Village Trustees Sworn In; Mayor Defends Proposed 2022-23 Village Budget
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
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Two new Scarsdale Village trustees were sworn in at Village Hall on Monday April 4, along with current trustee Randall Whitestone who was elected to serve a second term. See pictures below of the ceremony for Jeremy Gans, Ken Mazer and Randy Whitestone.
This new board is expected to vote to adopt the 2022-23 Village Budget on April 26, 2022. The tentative operating budget is $62.6 million and would mean a 3.70% tax increase, translating to a $216 increase for the average homeowner. The increase is greater than last year as the trustees opted to reinvest in the Village’s aging infrastructure and address needs that have been deferred from year to year. The 3.7% increase falls below the NYS tax cap of 4.7%.
Last week a report from the Fiscal Affairs Committee of the Scarsdale Forum raised concerns about plans to repair the pool and to hire four full time employees and questions about the fund balance.
Here is a response from Mayor Jane Veron to those issues:
The Scarsdale Pool Complex has operated as an Enterprise Fund, meaning that operating costs should be offset by membership and event fees. There is currently no discussion to change the model. Right now, the focus is on reimagining the Pool Complex and understanding the community’s desires and willingness to pay. The facts are that the pool complex has outlived its useful life and is in dire need of replacement. Membership has been declining over the past decade, and we have struggled to be self-sustaining. We cannot ignore the reality. Something must be done.
At minimum, it will cost $13-15MM to restore the Pool Complex to its current form. While we do not expect to run the pool at a deficit this year, it is unrealistic to assume that the Fund could support such a major capital investment, certainly at the onset. We indicated in the budget the possibility that we could issue debt, allowing us to amortize the cost over the lifetime of the asset and enabling current and future residents to share in the cost of the benefit they receive. We will also explore grant opportunities and public private partnerships. However, it is still premature to make any decisions. The community will shape the outcome.
Please take part in the survey that will be administered by our consultant later this month, as well as other planned public engagement efforts to be announced. Your preferences will shape the Pool Complex’s future.
Additional Full Time Employees (FTE’s)
Staff and the Village Board are working collaboratively to maintain and enhance service delivery, including exploring opportunities for process streamlining and operational efficiency gains. Throughout this continuing effort, we have remained cognizant of the long-term implications, both positive and negative, of adding new FTEs. To illustrate our commitment in this regard, it should be noted that eight new FTEs were originally proposed, as staff was given direction at the outset of the budget process to present proposals each felt reflective of the resources required to achieve our organizational and community goals, including investments supportive of our mission: Providing Distinguished Service to a Discerning Community. As we publicly worked through the proposals and initiated our prioritization process, we collectively determined that four of the requested positions would not be funded, while the other four are important to add. Understanding the why of the four FTEs we added is critical as one evaluates the prudence of our decision.
Taking the positions one at a time, I’ll first address the Weinberg Nature Center FTE. As you may be aware, there was an outpouring of public support for transitioning naturalist, Sam Weinstock, to permanent full-time status. Sam has performed exceptionally in his part-time role and his efforts have led to the establishment of very popular new programs and associated revenue enhancements. We anticipate that Sam’s full-time role will continue to build community interest in the Weinberg Nature Center, perhaps also helping to cultivate financial support for needed facility improvements. It should also be noted that Mr. Weinstock’s popularity has been elevating his status in Westchester County, making him a prime candidate to be offered an opportunity to be recruited elsewhere. Finally, it should also be noted that the Weinberg Nature Center was once served by a full-time naturalist.
With regard to the new Maintenance Mechanic – Pool FTE, one must note that there is a single individual – a foreman – presently on-staff with adequate skills and background to handle all pool-related maintenance needs. With only one individual, we are at risk for continuity of service when pool operation problems arise (which happens with regularity given the age of our pool complex), as a single foreman cannot be present every work day of the year, plus weekends. In addition, this one individual is also responsible for other duties as Parks Foreman.
Given the competing demands on this one individual, important foreman tasks have been neglected, including such tasks as field maintenance oversight, tennis court inspections, repairs, and maintenance, and oversight of contractual support. The Scarsdale community has noted deficiencies in each of these areas that the foremen is unable to properly oversee.
