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coronavHere are the latest coronavirus counts from Westchester County. Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner reports that on the afternoon of March 9 he participated in a conference call with Westchester County Executive George Latimer and local officials.

As of the afternoon of March 9, there were 98 cases of coronavirus in Westchester County. One person out of the 98 was hospitalized. Eight people in New York State have been hospitalized. The other residents who have tested positive don’t have severe cases. According to Feiner, these stats “highlight the fact that for most people the virus is low risk.”

Latimer said with 143 cases in New York State, NYS does have the highest concentration in the country, behind Washington State.

These new statistics may demonstrate that though the number of cases in Westchester is growing, so far, serious illness is at bay. However, as we lack any details about the victims, their ages etc. it is difficult to draw any real conclusions.

Health officials are advising that everyone should take this threat very seriously, so continue to be mindful and careful.

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.

SamwickScarsdale Village Mayor delivered the “State of the Village” statement at a meeting of the Scarsdale Forum on Thursday February 13, 2019. Here are his remarks:

Thank you Tim and the Scarsdale Forum for hosting this annual event. And, thank you to the residents present this evening and those who have provided your input on Village matters over the past year. This is our Village and we always encourage you to be active participants in the issues and priorities that face our community.

I am pleased to be here and to report that the state of the Village is strong.

The Village is strong because of a number of pillars that remain consistent over time, namely:

1. Our non-partisan form of government works;
2. Our elected officials serve at-large and work collaboratively toward need-based and practical solutions;
3. The Village Board and staff are fiscally responsible and work hard to manage Village budgets to protect residents while addressing unfunded mandates and an expanding suite of municipal services;
4. The Village engages in active long-term planning and reinvesting based on an open and transparent prioritization of large Village projects; and
5. Village management is responsible and professional in the execution of Village operations.

By at least one prominent external measure, the Village is in excellent financial shape, as Moody’s has once again reaffirmed the Village’s AAA credit rating. In doing so, Moody’s cites key credit factors, such as an “exceptionally strong wealth and income profile”, extensive tax base, very low debt burden, moderate pension liability, and an adequate unassigned fund balance.

Budget Process
I would like to discuss the Village Budget, but before I do it is important to understand the budget process.

Village staff spends significant time preparing the annual budget for review and adoption by the Village Board. Over the years, Village departments have been asked to do more with less as the Village seeks to balance its long traditions of fiscal responsibility and providing residents with an expanding suite of services that meet their needs and desires. We appreciate the diligence, flexibility and creativity that staff regularly provides to bridge the competing interests of increased services and fiscal restraint.

This budget season kicked off in November when the Village Board and staff had a high-level budget discussion. From January through March, the Board reviews the operating and capital budgets in a series of public meetings, including a daylong meeting with presentations from most of the Department Heads. Without exception, the Department Heads are thorough, professional and fiscally responsible when preparing and presenting their departmental budget requests.

We also thank the residents who participated in the budget meetings. All are welcome to attend the Operating Budget Briefing Session which will be held in the 3rd floor conference room of Village Hall at 7pm on February 27th and the Capital Budget Briefing Session which will be held at the same location at 7pm on March 4th.

TaxLevyIncrease

Operating Budget
Now to the budget details. I am pleased to report that the Village is again in a position to stay within the State-imposed tax cap in the 2020-21 fiscal year with an increase in the tax levy of 1.98%. This modest year-to-year levy increase was supported by the Village’s allocation of revenues from the 1% increase in the County sales tax rate. This rate increase brought the Westchester sales tax rate to the level of our surrounding counties and unified the sales tax rate for all municipalities within the County. While we never like to see increased taxes, we are happy to receive a portion of the new County sales tax revenue to help to modestly diversify our revenue sources and provide some relief to our residents. The estimated increase in sales tax revenue is budgeted at $900,000.

The Tentative FY20/21 Budget totals nearly $59.5 million, representing a year-to-year increase of $1.4 million. The bulk of the increases are related to employee salaries determined through the collective bargaining process with our seven labor unions in accordance with the NYS Taylor Law.

Overall employee salaries and benefits represent over 75% of total budget expenditures. This level of employee costs is not unique to Scarsdale, but rather the nature of the business of local government, with services such as Police, Fire, Public Works, and Library still labor intensive.

Budget Revenues
The FY20/21 Tentative Budget identifies a total of nearly $17.4 million in non-property tax revenues, which includes the use of $1,023,000 in available General Fund Balance to decrease the tax levy. The most notable increase is seen in Sales Tax of approximately $900,000 mentioned earlier.

