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News from Village Hall: Freightway Update, Preparing for Coronavirus and Election Talk

coronavirus graphic web featureSoon after the formal appointment of Scarsdale’s new assessor, Victoria Sirota, the board of trustees held its regular bi-weekly meeting and presented updates on Freightway as well as the state of the village. And, as next month’s village election draws closer, the meeting offered an opportunity for supporters of the Scarsdale Citizens Nonpartisan Party and the Voters Choice Party to voice their opinions.

Mayor Marc Samwick opened the session by stating that the total amount spent on the potential redevelopment of the Freightway parking garage is about $282,000. This includes approximately $85,000 for the visioning study; $82,000 for legal costs, such as review and preparation of the RFEI and RFP, and ongoing advisory services; and $115,000 for the planning consultant that drafted the RFP, analyzed RFP and RFEI responses and other issues, and provided ongoing advice and guidance.

Samwick stated, “The significance of this project to the village warrants the meaningful time spent by the board, village staff, resident members of the steering committee and consultants, and money devoted to it to date. With that said, the board recognizes its fiduciary responsibilities with respect to taxpayer dollars as well as to the future of our village center and, specifically, this critical piece of village-owned property. The board will continue to have that concern in mind as it address issues related to this question in the future.”

State of Scarsdale
The Mayor then discussed his recent state of the village presentation and noted that Scarsdale again has earned a AAA credit rating from Moody’s. He reviewed how the village administration has effectively reinvested in the community and highlighted a number of significant successes over the past year, including:

1) Renovation and expansion of the library, which is expected to be completed later this year;

2) Paving of 6.5 miles or over 8% of village roads;

3) Conversion of over 1,500 streetlights to energy-efficient LED light fixtures;

4) Renovation, modernization, and utilization of the Popham Road Fire Station;

5) Adoption of the New York State Climate Smart Communities pledge, positioning Scarsdale for additional environmental initiatives and state grant opportunities;

6) Recycling over 1 million pounds of food scraps; and

7) Continuing investment in Scarsdale’s infrastructure for potable water, storm water, and sanitary sewer system.

Likely in response to the recent water bills that seemed quite high to many residents, Mayor Samwick said, “Looking forward, required investments in the village’s water system are expected to cost $34 million in addition to the over $10 million invested over just the past four years. The village will continue to seek grant funding where available to cover water system investments, but there will be meaningful costs that must be paid by water system customers, namely our residents.”

He went on, “The board clearly recognizes the burden placed on residents by recent water rate increases and has paused further rate increases in the FY20-21 budget, pending the results of the Master Plan of the Water Distribution System that will commence within the coming months. During this time, the village plans to engage a water rate consultant to assist us with creating a long-term water rate structure that balances the capital needs with well-thought out, responsible rate increases to our customers.”

Looking ahead to the next 12 months, the mayor said that Scarsdale plans to work on the sanitary sewer distribution system, the public pool complex, the Heathcote Road Bridge, a variety of traffic safety and calming measures, the Hutchinson River Flood Mitigation Project, and cyber security, among other priorities.

Mayor Samwick also discussed an issue of heightened importance – retail challenges and empty storefronts in Downtown Scarsdale. “The village board is acutely aware of the issues with retail vacancies in our village center… and is committed to working collaboratively with property owners, tenants, and residents to create a vibrant hub for our community to enjoy,” he said. “The Scarsdale Business Alliance has quickly become an invaluable partner in improving our village center and we continue to seek more opportunities to enhance (it).”

He also reminded residents about Scarsdale’s efforts to improve communications with the community and encouraged residents to sign up for Scarsdale Official and other alerts via “Notify Me,” email village officials with their concerns and questions, and attend public meetings and less formal events to engage with the administration and fellow residents.

Scarsdale Citizens Nonpartisan Party
The mayor finished his comments by promoting Scarsdale’s nonpartisan political system, with an eye toward the coming village election on March 18. “One of the many great things about Scarsdale is our nonpartisan political system. Over 100 years ago, Scarsdale put in place an early form of its political system to combat the bitter partisan feuding of the day. The nonpartisan system has evolved continuously and has stood the test of time as our village has become a model that many communities seek to emulate.”

He continued, “Our system encourages a wide diversity of thought and lively debate that is based on mutual respect and active listening. We seek extensive community input and we strive to build consensus. We benefit from having our elected leaders represent the community as a whole without embedded interests and we strive to maintain a high degree of integrity. Our nonpartisan system encourages a wider range of participants that might not otherwise volunteer their time to serve the community… Our form of government is not perfect, but it has proved over the decades to be well suited for dealing with matters of shared community concerns and the delivery of municipal services desired by residents.”

Coffee Talk
The next “Coffee with the Mayor” is scheduled for Tuesday, March 3, from 6:00 to 7:30pm at Starbucks in the village center. Trustee Lena Crandall will join Mayor Samwick in discussing village issues with residents. All are welcome and encouraged to attend.

Prepared for Coronavirus
Following the mayor’s commentary, Village Manager Steve Pappalardo assured residents that Scarsdale is prepared for the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Since the village doesn’t have its own health department, it relies on the Westchester County Health Department to advise on how to handle any health related issues that affect residents. The county health department has kept Scarsdale informed about the virus and recommended actions as needed, and has offered guidance on how to treat patients who present symptoms. The Scarsdale police department and school district are working to coordinate efforts and share information.

