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From the Mayor: Kensington Road Development Lot the Last Blighted Property in Village; $7 to $10 Million to Clean Up PDF Print Email

Mar. 26, 2014:  This past week, on behalf of the village, I officially signed the agreement to develop the Kensington Road property by Fareri Associates of Greenwich.

Believe it or not, development of this property has been thirty years in the making with several false starts. 

It is probably the last blighted piece of property in the village because of its former uses as a gas station and a power plant; Fareri will start the project by removing over 20,000 cubic yards of polluted soil.

In addition to having the property cleaned at a cost of $7 to $10 million dollars, the village will be receiving a $3.85 million check to turn over title to Fareri, $500,000 of which was received upon contract signing.

Due to recent stricter rules promulgated by the Environmental Protection Agency, the village, going forward, would have been required to clean the property for the same cost and pay for it via village taxes, so this agreement has a huge financial benefit as one of its many positive components.

In addition, all of the utilities on Kensington Road up to Beechtree Lane will be buried underground by Fareri, enhancing the look of the road as well as benefitting nearby homeowners during storms. Fareri will also landscape the property and lay new sidewalks that same length of Kensington Road. The contractor is also adding a drainage system/retention basin below the newly enclosed parking garage further benefitting storm drainage in the area.

Not only will we recoup all of our present open-air parking spaces, 18 new spots for residents will be added to the inventory, no small amount given the needs of our residents. The same residents whose cars are parked out in the elements today will automatically receive a covered/indoor spot in a clean, secure, and camera-monitored garage. Fareri has also reached an agreement with the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) to have the platform extended on the rear of the new structure for easy access from the garage. 

Fareri and Associates has been working very collegially with the MTA, United Water, and, most important, our own Christ Church. They are fully aware and respectful of the church's unique artifacts as well as the very valuable organ.

The concerns of the residents of Kensington Terrace will also be paramount as Fareri rolls out the cleanup and construction schedule. We know the disruption will be major and we will work as a team with the neighbors to mitigate the consequences whenever possible.

When completed, the project will generate over $600,000 in new village taxes on a lot that is currently producing none, as well as an additional $350,000 in taxes to the county, town, and fire district.

The project is the same one approved by the zoning and planning boards during an extensive two-year review back in 2007-2008 when every detail was discussed, including the type and quality of the stucco surface.

The units will all be for sale to owner and are designed to attract the empty nester with formal dining rooms for family holidays as well as small office alcoves. There will also be 24-hour concierge services. The design has already generated great interest from village empty nesters who no longer need their multibedroom homes but want to stay in the village. Based on the design, amenities, and pricing, studies estimate the project could generate four to six school-age children.

Thanks to a very strong and professional negotiating team led by Deputy Mayor Underhill and trustee Longobardo and aided by Village Administrator Harry Porr as well as the business expertise of village residents Charles J. Urstadt and Frank Sica, we all feel we have a very beneficial deal for the village with a partnership with a very reputable, quality- and community-minded developer.

Mr. Fareri, who endowed the Maria Fareri Children's Hospital at the Westchester Medical Center, grew up in Yonkers and knows our village well. As he said to me when he toured our village and visited some of the 100-plus-year-old co-ops, "I want my project to be as well built and attractive to stand the same test of time."

We have been burnt before, so we all are headed into this project with eyes wide open and a tad jaded, but I truly believe we have picked the right man and the right company for our village. 

Added to the hospital project, the school auditorium, and the dispute regarding the Parkway Road Bridge, the Kensington Road project will contribute to the state of flux/lack of calm in the village in the near future, but I believe it is our duty as elected officials to look long term, and I truly believe these very demonstrative short-term inconveniences will put the village in the best possible position for our future and hopefully our children's return. Please contact me directly if any of the above causes undue and unforeseen disruptions.  We are in this together.

From the Mayor: Governor's Two-Year Property Tax Freeze Not the Answer PDF Print Email

Mar. 19, 2014:  Governor Cuomo has announced a two-year property tax freeze as a hallmark of his 2014 agenda. However, it is facing growing opposition from both political parties, school districts, and local governments, as well as the nonpartisan New York State Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials.

The two-year tax freeze is for individuals (outside New York City) with an adjusted gross income of under $500,000. In order for a taxpayer to receive the property tax credit, the local governments must remain under the cap. In our case, that would include all taxing jurisdictions such as the Bronxville school district, the Village of Bronxville, the Town of Eastchester, Westchester County, and the Eastchester Fire District.

In order to benefit from the "freeze" in a second year, the local governments would have to remain within the tax cap as well as agree to various consolidation plans with other communities.

