Friday, May 24th

Citizen's Non-Partisan Party Candidates Emphasize Cooperation and Collegiality

groupJustin Arest, Lena Crandall and Randy WhitestoneIn just two weeks, residents of Scarsdale will elect three Village Trustees and their Village Justice. On Wednesday March 18th, the Village election will be held at the Scarsdale Congregational Church at 1 Heathcote Road from 6 am to 9 pm. Though Scarsdale has generally held uncontested elections, this year the trustee candidates, nominated by the 30 person elected Citizens Nominating Committee, will be challenged by three from the Voter’s Choice Party, so your vote will really matter.

In advance of the election, we had the chance to sit down with the three Scarsdale Citizens’ Non-Partisan Party (SCNPP) candidates for Village Trustee and discuss issues of importance to voters. We have recapped some of the discussion below. You are also invited to hear all the candidates at a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale on Thursday, March 5th at 7:30 pm at Scarsdale Village Hall.

On Saturday, February 29th, we met with current trustees Justin Arest and Lena Crandall, who are seeking second two-year terms, along with Randall (Randy) Whitestone who is running for his first two-year term as Village Trustee.

First on our agenda was SALT, the federal limitation on deductions for state and local taxes that have impacted real estate values and residents’ pocketbooks. We wondered if there was anything the Village can do to bring back our real estate tax deductions, which are now capped at $10,000. Commenting on the tax law change, Trustee Justin Arest said, “These were done to penalize our state. They are beyond unfair. We must recognize what we can and cannot do while ensuring that quality services are being provided efficiently and our infrastructure needs are met.” He noted that the Village did set up a charitable fund as a possible way to restore deductions and joined a lawsuit at no cost to the Village, against the federal government spearheaded by our State Assemblyperson, Amy Paulin, to overturn the law. “While there is no assurance the suit will be successful, it was a creative attempt to address an issue that has no practical solution at the local level, and it cost the Village nothing to pursue it. The suit is presently pending in court.”

Candidate Randy Whitestone said, “The SALT issue adds an extra layer of pressure to the budget season. If elected, I will be voting on the budget in April and have attended all the budget briefing sessions to get up to speed and also participated in the past in the study of the budget as a former chair of the Scarsdale Forum’s Fiscal Affairs Committee.”

Speaking about the current challenge to the Non-Partisan System by the candidates in the Voter’s Choice Party, Trustee Crandall said, “If we get a board member who is disruptive, we’re going to lose our cooperative working style. We know how to work collegially. That doesn’t mean we always agree, we don’t, but we have respectful debate and are able to move issues forward to benefit our residents.” Jumping in, Trustee Arest added, “Residents are always welcome to attend our board work sessions where they can see and participate in discussions about issues facing the Village. We want to hear from residents on every issue.”LenaLena Crandall

Real estate tax equity has been another hot button for voters. Discussing the possibility of another revaluation Arest said, “There will be a reval at some point and it should always be an option – but the question is when? Communities want equity and stability. To date, we have not seen any statistical data to show that our tax roll is unfair. However, if residents feel they are unfairly taxed they should understand and pursue the annual grievance process. It need not be acrimonious. We have a new assessor, and these issues will be up for discussion.”

Another recent change that could impact Scarsdale’s bottom line is a 1% increase in the Westchester County sales tax. Commenting on the potential non-property tax revenue increase Crandall said, “We are never fans of an increased tax burden on our residents but, appreciate that at least some of the proceeds will be coming to Scarsdale. It’s too early to know what the exact impact will be. Proceeds from sales tax can be difficult to estimate and so we are conservative in our budgeting for unknowns such as this.”

On the expense side, we asked what major challenges the Board will face in the next term. Scarsdale’s aging infrastructure ranked among the top concerns. Randy said, “We face daunting long-term issues with a water system, portions of which date back 100 years. We rebuilt two water stations in the past 10 years and new meters are required. If we don’t use your reserves wisely, we can get in trouble.” Arest quoted some impressive numbers about spending on the water system, saying “We spent $10 million over last four years and another $34 million is needed over the next 10 years. This is not optional. We have to address our infrastructure needs so the question is how to do that thoughtfully and without adding too much of a burden to residents.”

