obligatory increases in pension costs and health and property insurance alone would require an increase of $254.49. So, those non discretionary increases alone already amount to an increase that is about $20 higher than the tax cap threshold. What we have put forward- and I believe will approve- will lead to an increase of $348.39 (total village tax will become $8,509.92) and I am very proud of what we have been able to do in terms of continuing our high level of services and making badly needed improvements to some of our assets and infrastructure."

Renovations at Village Hall

The Board also agreed to an amendment to use $800,000 from the fund balance to finance long overdue renovations to Village Hall. Explaining the decision, Mayor Arest said, “For years there have been proposals to make improvements to Village Hall for efficiency and the comfort of the staff. They have been repeatedly deferred. There is no question that the building needs a massive renovation – or needs to be replaced. We are not going to solve that tonight. Anything will take a minimum of five to six years. This is something for the short term. It will cost about $800,000 to make the improvements in Village Hall. This will come out of the fund balance and is a one-time cost as a stop gap until we know what we are doing with the building. For right now the fund balance is at 21.76% which is above the 15% - 20 % range – if we allocate $800,000 to this project it would bring us to 20.63%.”

Water Meters

The Village has retained an outside contractor to swap outdated water meters but has had poor compliance from residents. Both the Scarsdale Water Department and National Metering Services have sent letters to approximately 1,000 properties that still have the old meters. The new meters allow for online readings of water usage and are more efficient.

In order to get more residents to participate those who do not comply will get a $500 fee on their water bill. If the meter is changed within 60 days, the fee will be waived. If you’re not sure whether or not you need a new meter, call the water department at 914-722-1138.

Lawn Signs

Mayor Arest warned residents not to place lawn signs in the Village right of way. He said, “You are allowed to place lawn signs on your lawn and your property, but not in the Village right of way.” He explained that as a rule, the Village right of way is the space “approximately 13 feet in from the curb.” He said, “Please express yourself on your own property.”

Pickleball

Steve Marciano from 104 Walworth Avenue spoke during public comments and applauded the new pickleball courts at Crossway. However he said, “For the last two years we played pickleball at Brite Avenue. We are dismayed to learn that the Brite Avenue courts are no longer available for pickleball. We are just a few of the Greenacres and Fox Meadow residents who have enjoyed these courts and ask the Village to allow us to continue to play there. If there are neighbor objections – allow it no earlier than 9 am and no later than 6 pm. If we can allow gardeners to work this should be permitted too. Please add the Brite Avenue courts back onto the reservation system.”

Mayor Arest responded saying, “The board tries to make as many people as possible happy – but we are never going to make everyone happy. The Crossway tennis courts need work – and this is a way to make use of the tennis courts before the work is done. At Crossway, the courts are twice as far away from homes as they are at Brite Avenue. And the tennis courts are more appropriate for pickleball. The paddle courts (at Brite Avenue) will not hold AcoustiFence. We don’t think there is a lack of courts based on demand – though we are monitoring usage. For now the courts at Crossway will be the only pickleball courts.”

Public Comments

Bob Harrison asked why the Village Board meeting minutes did include the public comments. He said the minutes were not complete. He also said that written communications to the Village Board are no longer appearing in the agenda. He asked how these communications should be sent. The Mayor said the minutes are intended to be a summary. He encouraged people to go online and watch the meetings. He also said that residents who wish to write to the Board should send them to publiccomments@scarsdale.com.

Denim Day

The manager and Mayor discussed the importance of Denim Day, which this year was on April 17, 2024. The Village Board all wore denim to the meeting to highlight the need to prevent and condemn sexual violence and the Mayor read a portion of the Denim Day proclamation.

Farmers Market

Acting Village Manager Alex Marshall announced the Grand Opening of the Scarsdale Farmers Market on Mother’s Day, Sunday May 12 from 9 am to 2 pm. The market will run from May 12, 2024 to November 24, 2024 and bring local goods from regional farmers to the Village. The market will be hosted by Down to Earth Markets and you can see a vendor list here.

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