In summary, the property tax levy is expected to increase by $818,000, representing a 1.98% increase year-to-year. To put it in perspective, a residential property owner owning a home assessed at $1,510,000, the current average home assessment in Scarsdale, would pay the Village an additional $129 in taxes in the coming fiscal year.

I would now like to take a few minutes to discuss the Village’s Capital Budget program starting with current and then moving to planned projects. Reinvesting in our community is a major pillar of Scarsdale’s long-term management plan and there are no shortages of projects to discuss.

Current Year Capital Projects
The Village continues to invest in key infrastructure in the current fiscal year, including the following projects: public library renovation and expansion, paving 6.5 miles of Village roads, completing the conversion of over 1,500 streetlights to energy-efficient LED light fixtures, completion of the Popham Road Fire Station, reaching the major milestone of recycling over 1 million pounds of food scraps, as well as continuous investment in our infrastructure for potable water, storm water, and sanitary sewers and much more.

Allow me to provide more detail.

LibraryRenovation

Scarsdale Public Library
The Scarsdale Public Library expansion and renovation project continues and the new library is expected to open later this year. The library is one of our most treasured community hubs. When completed, the re-imagined building will bring library services into the 21st century with modern facilities and services such as its sun-filled reading gallery, toddler area, dedicated children’s program space, multi-purpose rooms, office suites, technology room, makers space, Teen Room and a cafe. The work and generosity of so many people have gone into making this project a reality and the community is better for its many volunteers and donors and we all thank you. Looking forward, I hope you will join me, the Village Board, Library Board, the Friends of the Library, staff, donors, volunteers and so many others when we open the new library later this year.

Road Resurfacing
In 2019, the Village resurfaced 6 1/2 miles of pavement on 20 different roads. This represents an investment of $1.6 million in the Village’s roadway system. It also represents over 8% of the 79 miles of Village-owned roads in a single year making significant progress toward bringing our roads up to the standards we all seek. Additionally, nearly 6,000 linear feet of new curbing was installed and over 2,400 linear feet of curbing was reset. I would also like to recognize Village Manager, Steve Pappalardo, and Village staff for suggesting a change in the Village code that requires those who open our roadways to repave the road from curb to curb rather than merely patching the road. ConEd, as we regularly see, opens many roads and this change in the Village code has resulted in our ability to perform a material amount of incremental paving each year. In fact, ConEd has reimbursed the Village over $2 million for paving since the code change was enacted in 2015.

LED Streetlight Fixture Installation
In 2019, the Village completed the installation of the last of the over 1,500 new LED street light fixtures. The Ad Hoc LED Committee, consisting of members of the Conservation Advisory Council and Village staff, did extensive research on different lights and did wide-ranging field-testing that included community surveys. The committee worked hand in hand with LED light manufacturers to develop a superior quality light fixture. The result is a noticeably better-quality LED light than is seen in any other community. Our Department of Public Work’s ability to perform the installation work, accelerated this process and saved considerable costs. There are also real cost savings that inure from the use of these more environmentally friendly LED lights. The $290,000 cost of the new LED light fixtures is expected to be repaid in less than 2.5 years as we anticipate saving about $125,000 per year in electricity and manpower costs. Thank you to the LED Committee for your diligent hard work.

Popham Road Firehouse Completion
The addition and renovation of the Popham Road Firehouse was completed in 2019. The project scope of work was extensive and we are very pleased to have the Fire Department now utilizing this newly improved modern facility.

Food Scrap Recycling
In December, the Village reached a sustainability milestone when we recycled a cumulative 1 million pounds of food scraps. Scarsdale is very fortunate to have dedicated volunteers that worked hard to find a cost-effective model to recycle food scraps. We are also fortunate to have staff that is open minded, creative and solution-based. The result is a food recycling program being used as a model for other municipalities in Westchester, Rockland and Fairfield Counties as well as serving as an impetus for Westchester County as it works to create a county-wide food waste recycling program. Thank you to the volunteers and staff that found creative solutions to enable a new sustainability program to take wings in Scarsdale and to lift so many other communities as well.