The impetus for this new iteration in an election year is prompted by the governor's belief "that the state needs to pressure municipalities to cut spending in order to establish long-term tax savings in a state with among the highest taxes in the nation."

There is not a community anywhere in New York that is increasing services by 2% each year, nor does any elected official think that is a good idea; rather, we are cutting personnel and services to meet Albany's bills.

Although the governor promised that the implementation of the initial property tax cap would be followed by meaningful mandate relief to help local governments live within the cap, that promise was not kept, and, in addition, state aid was cut.

No mandate relief is in sight, but election-year pressure is increasing. The hypocrisy of all of this is astounding. An example, since I have been mayor, our staff has been cut by over 15% in an effort to meet the increasing mandates/bills sent directly from Albany. If the village did not buy a new pencil last budget cycle, just retained the status quo, taxes would have increased 5.5% because of bills from Albany.

The 2% tax cap was a great sound bite for a world that does not exist or for a public one assumed was not informed.

Adding insult to injury, the new tax cap freeze incentive only benefits communities who came to the game late and only recently began to consider consolidating and sharing services. Communities like Eastchester, Bronxville, and Tuckahoe who have been doing it for years will receive no credit for past efforts.

Again, in a poorly planned rollout, the current iteration property tax cap plan will prove to be a disincentive to consolidating any future services due to the fact that when a municipality consolidates services with another municipality its tax levy cap is reduced; however, this ignores the fact that the municipality still needs to pay another local government for the service.

The state powers that be must also recognize that there are very different types of local governments with very different needs that do not lend themselves to certain consolidations, be it a school system, police department, or 24/7 snow and ice equipment. The best interest of a community must always trump other political agendas.

The cap also does not exempt the cost of repairing aging infrastructure throughout the state, thus creating a powerful disincentive to do needed repairs that may not be visible to the taxpayer.

Before forcing municipalities to cut services and schools to cut programs, Albany needs to look inward and show leadership by cutting unfunded mandates with creative solutions.

For example, many states that truly care about their employees and want to create a sustainable pension system plan created a hybrid model, with a 401K-type model blended with defined benefits.

The New York legislature's solution was to create a Tier 6, which now requires any new hires to pay 3 to 6% toward their future pension. The problem is no one is hiring, rather reducing staff to meet the current pension burdens, and even if a new hire is added, the financial benefit will be achieved in twenty-plus years.

If the state government was truly serious about bringing property tax relief to local property taxpayers, they would begin by doing what every other state across the nation has done--pay for state and federal social service programs with state revenue, not county property tax and sales tax revenue. 

In Westchester County alone, $225 million collected annually at the local level are paid to Albany for the state Medicaid program. Westchester County taxpayers could see $225 million in local tax relief immediately if the governor and the state legislature would only do what 49 other states have done already. That would be action, not a tedious and wasteful exercise. We deserve better.

From the Mayor: Consultants Recommend Changes in Village Code for Business District; See Recommendations PDF Print Email

Mar. 12, 2014:  Our downtown business consultant, Phillips Preiss Grygiel LLC, recently sent the village a progress report of our downtown planning study.

They suggested some straightforward changes to the village code for which there was strong support within all the constituent groups surveyed.

The consultants recommend loosening the restrictions on outdoor tables/eating to allow a broader range of downtown uses to take advantage of seating through both a zoning change and the institution of an annual licensing program. 

As example, a code change would allow a business like Chantilly Patisserie to have bistro chairs out front where a customer could have a coffee/breakfast and read the paper.

They also recommended that outdoor dining licenses, when granted, be valid for one year and renewable annually. Currently, when our land use boards grant these licenses, they last as long as the business is in operation.

The consultants' logic is that the merchant can be made more accountable for cleanliness, garbage removal, and sidewalk obstruction if renewal of the benefit was predicated yearly on adhering to village standards.

The consultants also received very positive feedback from the groups interviewed concerning the display of outdoor merchandise. However, they do believe that the village is remiss in not having regulations delineating standards for both the type and location of the merchandise.

They recommend that stores be permitted to feature large items such as garden equipment, household furnishings, antiques, and plants, as they provide attractive and visually interesting displays within the public right of way that enhance a pedestrian experience in an outdoor/walking business district such as ours. Sidewalk display items should only be of the kind that would normally grace a store window. Small merchandise items such as clothing and shoes and canned and bottled items should be prohibited in order to avoid a cluttered and unattractive appearance. Additionally, since retail displays may impede pedestrian traffic, distance standards must be set forth to ensure that safety is paramount over merchandising. 

