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christmastreesantarrivesSanta arrived early to Scarsdale this year, conveyed in a fire truck rather than a sleigh. He visited Boniface Circle in the Village on the evening of December 3rd to spread some cheer and light the Scarsdale Christmas tree. He was greeted by scores of cheering children who came to talk with Santa to let him know what’s on their gift lists. Mayor Carolyn Stevens was also on hand to wish everyone a happy holiday season. Scarsdale Village and the Chamber of Commerce sponsored the tree lighting and Lange’s provided hot chocolate.christmastree1

Santa also mentioned that it was the third night of Hanukah, and we believe there is a Menorah in town this year. Have you seen it? Go downtown and take a look – the Village is beautifully decorated and lit for the season.

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Two enterprising local Cornellians thought it was high time all the Cornell alumni in Scarsdale, Edgemont and Hartsdale had the opportunity to meet and network. The area is rich with ties to the university with 1,000 Cornellians in residence. Todd Wolleman, Class of 80 and Laura Fratt  Class of 81 came up with the idea of a get-together earlier this year. They pitched their plan for a new entity called “Cornell in Scarsdale” to the Cornell University Alumni Affairs office who helped them to put the night together. Brynn Peltz, ’85 made a very generous offer to host the event at her home on Tuesday November 16th. It was a big success with over 150 alums and parents of Cornell students in attendance. Dean Kotlikoff of the Cornell Veterinary School attended and shared exciting plans for Cornell’s new state of the art veterinary facility in Stamford, Connecticut, which will open in January, 2011 and be available to treat area pets. The highlight of the night was meeting and greeting neighbors and friends who shared a common bond. See photos of a wonderful Big Red event here:

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duckpondThe Scarsdale Forum will discuss their recently released report on a town-wide tax revaluation at a meeting on Thursday night November 18 at the Scarsdale Library at 8 pm. Their Assessment Revaluation Committee as well as a panel of experts will be there to lead a discussion on revaluation.

The panel will include:
John Wolham, Director, Southern Region, NY Office of Real Property Tax Services
Mary Marvin, Mayor of Bronxville
Steve Altieri, Town Administrator of Mamaroneck
Alfred A. Gatta, Village Manager of Scarsdale

Robert Berg, who served as Chair of the Assessment Revaluation Committee for the Forum will lead the discussion.

The Forum studied tax revaluation in response to a request by Mayor Carolyn Stevens in 2009. Their 22-page report offers background and history on property tax and covers New York State law and Scarsdale’s history of revaluation.

The last revaluation in Scarsdale was done 41 years ago in 1969, when Sal Horowitz Jr. was the Mayor, and there are now substantial inequities in the tax assessments of comparable properties. According to the report, since “property taxes within Scarsdale are a zero sum game,” owners of underassesed properties are being subsidized by their neighbors, who are paying more than their full share of the tax burden.

Since Scarsdale property tax are among the highest in the country, the committee favors rectifying these inequities through a revaluation.

In their report they recommend that:

  • The Village should conduct a full-scale reassessment as soon as possible
  • The Village should reassess periodically, with no more than four years between assessments
  • The Village should issue an RFP to seek out an appraisal firm to conduct the reassessment within 60 days.
  • The process should be as transparent as possible
  • Residents who face hardship due to a tax increase should be encouraged to apply for STAR exemptions
  • Scarsdale should lobby the state to enact a statute that will allow for deferred tax increases until a property is sold
  • Scarsdale should not phase in tax increases or allow transition assessment as these prolong inequalities.

The report offers a very thorough recap of the history of property taxes and a review of what neighboring towns have done. Since New York State does not mandate revaluations, only three municipalities in Westchester have conducted revaluations recently. They are the Town of Rye, the Town of Pelham and the Village of Bronxville. Some of our neighbors’ assessments are even more antiquated than Scarsdale’s; for instance the last time the City of Mt. Vernon was revalued was 1853.

The report also reviews several current real estate listings to demonstrate how older homes may be under-assessed. For example, the large home on the duck pond in Heathcote that sits on 3.73 acres is now on the market for $5.35 million and it’s current assessed value is $42,900, translating to a tax bill of $52,014. Using the current market value of the property, the assessment should be $94,160 with an annual tax bill of $118,000.

Owners of another Heathcote estate listed for $11.5 million now pay a tax bill of $89,170 and if the house is valued at $11.5 million the tax bill for the property should be $250,000. In contrast, a new home built across the street has been assessed for $144,135 which would translate to a tax bill of $175,000.

These inequities also exist for the tax assessments of more modest homes though examples were not provided in the report.

The report covers the history of tax grievances in Scarsdale and sites the rising number of grievances filed in recent years. During the 1990’s the number of grievances ran between 75 and 100, but by 2010, 756 grievances were filed due to inequities and falling market values. The report estimates that all the property owners who grieve their taxes in total may pay several hundred thousands dollars for appraisal, attorney and filing fees. And the cost to the Village is high as well. In 2010, the Village spent approximately $155,000 defending 551 challenges to the 2009 tax roll and in 2010 the tab for the Village rose to $212,000.

Furthermore, 90 percent of tax grievances result in reduced assessments, with some of these reductions ranging from 20% to 35%. These reductions will cause others to pay even higher real estate taxes.