Climate Smart Community
I am pleased to announce that on Tuesday evening, the Board adopted the New York State Climate Smart Communities pledge. Sustainability and resilience themes are integral parts of our community. Our municipal operations and infrastructure increasingly reflect our collective conscience in that regard, with highly visible projects. I have already discussed the successful LED street light and curbside food scrap recycling programs. The Village also purchased its first electric vehicle and has installed recycling bins at all of Scarsdale’s parks. These programs have yielded significant financial and environmental benefits. By becoming a Climate Smart Community, Scarsdale joins 291 other municipalities throughout the state to work toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to a changing climate. The state program offers free technical assistance, a range of grant opportunities, and rebates for electric vehicles. With the help of the Climate Smart Communities program, we expect to continue to seek opportunities to reduce the environmental impact of our Village operations.

Other Completed Projects
Other Village initiatives that have recently been completed include repairing structural cracks at the high school and middle school tennis courts; the construction of the Wynmor tot park and resurfacing of the Wynmor tennis court; continuing water system improvements and sanitary sewer work in the Mamaroneck Valley District with more discussion on these last two items to follow.

2020-2021 Fiscal Year
Coming up over the next fiscal year and beyond are the following capital projects:

Water System - In fiscal 2018-2019, our water system pumped over 1 billion gallons of water with a daily peak flow of over 6.6 million gallons. Many parts of the Village’s water distribution system are over a century old. Over the past ten years, the Village has completed significant work on the above-ground segments of our water system – upgrading the Ardsley Road Supply Station in 2011, rebuilding the Reeves Newsome Supply Station in 2014, upgrading the Ardsley Road Water Tank in 2018 and the ongoing work on the Boniface Water Tank. The Village has an aggressive leak detection program, a comprehensive water conservation plan and is in the process of installing radio frequency meters that will enable monthly billing of water. Monthly billing will help residents better identify and remedy water leaks, conserving water and money and helping the environment.

The Village plans to continue its significant investment in its aging water system with completion of a water system master plan; continuing upgrades to water pumping facilities; and continuing water distribution system leak detection and repair, supported in part through an intermunicipal agreement with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection which provides the Village with $657,000 in grant money to reduce community consumption.

Over the coming decade, required investments in the water system are expected to cost $34 million in addition to the over $10 million invested over just the past four years. The long-term capital plan includes an average expected expenditure for capital improvements to the water system of $3.6 million per year over the coming five fiscal 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. Future projects include upgrading distribution facilities and infrastructure (cleaning and lining of water lines and replacement of substandard water mains, valves and hydrants) as well as improvements to the Village’s connection to the Catskill Aqueduct at Ardsley Road (including the replacement of a 16-inch suction line).

Many are aware of the increases in water rates that have been phased in over the past four years to help meet these significant capital outlays. These material rate increases are necessary to complete the work just outlined and to maintain our aging water system. Unfortunately, the higher water rates are also being felt by many homeowners. System upgrades, however, benefit all residents and are appropriate to be reflected in the base water rates we all pay.

The Board clearly recognizes the burden placed on residents by recent rate increases and has paused further water rate increases in the 20-21 budget pending the results of the Master Plan of the Water Distribution System that will commence within the coming months. During this time period, 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. The Village will provide regular updates on the important work being done on our water system and the Master Plan will be posted online upon its completion.

Sewer Infrastructure - The Village continues to focus on improving its sewer infrastructure, currently making necessary repairs identified in the Sanitary Sewer Evaluation Study in the Mamaroneck Sewer District. This work is part of the Capacity Management Operation and Maintenance Plan prepared by the consulting engineer and Village staff for the Mamaroneck District. Over the next 2-5 years while this field work continues, the Village will engage a qualified engineering firm to study the Bronx Valley and Hutchinson Sewer Districts as well. We are currently evaluating ongoing issues in the Drake Edgewood section of the Village which require immediate attention, relative to storm water inflow and infiltration into sanitary sewer lines resulting in excess sanitary sewerage discharge flows into the County’s sewerage lines and treatment plants. Sanitary sewerage discharge is heavily regulated and is subject to lawsuits, consent decrees and intermunicipal agreements. Like most Westchester municipalities, much of the Village’s sanitary sewer infrastructure is over a century old and suffers from storm water inflow and infiltration that can overburden parts of the system. The 20-21 fiscal year budget includes an allocation of $650,000 of work on our sanitary sewer system with the long-term capital plan calling for continued expenses of over $700,000 per year for at least the next four fiscal years. This is an important issue for the Village that will continue to be discussed over the coming years;