Again, the consultants recommend a yearly renewal process to ensure that the merchants remain compliant with all provisions of the permit.

Per the trustees' directive, the consultants were also tasked to review our zoning code and procedures with an eye toward identifying and then implementing changes that help to create a more "business-friendly" environment and providing greater clarity and certainty to merchants seeking to enter Bronxville.

Some of the issues that came to the fore include redefining various commercial uses such as personal services, retail uses, and "service establishments" to eliminate confusion. Given the prevalence of online purchasing, the consultants also suggested we revisit the current restrictions on personal service establishments along Pondfield Road. As example, would it be a detriment to have a bright, airy ballet studio among the shops?

Our consultants also re-examined the current square footage cap of store occupancy of 5,000 square feet, given the needs of some very successful stores looking to come to our area.

Most important, they encouraged us to create a user-friendly land use application checklist so prospective merchants/tenants would know up front exactly the needs and time frame to open a business in Bronxville.

Our colleagues in Scarsdale just recently employed the same consultants and acted on many of their suggestions, resulting in very positive changes and increased occupancy in their village, and we expect to do the same.

On a very positive note, village landlords have at least six new businesses that have received all their approvals and will be up and operating this spring, greatly adding to the vitality of our business district.

The trustees are acutely aware that many of our zoning and planning code regulations were written for a time and an economic environment that no longer exists and will never return.

To that end, emulating our neighbors in Scarsdale, we plan to work with our zoning, planning, and design review boards as well as our merchants via the chamber of commerce to craft changes to our regulations that reflect the current economic reality while at the same time not sacrificing the ambience and standards that make Bronxville a unique village and shopping destination.

We also are investigating ways we can work with our art students/garden clubs/high school in conjunction with our landlords to make what empty stores remain attractive to the passerby.

Our business district is a crown jewel in Westchester and we as a community must do everything we can to keep it vibrant and attractive. 

From the Mayor: Capital Budget to Total $3.5 Million; See Items PDF Print Email

Mar. 5, 2014:  The trustees and I just concluded a six-week process that resulted in a new capital budget for the Village of Bronxville that totals $3.5 million.

Each year the village writes a five-year capital improvement program. The annual program builds upon past programs and also tries to predict village capital needs going forward for the next three years. This kind of long-term planning is essential to address the long-term infrastructure needs of the village.

Department heads are first asked to produce a so-called wish list of proposed infrastructure projects and equipment needs, which is refined after scrutiny by our village treasurer and village administrator.

Then the department heads have to present their individual budget proposals before the full board of trustees to justify the expenditures. The numbers were trimmed when warranted. 

The capital improvement program budget will come for a public hearing and possible vote at the village board of trustees meeting on April 7. In the interim, the document is available for public viewing at village hall and at the library.

The lion's share of the budget, as is custom, revolves around the needs of the public works department.

The board continues to advocate for a very aggressive street repaving program, which will certainly be warranted given the proliferation of potholes created during this long, cold winter. The repeated freeze and thaw of our streets this year is doing extensive damage.

Since much of our storm and sewer infrastructure is nearly one hundred years old, we also dedicated a large fund ($275,000) for upgrades and preventive maintenance. This was also the year when several of our high-priced vehicles, including a bucket truck, dump truck, and garbage truck, reached the end of their expected usefulness, necessitating $615,000 in new expenditures. Unfortunately, since this equipment is needed on a daily basis and at all hours, joint purchasing/sharing with our neighboring communities was not an option.

In an effort to recoup any value from the old equipment, we looked for resale options and have recently had great success using the auction method, be it through a government consortium or eBay. As you may remember, we purchased our snow melter last year through an inter-municipal sale, which has proven to be invaluable in cleaning up our parking lots. 

As a corollary, the board also authorized money for an evaluation of our current department of public works facilities, since all of these high-ticket vehicles can only be stored outside, further decreasing their usable life. Built in the early 1940s, the department of public works garage is long overdue for renovation. Much of our rolling stock is too large to be protected in our vintage garage.

This was also the year for two new police cars in the police department, as current ones reached critical mileage. What we have found is that due to wear and tear and 24/7 use, police cars reach a certain mileage and engine troubles begin and repair time and costs make it uneconomical to keep in the fleet.

We have also allotted monies in the budget to keep up with the constant need for replanting street trees, as many are dying due to age or have been lost during storm events.

With the help of The Bronxville Historical Conservancy, which is sourcing and pricing the cost of our distinctive street signs, we will be replacing many throughout the village in the coming budget year.