Given the costs to homeowners and the Village and the basic inequities in the system, the Forum recommends that the Village conduct the revaluation for many reasons:

  • Equitable distribution
  • Transparency
  • Reduction of tax grievances
  • Correction of inequities between Scarsdale properties and those in the Mamaroneck Strip.
  • Maintenance of favorable bond ratings
  • Elimination of reliance on the state equalization rate
  • Eligibility for a small state subsidy if village adopts plans for cyclical reassessments

Learn more at the meeting of the Scarsdale Forum on Thursday November 18 at 8 pm in the Scott Room of the Scarsdale Public Library.

Thanks to committee members: Robert J. Berg, Chair, Robert Harrison Boine Johnson L. William Kay, III Kenneth Keats Edward A. Morgan and Douglas Ulene.

 

santaOn Friday December 3rd at 5 pm, the Scarsdale Chamber of Commerce invites you to the annual tree lighting in Boniface Circle in Scarsdale Village.  Lange's Deli will provide hot chocolage and donuts and everyone is welcome to attend. On Saturday December 9th, the Scarsdale Parks and Recreation Department and The Scarsdale Chamber of Commerce will Co-Sponsor the Second Annual Scarsdale Holiday Breakfast from 9:00-11:00 AM at Scarsdale High School. All pre-K through 3rd Grade students and their families are invited. Those who attend will receive special holiday giveaways and can have their picture taken with Santa who will be visiting Scarsdale from the North Pole! Cost is $5 per person. Register online at http://reconline.scarsdale.com or at the Recreation Department by the December 6th deadline. Special thanks to Lange’s Deli for providing breakfast.
Happy Holidays!

scc1.jpgAdvocates for an indoor pool and community center in Scarsdale presented an extensive study including financial projections, a concept design and cost evaluation to a meeting of the Scarsdale Board of Trustees on November 4th. Ed Morgan, a Co-Chair of the SCC, Steve Bush, the organization’s controller, architect Bart Hamlin and an architect from ikon.5 all participated in the report to the Board.

The 150-page document that was distributed outlines plans for a new facility at the site of the outdoor pool on Mamaroneck Road. The new Community Center would include an 8-lane pool, a therapy pool and locker rooms to be built underground, with an above ground extension of the existing bathhouse to accommodate a fitness center as well as community meeting rooms.

The group retained ikon.5 Architects to plan the center as they recently completed a Wellness Center at the College of New Rochelle that is largely below ground and required extensive rock excavation. The current plans for Scarsdale call for removal of 12,000 cubic yards of rock, upgrading utilities and reallocating parking. The 34,000 square foot project would require the relocation of the existing mechanical equipment for the outdoor pool. It is estimated that it would cost $24-$25 million, with approximately $20mm in construction costs and $4.8mm in soft costs. The group hopes to begin construction in January 2012 and believes it would take 20 months to build the project.

The current plan was developed after the SCC considered nine possible sites for the facility. When the site at Harwood Court was rejected due to resident’s concerns, the outdoor pool area was selected due to synergies between facilities.

Discussing the financial viability of the project, Steve Bush explained that the group originally had 1,200 paid members and now, four years later, 1,080 remain active. Sixty of those members donated additional monies to fund the architecture and engineering study, demonstrating that there continues to be a real commitment to the project. His projections call for 1,600 members by opening day with a full family membership at $1,318 per year. The plan ultimately targets a membership of 2,000. The group came up with membership numbers by studying demographics, the population and analyzing membership rates at the outdoor pool and at other similar facilities in the Northeast.

Three quarters of the revenue to support the facility are expected to come from membership fees, with the balance derived from increased summer camp fees, aquatic and fitness program fees, funds from the use of the community meeting rooms, vending machines, merchandise sales, child care and guest fees. In order to finance the project, the group plans to raise $8mm in private contributions. Once they reach this target, the Village would bond the remaining $16 million dollars.

The Trustees questioned the presenters about the validity of the membership scc2.jpgprojections and the financial projections. Trustee Eisenman asked what would happen to the outdoor pool during the construction of the facility. Hamlin explained that they planned to do the rock excavation during the fall and winter and pour the concrete before the pool opened in May. Though parking would have to be relocated the architects claimed they could minimize disruption to the pool during the summer months. There was also a discussion of why the project was expanded from an indoor pool project to a community center and Hamlin explained that the pool alone would not be financially self-sustaining and that together, a Community Center and indoor pool would heighten community interaction in a vibrant environment.

In order to move forward, the SCC is asking the Trustees for a commitment to issue the $16 million dollar bond, once the group raises the required $8 million in contributions. The Trustees thanked the group for their thorough job and opened the floor for comments from the audience.

There were very few people in attendance, making it difficult to gage community support for the project. Mrs. Landau called the outdoor pool site “sacred” and voiced her concerns about use of the outdoor pool during construction. She said “20 months for the project sounds hopeful.” Mr. Landau questioned the financial plan assumptions derived from the experts, saying, “what if things don’t work out?” Mrs. Mackler asked the Trustees to do due diligence to determine if the 1,080 members were still on board and discussed the “financial realities” we now face. Trustee Toder objected answering that if the list was given to the Board it would become a public document.

The Mayor complimented the group on an extremely thorough job and invited comments from the community. The meeting was televised and the plans will be available on the SCC website and at Village Hall.

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