PoolComplex

Pool Complex - Our pool complex is over 50 years old and is an iconic community institution. The time has come for a comprehensive study of the complex infrastructure. We are aware that there are a number of systems and infrastructure items that are not up to current code requirements and we will be seeking extensive community input into preferences and priorities before undertaking material repairs and upgrades that are expected in the coming year or two. Please be on the lookout for a community survey of the pool complex. We encourage all residents to take time to respond to the survey to better inform the Village of where to focus our resources when we undertake the pool improvement project;

Traffic Safety - The Village Board and staff are focused on pedestrian, bicycle and traffic safety and on implementing various measures to achieve enhanced safety. A Board work session with the Village’s Traffic Safety Committee was held on Tuesday to discuss traffic safety matters including: (i) the pursuit of State approval to reduce the current 30 MPH area speed limit to 25 MPH, (ii) potential future implemention of the Safe Routes to School program, (iii) enhance traffic safety in areas such as Popham Road, Fenimore Road and Heathcote Five Corners, and (iv) enhanced traffic safety through design and implementation of a pilot traffic calming measure on a suitable residential roadway. The Traffic Safety Committee is taking a holistic approach to safety that includes the 3 E’s of traffic safety - education, engineering and enforcement. Staff is aggressively seeking various funding sources, including grants and partnerships such as the Safe Routes to School program in partnership with the School District. The Police Department has increased diligence in its effort to enforce existing traffic laws and to further resident awareness of traffic laws and safety. Pedestrian, bicycle and traffic safety are priorities of the Board and staff and we encourage resident input. The Traffic Safety Committee will review all resident complaints and comments;

Heathcote Road Bridge - Engineering work is under way with commencement of work to repair and reinforce the abutments under the Heathcote Road Bridge planned for FY 2020-21. Timing of this project was in part determined by the effort made by Village staff to successfully obtain a New York State grant to cover 95% of the cost of the design and construction work. The grant will save residents $1.35 million on this important infrastructure improvement;

Hutchinson River Flood Mitigation - The Village is party to an inter-municipal agreement with the City of New Rochelle, and the Town of Eastchester to complete the Hutchinson River Flood Mitigation project. Over the coming fiscal year, the design of this project is expected to be completed and preparation work in advance of construction will commence. This project will be partially funded by a $2.5 million grant from the County of Westchester and a $1M grant from the State of New York; and

Cybersecurity - The Village will continue to invest in strengthening its cybersecurity. Recognizing that this important effort is likely to become a recurring expense for the Village, the capital and operating budgets have added dedicated line items for this work.

Much of the infrastructure improvements just outlined are not highly visible as they are either underground or electronic. We recognize that it is easier to see and appreciate the work being done on our library or the paving our roads. Nevertheless, the less visible work we foresee over the coming years is equally important and must be a focus of the Board and staff and requires the allocation of budget funds.

Village Center
The Village Board is acutely aware of the issues with retail vacancies in our Village Center. Our Village Center is a crown jewel of Scarsdale and the Village is committed to working collaboratively with property owners, tenants and residents to create a vibrant hub for our community to enjoy. Over the past year, the Village has: (i) worked to reduce parking issues by implementing the Pango parking app, (ii) started using a license plate reader to enforce parking limits to create more parking capacity for shoppers and (iii) reviewed and implemented parking fees to maintain equitable parking availability and costs to residents and merchants.

The Scarsdale Business Alliance has quickly become an invaluable partner in improving our Village Center. With new events such as Wing the Dale, the Health and Wellness Fair and, of course, the Scarsdale Music Festival adding to existing programs including the Sidewalk Sale, summer Westchester Band concerts in Chase Park, the Concourse Car Show, Light the Dale, the Halloween parade and window painting, and more, we believe that progress is being made toward bringing vitality back into the Village Center. We continue to seek more opportunities to enhance the Village and we invite the community to be part of the discussion to improve Boniface Circle where we hope to create an open and inviting space for people to congregate and enjoy the surrounding area.

Freightway
Another item that has received much Board and staff time and attention is the potential redevelopment of the Freightway parking garage in our Village Center. I will provide a very brief history of the recent discussions about the potential redevelopment of the parking garage while acknowledging that discussions about the redevelopment of the garage started shortly after its completion in 1974. Three years ago, the Board of Trustees formed the Freightway Steering Committee and retained a planning firm to engage the community in an active discussion about the potential redevelopment of the aging Freightway parking garage. The Freightway Site Redevelopment Study included many public meetings and engaged at least 750 people with the resulting Visioning Study issued in February 2018. The Village issued a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) in July of 2018 and seven responses were received in October 2018. After public meetings in November 2018 and January and May 2019, the Village issued a Request for Proposals (RFP). The two finalist development teams presented their respective preliminary plans to the community in December 2019.