The beautifully crafted signs have long been a distinct signpost that you were in the Village of Bronxville.  Over 30 have been lost, largely due to age and/or vehicular damage. We hope to bring them back with a phase-in program as monies are made available.

Internally, in the administrative arm of village hall, we have launched a program to improve our technological capabilities and with it, our services to our taxpayers. We are currently installing new software to be used in our building department. Tracking permits and updating records of property improvements will now be done digitally. This improved data maintenance can then be shared with the taxpayer, providing comprehensive property information that can be readily available from home.

We are also looking at a variety of ways to provide a safer workplace for our court operations with improved security measures.

The library, too, will be looking to improve the outdated technology in the Yeager Room using both village tax dollars and monies received by the village from our cable franchise agreements. The library will improve its audio, video, and transmission facilities, as well as replace some well-worn furnishings.

The public is invited to participate in the public hearing for the capital improvement program at the April 7 board meeting. We welcome your input.

From the Mayor: Water Rates, Electrical Rates, Taxes, and DPW PDF Print Email

Feb. 19, 2014:  At the February monthly meeting, the trustees acted on a myriad of substantive issues in the areas of taxes, public works, and public utilities.

Water Rates:  The board joined a consortium with neighboring communities--which includes New Rochelle, Eastchester, Ardsley, Tuckahoe, Dobbs Ferry, Hastings, Pelham, and Pelham Manor--to challenge a proposed astronomical raise in water cost and hydrant maintenance by our water purveyor, United Water.

United Water is asking the state's public service commission for a 22.95% increase in water rates and a whopping 36.99% increase in hydrant maintenance fees. Sadly for the consumer, the public service commission has been very willing to grant double-digit increases to the utility. As an example, the village's hydrant maintenance fees were $84,244 in 2011 and in just two years escalated to $126,637. This number is now the base for the proposed 36.99% increase.

The above scenario underscores why all water users, not just property tax payers, should share in the cost of hydrant maintenance.

Unfortunately, we have no recourse to change water providers, since United Water owns all the purveyance infrastructure. All we can do is present a united front with our neighbors and legislators and fight the increases.

Electrical Rates:  In the same vein, the New York Power Authority recently authorized a 12.6% increase in the cost of municipal electrical rates, and the hike was reflected in our January invoice.

Consultant:  The trustees also voted to engage the services of a local consultant, Donald Marra, to assist in the search for a new village treasurer and village administrator. We are also taking advantage in this unprecedented sea change in village management to step back and review village staffing in totality to ensure that we have the right combination of skill sets, full- and part-time staff, and the level of efficiency and services that taxpayers deserve.

Tax Collection:  The village's tax collection was recently reconciled. As a refresher, the village collects approximately $8 million to run the village and $38 million to operate the school. As of January 31, 2014, $1,138,892.86 was uncollected, representing 2.46% of the levy.

The village must make the school district whole, so tax liens will be sold on March 13, 2014. Per New York State law, the lien sale will be noticed in the paper of record, the Journal News. A list of real estate parcels identified by section, block, and lot on which taxes remain unpaid is available in the village treasurer's office.

DPW Facility:  Funded in past capital budgets, the trustees voted to engage Calgi Construction Management to evaluate the department of public works facility on Palumbo Place. Never modernized since its construction in the mid-1940s, a thorough evaluation is long overdue. The goal of the review is to determine whether the existing facility is worthy of modifications to meet the needs and equipment of a 2014 department or rather it is more prudent/cost effective to construct a new or pre-fab structure. Our current facility will be evaluated with regard to vehicle maintenance needs, equipment and material storage, material handling, electrical needs, environmental regulations, and energy efficiency.

Salt Costs:  Add to this list the now unprecedented costs for salt and snow removal resulting in another challenging budget process.

Tax Cap:  All of the above variables are set against the backdrop of the governor's continued emphasis on a 2% tax cap increase despite the fact that state government unfunded mandates continue unabated while state aid to communities continues to decrease.

The fallacy of the 2% tax cap is that well before its inception, no communities were increasing staffing and/or services by 2%, rather they were trimming services to deal with the often double-digit tax increases sent directly from Albany.

At the February trustees meeting, the trustees, as is custom, voted to set the process in motion to override the tax cap, although we have only exceeded the 2% cap once and that by only $40,000. Our vote is rather a statement of support for local control of budgetary decisions. The trustees believe we are elected to be stewards of the local taxpayers' dollars and answerable only and directly to them and not to be an instrument to advance the political aspirations of others.

Special Meeting:  Finally, we have added a special meeting/work session of the board of trustees for Wednesday, February 19, chiefly to discuss our upcoming capital program.

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