From a maintenance and operations perspective, the Scarsdale Pool Complex season runs from March or April to approximately November, so the peak time commitment is significant. Additionally, the Village used to enjoy contractual pool maintenance support for the entire season; however, when the contract was rebid in 2017, we were required to incorporate prevailing wage requirements applicable to the contractor’s laborers. Prevailing wage makes it very difficult for private pool maintenance firms to operate. They site difficulty tracking each task a laborer must perform within a single day and adjusting the hourly rate accordingly, as well as the impact of paying prevailing wage on their worker satisfaction and willingness to perform tasks at pools not paying prevailing wage (substantially less pay for workers on those jobs creates internal conflict and pressure to increase all worker wages). In fact, the firm we had contracted with for such services for approximately 40 years, declined to bid on the contract once the prevailing wage mandate was incorporated. After substantial effort, including outreach to approximately 13 vendors, we awarded a contract to a firm to provide the services, but the firm was unable to perform the work required and we had to terminate the agreement. In view of the foregoing and other supporting rationale, it is both necessary and prudent to add the Maintenance Mechanic – Pool as a new FTE, which will also be of great value to PRC operations during the brief off-season.
Please note that the Tree Trimmer FTE being added is effectively a temporary add. Because of an anticipated vacancy, including a long-term absence, the Tree Trimmer is being added to serve as a bridge solution to ensure operational continuity of services. Once the incumbent has officially separated, that position will not be re-filled, resulting in no net increase in staffing, as one will cancel the other out. As you may have noted, the request for an arborist was not supported in the budget process and was one of the proposed FTEs that did not make our prioritization cut.
Scarsdale is distinguished from other suburbs, in part, by its exceptional quality of life. In recent months and years, we have gradually increased the burden placed upon enforcement officials both by design and in response to increased activity requiring enforcement attention, such as the volume of construction activity we experience as one of the most desirable communities in Westchester County. Local laws, such as our tree protection law, gas-powered leaf blower ban, and others, also require diligent enforcement support, including during weekend hours. The volume of work clearly supports the need for a new FTE, as the work cannot be properly handled by a single part-time employee, and it is not prudent to take building department personnel away from higher-level responsibilities, such as plan reviews and permit inspections, or police personnel away from their critical public safety missions, to perform the duties of a code enforcement officer. Of course, all authorized personnel, including police and building department personnel, will continue to perform code enforcement response duties, but our new FTE will support the need for proactive enforcement that our community expects and has consistently requested.
There were many discussions between staff and the board about appropriate levels of fund balance- particularly the impact of one time sources of revenue to offset recurring expenses. The net unassigned fund balance (reduced by the $430,000 assigned for future debt service) used in the tentative budget is $2.17mm. This is more than double of what had been historically allocated in approved budgets prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. The assignment of the $430,000 to offset the subsequent budget’s debt service is smart fiscal planning for the future. It recognizes the implications of decisions made in the current budget and looks to prevent undesirable spikes in the tax levy. The monies allocated come from existing fund balance and are not a result of an increase in taxes. Without additional discussions by the board about a willingness to increase the use of fund balance to offset operational items, removing this $430,000 assignment would only serve to increase our unassigned fund balance in the short term and not have an impact on the tax levy increase nor the residents’ tax rate.
Comment from Anne Hitnermeister from the Scarsdale Forum Fiscal Affairs Committee: "Regarding the claim that “removing this $430,000 assignment would only serve to increase our unassigned fund balance in the short term and not have an impact on the tax levy increase nor the residents’ tax rate,” the unassigned fund balance already exceeds the new 20% upper limit. Given that limit, removing the assignment of $430,000 should narrow the tentative budget gap by that amount, reducing the needed levy increase by around 1%."
Jeremy Gans, Ken Mazer and Randy Whitestone Elected Village Trustees
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
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A small gathering of Village Trustees and supporters of the Scarsdale Non-Partisan Party gathered at the Scarsdale Library on Tuesday night March 15 to hear the official results of the election for Village Trustees and congratulate the candidates. Randall Whitestone was elected to serve a second two-year term and Jeremy Gans and Ken Mazer were both elected for the first time. The two newcomers will replace Village Trustees Justin Arest and Lena Crandall who have both completed two terms.
As the election was uncontested, there were less than 200 votes, a departure from years when residents challenged the nominees put forth by the Citizen’s Non-Partisan Party. In fact, in September 202, when a slate from the Scarsdale Voter’s Choice Party ran against the SCNPP slate, 1,921 votes were cast, but the non-partisan party prevailed by a ratio of 2:1.
This year the campaign was chaired by Jared Stern and Omer Wiczyk with help from Dara Gruenberg, Jon Mark and BK Munguia, who brought the customary cake. The Citizens Nominating Committee was led by Chair Jill Spielberg and Vice Chair Jon Krisbergh.