The Board of Trustees has been and remains committed to an inclusive and transparent discussion about Freightway. The Board paused the Freightway process based on overall Board and public dissatisfaction with the proposals submitted to date and to provide the public with an additional opportunity to be heard. Only after the Board has evaluated the community’s comments will the Board discuss what might come next. To be clear, the Board has no specific plan or timeline with respect to Freightway.

The Board is listening to the community and we share the community’s focus on school and fiscal impacts. As we have said and it is worth repeating, the Board will not support a project that does not have a positive economic benefit to the Village and the school district or a project that would harm the quality of the education that our children receive.

Thank you for your active participation in the Freightway process. We continue to want to hear from you on this issue and other matters. We are listening and will continue to do so.

Communications
One of the challenges of running the Village is effectively communicating with the community – both inbound and outbound. Over the past year, we have implemented a number of changes to enhance communications, including: (i) placing the Public Comment section of Village Board meetings earlier in the meeting agenda, (ii) adding a second Public Comment session to each Board Meeting, (iii) implementing an informal monthly Coffee with Mayor series, and (iv) standardizing Trustee email addresses to the first letter and last name of each Trustee @scarsdale.com. These new tools supplement prior changes such as: (i) forming an Advisory Council on Communications, (ii) issuing the Scarsdale Official following each Board meeting, and (iii) upgrading the Village website, which includes Notify Me – a way for residents to receive notices of Village items that matter most to them. We encourage residents to: (i) visit the Village website and sign up for the Scarsdale Official and other items on Notify Me, (ii) attend Board meetings or less formal Coffees with the Mayor, and (iii) email your elected officials. We want to hear from you and we are listening.

Nonpartisan System
As I stated earlier, 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.

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. As a direct result of our political system, we have avoided corruption, graft, nepotism, campaign finance debts and unscrupulous business dealings in Scarsdale. 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.

Scarsdale is a wonderful place to live and raise a family – it has been for a very long time and I have no doubt that it will continue to remain so given the natural beauty of our Village in a Park, pervasive spirit of volunteerism, outstanding school system, high level of municipal services, close proximity to New York City and successful track record of our nonpartisan system.

I will conclude my comments on that positive note and will now open the floor to questions and comments.

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.

VillageTaxAlbeit relatively brief, Tuesday’s Village Board of Trustees meeting offered residents a good amount of information about where Scarsdale is headed in the coming months.

“One of the Best” Budget Processes

A day after the latest village budget work session, Trustee Justin Arest provided an update on the planning process, describing it as “one of the best conducted, with greater detail, better analysis, and with a very healthy combination of dialogue and debate among trustees and staff.” The draft village budget for 2020-21 translates into a tax levy increase of 1.986%, or $129 for the average Scarsdale property owner. The property tax cap for the village is 4.84%, or a $1.9 million total increase over last year.

In discussing the village’s efforts to balance needs with cost, Arest said that the first pass of the budget represented a $1,004,330 million or 2.437% increase, and the village has continued to reduce the tax increase after two additional reviews.

“Despite some difficult burdens, including, but not limited to, mandatory personnel compensation and increases, smart planning, some fortuitous additional revenue, and reduced expenses, we’ve been able to produce a budget that is sensitive to pressures faced by our residents without a reduction in services, and… also includes a very aggressive capital plan,” he reported.

The proposed capital plan addresses Scarsdale’s aging infrastructure, while focusing on public safety and quality of life. Village staff have allocated funds to ensure that capital projects are planned appropriately and collaboratively, with input from staff and community, particularly important in light of the ongoing Freightway process. Arest stressed the importance of careful consideration of future “build-once opportunities,” stating, “Whatever we build must be better than what we’re replacing and suit our needs for decades to come.”

Mayor Marc Samwick followed by saying, “As is typical of budget discussions, our deliberations focused on balancing different choices and priorities. It is also important to note that a guiding principal for our work is to propose a budget that, to the greatest extent practical, serves the village as a whole.” He then thanked residents who have participated in budget work sessions to date and invited the public to participate in future meetings – the operating budget briefing session will be held at village hall on Thursday, February 27 at 7:00 pm, and the capital budget session will be held at village hall on Wednesday, March 4 at 7:00 pm.

