By Mary Marvin, Mayor, Village of Bronxville
Oct. 9, 2019: This week’s column was prompted by a recent discussion I had with one of my fellow trustees. He observed how rewarding the job was as you learn the intricacies of municipal governing and the processes by which things get done. We both lamented the glacial pace of some processes, but from experience, now understand that for the most part, the procedures lead to more prudent financial management. We laughed that prior to trustee service, we would walk around the village, notice something and a week later it would still look the same, causing us to think, “will they ever fix this?”
The following are some examples of government rules and regs that impact the village on a daily basis:
Con Edison, in a cost saving measure, now contracts out much of its road repair/resurfacing work to independent companies. The outside contractor then waits to bundle jobs to make them worthwhile, hence the proliferation and longevity of those dreaded metal plates you see over many utility projects.
Metro North does capital plans in 3 to 4 year increments. If a community doesn’t make a particular capital budget, a repair can wait another four years. On multiple occasions, the village has offered to do repairs on Metro North property, only to be rebuffed by liability issues and union rules relating to keeping the work in house. Needless to say, it causes a high level of frustration as the train station and underpass in particular are focal points connecting the east and west sides of the village. We are currently focused on underpass repairs and the installation of cameras throughout the Metro North property. Given the railroad offers a vital yet monopoly service, our leverage is much diluted.
Also related to Metro North, per New York State law, communities have no jurisdiction/control over the businesses they rent to in all their respective stations. They do not have to abide by any local planning and zoning rules—essentially an island unto themselves. What is particularly disturbing is that should they rent to a bar/restaurant etc., which we understand they are in the process of so doing at our station, Village police, not Metro North police, must handle all the possible ancillary issues associated with such an establishment.
Often if something breaks in the village, similar structures are on the verge of doing the same and/or it presents an opportunity to buy the product in bulk for future replacements. However if the aggregate cost is over $20,000, New York State competitive bidding requirements must be followed, allowing a prescribed timeframe for responsible bidders to respond. Needless to say, this is not a speedy process.
Contrary to urban lore, our police officers have no quota of tickets. As point of fact, a speeding ticket that might have a face value of $180 brings to the village approximately 15 of those dollars, the rest going to the State of New York, hence speeding tickets are actually a significant monetary loss to communities as we pay for the police time and adjudication. In contrast, tickets for broken headlights or defective wipers are a “violation” only and the lion’s share of the revenue is retained by the local municipalities.
Our village can only use street/traffic cameras for license plate identification and identifying individuals and not for moving violations such as speeding or crossing yellow lines. Use of cameras is regulated by the State of New York and only major cities, including Yonkers, have been granted the expanded enforcement use.
Speed limits throughout the village are also regulated by the State of New York. We have the lowest speed limit possible for non-school zones which is 30 mph. School zone speed is 20 mph. Any change would require an act of the State Legislature and without supporting accident data and unique circumstance, the request cannot be supported.
New York State also mandates that municipalities buy more environmentally friendly pavement materials which include the detritus from previously milled roads. Though extremely laudable in theory, the pavement material has proven to have a life expectancy one third less than the traditional black top / tar combination. It appears at this juncture that the recycled material in the long run is costing more than the previously used materials when factoring in labor, trucks usage, time and money.
Probably my least favorite New York State directive is the so-called 2% tax cap. Making a great bumper sticker and campaign slogan, it translates so negatively for municipalities. Unlike School districts, communities cannot exempt the cost of doing needed capital improvements from the two percent ceiling. This mandate is probably the most powerful disincentive to make needed infrastructure repairs. As example, if the Village of Bronxville adhered to that directive, we would not have be able to accept the $5 million plus grant from the federal government for flood mitigation as our 25% local share responsibility would have created more than a 2% tax increase in the Village budget. I shared this with Congresswoman Lowey at the time and she was in fact incredulous. As yet another example, in a year that our legislators told us to keep expenditures below 2%, the state health plan raised our cost by 17%.
By law, the relationship between the Mayor and Village Board of Trustees and the Planning and Zoning Boards must be in essence a Chinese wall. As example, recently a cell phone company was interested in a Gramatan Court location. Regardless of our personal opinions, the Trustees and I had to stay silent avoiding any potential lawsuit citing undue influence on Village appointees. It is so hard to stay on the sidelines sometimes, but this ethical standard is one I agree with as duly appointed boards comprised of highly skilled people should have unfettered authority, free of the influence of elected officials.
As you can see, the Village, in its daily functioning, is not as autonomous as one would logically think and in many cases desire.
Photo by A. Warner
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