Commenting on the results, Stern and Wiczyk said, “We are beyond delighted that this incredible slate of candidates had been elected. The CNC’s deliberative, thorough, and fair process continues to find the best people to serve our town, and this year was no different. We look forward to watching them do great things for our Village.”
Former Village Clerk Donna Conkling was still in town to preside over the election as her replacement has not yet been found.
She announced that 179 machine votes and 26 absentee ballots had been cast for a total of 205 votes. (2 additional absentee ballots were blank.)
The vote counts were as follows:
Randall Whitestone: 190
Jeremy Gans: 183
Ken Mazer: 184
Following the election, the newly elected trustees sent the following letter:
To The Editor:
We are humbled and gratified by the community’s support for the Scarsdale Citizens’ Non-Partisan Party slate of trustees, as demonstrated with our election on March 15. We are honored to carry forward the nonpartisan tradition that has served the village well for more than a century.
We fully recognize the challenges and responsibilities facing our village and are eager to roll up our sleeves as your public servants. We look forward to engaging in a continuing two-way conversation about the village’s priorities and tackling residents’ future service and infrastructure needs.
But please know that our seven-person village Board of Trustees can’t do it alone. We look forward to working with our talented village staff and with truly strong fabric of community volunteers that helps make Scarsdale such a special place.
To paraphrase Robert F. Kennedy, one person can make a difference, and everyone should try. We thank those who are already volunteering and encourage others to consider becoming involved. The village website, www.scarsdale.com, has recently been redesigned, making it easier to find volunteer opportunities, review information from past public meetings, or find out about upcoming meetings and agendas.
Many thanks to the dedicated Campaign Committee led by Jared Stern, Omer Wiczyk, Dara Gruenberg and Jon Mark for ensuring a respectful and honest campaign. Thank you to all of the campaign volunteers and our families who have supported us.
Finally, thank you to Donna Conkling of the Village Clerk’s office and her team, the poll workers, Scarsdale Police and DPW for holding a flawless election. As Jeremy and Ken assume office, and Randy begins his second term, we recognize the important tasks ahead, and fully appreciate the responsibility with which you have entrusted us.
We are ready to get to work on your behalf.
Scarsdale Village Government: Looking for New Committee Members
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
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The following was submitted by the Scarsdale Village Advisory Council on Communications
Scarsdale is a special community full of accomplished and hardworking residents who engage and participate in every arena, giving generously of their time and expertise. While the Village has an exceptional professional team in place, the local government simply could not run at its current exemplary level without the dedication and engagement of Scarsdale residents. If you’ve ever wondered about the “how” and “why” of decisions made by the Trustees, or a particular Village board, or pondered the best way to contribute to making sure things run smoothly in our Village, please consider getting involved. If you become a member of a Village board or council, you will have a tangible impact on maintaining, and even improving, the quality of life for all.
Scarsdale has a vaunted, decades-long tradition of volunteerism and civic engagement. Resident volunteers continually have an enormously positive effect on the spirit and on the seamless operation of our community, and boards and councils are a much bigger part of that high level of success than many people realize. If you are interested in following this worthwhile example and taking an active role in our local government–beyond the (undeniably important) public comment sessions of board meetings and public hearings–here is your chance.
Each spring, the Scarsdale Board of Trustees’ Personnel Committee invites all residents to apply to lend their voices, training, and skills to help shape, preserve and adjust myriad aspects of this wonderful community. Village staff and Trustees rely on insight and recommendations from resident volunteers with relevant experience and skills; community input is a key component of what makes government effective, responsive, and inclusive, whether it be problem-solving, addressing current needs, expanding successful programs, or preparing for what lies ahead. In fact, we can all be proud of how Scarsdale has managed the recent and ongoing challenges of the pandemic, thanks in no small part to this inclusive system.
So please consider joining us. Want to improve how the Village communicates with its residents? Apply to the Advisory Council on Communications. Think the Village should be doing more to engage kids? Raise your hand for the Advisory Council on Youth. Want to help make responsible zoning decisions while considering the character and feel of neighborhoods? The Zoning Board of Appeals or the Board of Architectural Review may be a good fit.
What’s Right for You?
There are advisory boards and decision-making boards. Please check out this page online in order to find the descriptions of each volunteer board and council, including duties, time commitments, frequency of meetings. Residents can learn more about eligibility, and access the application here. While the number of open spots fluctuates, there is something for everyone over the course of time, depending on availability, experience and interests.