Voters Choice Part Throws Hat Into Ring

VotersChoice


During the meeting’s public comment portion, Bob Berg (Tisdale Road) announced that he just had filed his nominating petition as a Voters Choice Party (VCP) candidate for village trustee. Scarsdale Village elections are scheduled for Wednesday, March 18, and the VCP will present three candidates who will run for three open village trustee seats – Berg, Sean Cohen, and Bob Selvaggio. They will oppose Scarsdale Citizens’ Non-Partisan Party candidates Justin Arest, Lena Crandall (both currently serving as trustees), and Randy Whitestone.

In speaking about a contested election Tuesday, Berg stated, “It makes it more interesting and involves the residents more in our democratic process, so that’s always good.”

As it was two years ago, the VCP’s primary platform is to provide residents with an alternative to Scarsdale’s traditional single party process. According to the group, “Residents of Scarsdale deserve a choice of candidates for their important elected village officers. These VCP candidates are each exceptionally qualified and committed to provide common sense, workable solutions to the village’s pressing problems, while preserving its character as a village of single family homes.”

Scarsdale Pledges to be Climate Smart

climatesmartAddressing another topic of interest to residents, the trustees unanimously passed a resolution to become a New York State Climate Smart Community (CSC), working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a changing climate. Trustee Lena Crandall presented the resolution, stating, “The Board of Trustees believes that climate change poses a real and increasing threat, exhibiting the potential for significant harmful disruption to natural and human systems, including environmental, social, and economic impacts… sustainability and resilience themes are woven into the rich tapestry of our community, and our municipal operations and infrastructure increasingly reflect our collective consciousness in that regard.”

As a CSC, Scarsdale has pledged to incorporate 10 elements in future planning and policy making, including:

• Building a climate-smart community;
• Monitoring emissions, setting goals, and planning for climate action;
• Decreasing energy use;
• Shifting to clean, renewable energy;
• Using climate-smart materials management;
• Implementing climate-smart land use;
• Enhancing community resilience to climate change;
• Supporting a green innovation economy;
• Informing and inspire the public; and
• Engaging in an evolving process of climate action.

While these actions lead to obvious positive environmental change, they also are expected to present other benefits such as:

• Cost savings through greater energy efficiency;
• Greater energy independence and energy security;
• Improved air quality;
• Healthier, more walkable communities;
• Conservation of green spaces for recreation and biodiversity;
• Reduction of future flood risk;
• Investment in sustainable and green businesses;
• Greater community engagement around the topic of climate change;
• Grant application bonus points for some state funding programs; and
• A robust framework to organize local climate action and highlight priorities.

The next step is to register with New York State to be designated as a Registered CSC, and then establish a CSC task force, which will advise and collaborate with village staff to develop plans, programs, and activities connected with the CSC

Odds and Ends

The Mayor noted that the official Freightway public comment period closed this past Sunday, but the administration continues to welcome residents’ feedback and input. “The board is listening to the community and we share the community’s focus on school and fiscal impacts,” he said. “As we have said and it is worth repeating, the board will not support a project that does not have a positive economic benefit to the village and the school district, or a project that would harm the quality of education that our children receive.”

Once assembled and reviewed by village staff, all comments submitted to the village will be made public.

Ed Morgan, representing the Scarsdale Arts Council, announced that an art fair will come to the village this summer. After almost two years of planning, the council will host the Scarsdale Summer Art Festival 2020 from mid-July through the first part of August.

The festival will feature a high-quality, juried art show, an exhibition of student art, and a variety of other events to be announced shortly. Local artists, as well as those from surrounding counties and states, will be invited to submit proposals for works in a variety of media to be showcased via a special prospectus that also will be distributed widely in the community.

The Scarsdale Public Library and Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation staff, with the assistance of the Friends of the Scarsdale Parks, will assemble, install, and maintain the “Little Free Library” kiosks at Brite Avenue Park, Crossway Field, Hyatt Park, Chase Park, and Harwood Park/Library Pond. The kiosks, promoted by local Scarsdale student Danielle Kohn, will be similar to those offered by many municipalities throughout the country and Westchester County, and are believed to foster a sense of community and beautify surroundings.

Kohn has secured funding for a total of four kiosks, valued at $1,320 in the aggregate, with supporting gifts from the Friends of the Scarsdale Parks, Friends of the Scarsdale Library, and the Scarsdale Foundation.

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