Crandall added, “We will be implementing a monthly water billing system so that people can identify leaks or issues much sooner, and the board decided not to increase water rates for FY2020-21. We are hiring a rate consultant to help us plan for the infrastructure needs over the future. The good news is that people are using less water now that they are being billed on a three-tiered basis.”

justinJustin ArestTurning to the upcoming opening of the new Scarsdale Library in the fall of 2020, Crandall said, “The Scarsdale Library is going to be very popular.” She is looking forward to the glassed-in reading area and happy to have some nice options for meeting rooms. Whitestone said, “I think the library is a keystone in the arch of the Village and we’ll see an explosion of usage.” Arest added, “Usage of the Library has grown. Scarsdale’s book circulation is number one per capita in the county and fourth for total circulation. There will be various meeting and teaching areas that I hope will be utilized by everyone from our children to our seniors. A new café will hopefully add a social aspect. There will be something for everyone in the new library. This is a great example of what can be accomplished with a public private partnership. It is going to be viewed as a remarkable achievement.” He was proud to report that the project will be completed without additional charge to taxpayers as careful planning has occurred and contingency funds are in place.

What about Freightway? Now that the discussion to develop the Freightway site is on hold, what are the next steps? Crandall said, “We are waiting for staff to deliver an analysis of the public comments that have been received. We need to break the topics down into smaller bites for public discussion, including school population impacts, traffic impacts and pedestrian safety.” Arest continued, “It is always to our benefit to have as much information as possible. Specific to the garage, our engineering consultant is currently updating its analysis of necessary medium term repairs. We hope to have that information soon and will need to consider how to raise those funds should we move in that direction. In the short term, we have money allocated to the garage to ensure its safety,” Adding to the discussion of the Freightway site, Whitestone said, “We view ourselves as stewards of the community, and we want to leave the community in a better place than we found it.” Remembering when the garage was originally constructed, Whitestone, a Scarsdale native, said, “There was opposition to it when it was built!”

Crandall is particularly proud of the Board’s sustainability initiatives noting that changes were made by this Board to the tree law to protect Scarsdale’s tree canopy and to prevent clear cutting. Another step forward in sustainability is that the Village of Scarsdale is now a NYS Department of Conservation Climate Smart Community. Scarsdale is already leading the way with the collection of food scraps for composting and LED streetlights, and this new designation will allow the Village to apply for grant funding for future sustainability initiatives.

Arest marveled about the resource Scarsdale has in our engaged citizenry. He said, “I am amazed at the generosity of our residents – not just financially but with their time and talents. They give with no expectation of anything in return. Knowing them has made me want to volunteer more and more. On the Village government side, we have 18 resident boards and councils, with 160 individuals serving. And, that doesn’t include all of the civic organizations where many others participate as well.”

Since Randy Whitestone is running for his first term, we asked him why he wanted to serve and what he could add to the mix. He revealed that he started his career as a financial journalist for Bloomberg News. As a reporter he had a “natural curiosity about topics and learned to gather information, synthesize and communicate in a clear fashion. He earned an MBA in Finance and ultimately pursued a career in professional communications, where he has learned to make information accessible, transparent and straightforward. He hopes to use these skills to enhance Village communications with residents.

Randy’s neighbors value his level head, low ego and ability to keep issues in perspective. He notes that during his decades in Scarsdale, he has seen many come and go and one of his goals is to improve inclusivity for all facets of the community.

Observing the three candidates discussing the issues, their mutual respect and regard for each other was evident. As Crandall said, “We know how to work cooperatively and collegially to do what’s best for Scarsdale.”

Remember to attend the candidates’ forum at 7:30 pm on Thursday March 5 at Village Hall – and to vote on Wednesday March 18 from 6 am – 9 pm at the Scarsdale Congregational Church at 1 Heathcote Road in Scarsdale.

Leave a Comment

Share on Myspace