Here’s how the process generally works: When people apply, they are asked to select their top three choices for service. Members of the Scarsdale Board of Trustees will then reach out to applicants to gauge their level of interest, learn more about their particular skill sets, and answer any questions. While most positions are filled in the spring, the process does occur on a rolling basis if openings become available throughout the year. Feel free to reach out to Trustee Brew (email@example.com) or Trustee Whitestone (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any questions as well. Your many neighbors who have participated will tell you: Just do it! You won’t regret it!
Introducing Jeremy Gans, Candidate for Village Trustee
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
- Hits: 1078
Resident, attorney, coach and member of the Zoning Board of Appeals Jeremy Gans has been selected by the SCNP to run for Scarsdale Village Trustee. The election will be held on Tuesday March 15 from 6 am to 9 pm at Scarsdale Public Library.
Here is what he shared:
Tell us about yourself – where did you grow up and go to school? We see you were a college athlete what sport did you play and how has that experience shaped who you are today?
I grew up in Rockville, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C. I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when I was five, and that’s been something I’ve lived with every minute of every day since then. I was extremely athletic as a child and, at that time in the early 1980s, most doctors didn’t really know how to handle a Type 1 diabetic who wanted to be a competitive athlete. As I entered high school, I set a goal for myself to play college tennis at a Division 1 school. I trained hard and my parents and I found the right doctor who knew how to treat diabetics who were competitive athletes. Achieving my goal, and playing for four years at Cornell was incredible. Playing a sport in college taught me the importance of time management. I had obligations as a student and an athlete and I had to make sure that I fulfilled both roles.
After college, I went to George Washington University Law School, where I received my JD.
Why did you initially choose to move to Scarsdale?
When we decided to move out of the city, we were looking to find a place with great schools and a strong sense of community. We looked in a lot of areas in Westchester County, but Lisa and I both felt strongly that Scarsdale would be a great place to raise a family.
What do you do professionally and how can your professional skills complement your service on the board?
When I moved to New York after law school, I practiced corporate law for seven years. That experience taught me how to identify issues and develop creative solutions to both existing problems and advise clients on how to avoid complications in the future. For the past decade, I’ve been with JDJ Capital Partners, a small investment firm. My responsibilities now extend far beyond providing legal advice. We make investment decisions based on our long-term view and try not to be swayed by daily swings in prices or other short-term moves. But we are disciplined about revisiting our initial decisions and adjusting our positions when the fundamentals have changed.
I think these skills will help me as Trustee. Many of the decisions that the Board makes are for the long-term benefit of the Village. The Board must pay attention to present operations and short-term economic issues, of course, but a large part of the Board’s role is to make decisions that benefit our residents for years.
What was one of your earliest volunteer activities in Scarsdale?
Like many people, my first experience volunteering in Scarsdale came through youth sports. I volunteered to coach little league and rec basketball when my oldest son was in kindergarten. Over the years, my volunteer roles have expanded beyond sports. I’m a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Scarsdale High School PTA Scholarship Fund and I was a member of the Executive Committee of the Scarsdale Forum (I took a leave of absence from that position as soon as I was nominated to run for Trustee).
We see you have served on the Zoning Board of Appeals since 2017. Tell us about some of the more challenging applications you have reviewed and also discuss any issues that you believe might require changes to the Village Code.
The most challenging applications are the ones when neighbors speak in opposition to an applicant’s proposal. When we are asked to consider a variance request, we are required by state law to weigh the benefit to the applicant against the health, safety, and welfare of the community at large. It’s vital to approach these applications with an open mind and that the Zoning Board listens to the applicant and concerned neighbors before voting. I have found that an open-minded approach has resulted in my vote being swayed by comments made by an applicant in some instances, or by comments from the public in other cases.
I think the Village must continue to balance the right of owners to develop their property with the desire of the community at large to prevent drastic changes to their neighborhood. It is worth examining the Code to see if there are any areas that need to be tightened in that regard. I also think that hiring a Code Enforcement Officer is a good step to making sure that developers and property owners are not violating Village Code when doing work on their land.
Board service is not always easy. Why are you willing to step up?
We have a great professional staff at Village Hall. Beyond that, though, Scarsdale’s operations are largely overseen by volunteers. Trustees, school board members, and the people who make up our boards, councils and committees are all volunteers. It is vital that people who care about Scarsdale and are informed on the issues step up to serve our community. I encourage anyone who cares deeply about the future of our Village to volunteer in an area of interest.