“Currently there are no known cases of the Coronavirus in New York State, and both the county and New York State health departments report that the risk to residents and students is very low.” Pappalardo stated. “The New York/New Jersey area airports have taken precautions with travelers returning from certain countries with known Coronavirus cases... Protocols are in place for travelers deemed at risk, from self-home isolation to video monitoring of individuals placed on home isolation for the 14-day incubation period. There have been no Coronavirus cases in Westchester, but should a traveler be recognized as high risk for the virus, he or she will be subject to an involuntary home quarantine and Westchester County’s Emergency Response Agency will be notified.”

Pappalardo reported that Scarsdale’s emergency response teams are prepared to deal with any potential virus cases, and are equipped with protective gear and directives on how to handle dispatch and response calls. The Scarsdale Chief of Police also has coordinated with other local police chiefs to ensure the village’s response protocol is consistent with those throughout Westchester County.

“Coronavirus is a real threat and should be taken very seriously,” Pappalardo said. “However, as stated by the county health commissioner, through maintaining proper awareness, staying informed, and taking proactive measures, like washing your hands frequently and vigorously for 20 seconds each time, you can significantly help to prevent yourself from infection.”

Public Comments
Bob Berg (Tisdale Road) began by asking how many public comments were submitted with regard to the Freightway Redevelopment Project and when they would be made public. Mayor Samwick responded that he did not know the specific number of comments received and that “As I mentioned two weeks ago… staff is taking a look at all of (the responses) and not just aggregating them or putting them in one place. What they’re doing is trying to sort through and analyze what the specific issues are… It is more of a complex analysis that is going to take longer to (complete).”

Berg then asserted that the village has spent almost $318,000 on Freightway, more than the amount reported by the village. He claimed that Scarsdale has not included additional funds paid for a condition survey to determine the cost of repairs to the existing garage. Village Manager Pappalardo explained that the survey was not considered as a redevelopment expense, as it would have been done regardless as part of the village’s capital budget planning.

In continuing to question the amount spent on Freightway thus far, Berg stated, “We’ve spent, probably, close to $325,000 in consulting and lawyer fees… and where are we? You said earlier... ‘The board has no specific plan or timeline with respect to Freightway.’ To me this is extraordinarily frustrating and concerning.” He went on, “We could and need to spend $2.5 million to repair the existing Freightway… and yet the board has spent nearly $325,000 of our tax dollars and it has no specific plan and no timeline.”

Mayor Samwick reiterated Pappalardo’s response, stating, “The number you’re giving is spent plus encumbered (funds)… it’s a misleading number. The number that has been spent (on Freightway) is less than $300,000… as of today.” He continued, “I’m going to go back to a comment I just made… ‘The significance of this project to the village warrants the meaningful time spent by the board, village staff, resident members of the steering committee and consultants, and money, devoted to it to date.’ This is a critical village asset and doing it short-shrift doesn’t benefit anybody.”

Berg responded, “I’ve been protesting the way the process has been structured from Day 1. And, I’ve said you should do an economic analysis of the viability of a variety of projects and the impact on the taxes, and schools from Day 1, before picking a final developer… We’ve spent so much money trying to get a finalist before knowing if it’s a viable project.” The mayor replied, “Just a point of clarification, the initial visioning study did include a preliminary economic analysis, so that was done at the earliest stages of this process.”

Berg argued the value of that analysis, calling it “erroneous” and the mayor responded that, “Everything is going to be erroneous until you have the refinement… that gives you an idea of what actually is going to be built.”

Mayra Kirkendall-Rodríguez (Fox Meadow Road) followed, stating that she currently is serving as campaign chair for the Voters Choice Party, supporting trustee candidates Bob Berg, Sean Cohen, and Robert Selvaggio. She invited the public to meet the VCP candidates this Sunday, March 1 (RSVP at VotersChoiceParty@Gmail.com) and attend an upcoming town hall, Freightway Redevelopment and Scarsdale Sustainability, on Thursday, March 12 at 7:30pm in Scarsdale Village Hall.

She also reminded voters about the upcoming Scarsdale candidate forum, hosted by the League of Women Voters and scheduled for Thursday, March 5 at 7:30pm, also in village hall.

Kirkendall-Rodríguez stated, “Bob, Sean, and Robert have lived in Scarsdale for several decades and are dedicated to maintaining our small-town character, clean and safe streets and parks, and affordability for all our residents, both young and empty-nesters. They are eager to contribute their municipal finance, risk identification, and legal expertise to village hall.” She continued, “The VCP candidates and I believe that we need to face municipal challenges in a political process that is quality of life and data-driven and more welcoming and inclusive of all residents. Unfortunately, village hall lacks a long-term financial plan, which is critical to withstand unexpected economic crises. Nor has the village created a downtown revitalization or Freightway redevelopment plan that should be presented to all residents for our input. To protect Scarsdale, we need change at village hall.”

Kirkendall-Rodríguez then summarized the VCP platform, which includes ensuring that the village doesn’t commit to Freightway Redevelopment or other municipal projects without due diligence to achieve positive long-term fiscal impact; 2) creating a transparent, open political process that welcomes all residents; 3) being prudent about Scarsdale’s fiscal sustainability and maintaining tax level no higher than they are today; 4) preserving the village’s current level of single and multi-family homes to avoid overcrowding; 5) establishing a more vibrant downtown; 6) utilizing Scarsdale residents’ talents to solve municipal issues; 7) maintaining a high standard of village services; and 8) continuing Scarsdale’s leadership in environmental and sustainability initiatives.

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