I had been asked to run for Trustee a few times in the past. I felt like this year was the right time to step up. I said yes this year because I believe that I am now able to devote the necessary time and energy to the job.
Looking forward, what do you think will be the main issues you address during your term?
The renovation of the Scarsdale Pool Complex will definitely be one of the main issues to address during my term. We are very early in the process, having received the Village consultant’s Existing Conditions Report in late February. The next steps will be broad public engagement, where we will learn what residents want the pool complex to be in the future.
Another big issue is bringing more life to the Village center. I would love to see the Village become more pedestrian and bike friendly, with a vibrant mix of shops and restaurants. Of course, we have to make sure that we have sufficient parking for shoppers and commuters on Metro North.
Given the Village’s aging infrastructure, rising expenses and the tax cap, what do you foresee for Scarsdale’s future?
I think that we all must decide what kind of future we want for Scarsdale. Our infrastructure is aging. Are we okay with a continuation of a patch and pray system for repairs, where we make short-term fixes and hope nothing catastrophic happens? Or are we willing to invest to improve our infrastructure for the long term? Doing the latter will cost more in the short term, but may lead to a greater benefit to Scarsdale in the long term.
Remember to vote at the Scarsdale Library on Olmsted Road on Tuesday March 15, 2022 from 6 am to 9 pm.
(Photo Credit: Mark Jessamy)
Non-Resident Pool Passes Availabe, PRC Proposes Funds to Replace Playground Equipment at Greenacres
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
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Here's some news from the Scarsdale Recreation Department concernig the pool and the playground at Greenacres:
The Scarsdale Recreation Department is offering a limited number of pool membership to non-residents for the 2022 season. In addition, they forwarded us the following about a possible upgrade to the Greenacres Playground where there have been no baby swings for several years. See below for details from Brian Gray, Superintendent of the Scarsdale Parks and Recreation Department.
Non Resident Pool Passes
Due to popular demand, we’re offering a limited 150 Non-Resident Scarsdale Pool Complex memberships on a first come/first served basis beginning 9AM on Tuesday, March 01, 2022.
Friends and neighbors from outside communities are cordially invited to join and experience the same fun that our Scarsdale families have enjoyed over the years. The family-oriented facility is a great place to spend this summer, with plenty of grass and shade for parents to relax while the kids have a blast.
Non-Resident Pool Permits are offered at $1,280 for families and $770 for individuals, an outstanding value when compared to other alternatives in the region. Our facility is clean, safe, and designed for persons of all ages. The complex is in a serene location, set back far from the roadway adjacent to the Westchester County Saxon Woods Park. The Complex setting is often referred to as sublime, full of natural beauty and sounds of fun in the air.
Membership benefits include:
• Unlimited use of three pools, a diving well, basketball court, and a sand volleyball court;
• Access to the facility seven days per week, from May 28 through September 11;
• The ability to bring up to four guests each visit (additional guest fees apply);
• Access to four Special Event Days with activities, giveaways, & a live DJ; and
• Free admission to the annual Firework Spectacular when arriving before 8:00 PM.
Membership also includes the opportunity to register for all special pool programs, such as Pool Birthday Parties, Private and Group Swimming Lessons, Splash N’ Play Days, and many more!
For more information, visit www.scarsdale.com or call the Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation at (914)-722-1160.
We look forward to seeing you at the pool!
The Department of PRC has been researching a method to fix the swings at Greenacres Playground to render them safe and usable to standards set by the National Playground Safety Institute (NPSI). Unfortunately we are experiencing a number of issues with respect to the playground apparatus at Greenacres Playground, the biggest being the original manufacturer, Iron Valley Forge, has gone out of business and was bought by Little Tikes. Unfortunately, Little Tikes no longer have the materials needed to remedy our swing issues.
In short, fixing the current swings would require cutting off the welded brackets (picture attached) and replacing with a modified bracket system not 100% compatible with the existing crossmember that the swings would hang off of. The safety of our park patrons is the Department’s top mission and this fix is not one I recommend or would authorize.
We have included a capital request of $40,000 in the FY 22/23 village budget to replace the existing apparatus at Greenacres Playground with a modern design that can be enjoyed by the next generation of Scarsdale residents.
The goal is to replace all existing apparatus with new, modern play features. Due to the small footprint of the existing playground, it is anticipated $40k will be ample funding. At this time we are unsure of what the future site will accommodate, as the selection of play features will depend on what we can fit while taking into consideration each piece of equipment’s fall zones.