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From the Mayor: Costs of Police and DPW Equipment Never Cease to Amaze Me PDF Print Email

Jan. 22, 2014:  As the trustees and I formulate a capital budget for the next fiscal year, it never ceases to amaze me how wide the cost differential is between specialized commercial-grade equipment and what we purchase for personal use.

Police Department Costs

As example, a basic car for use by the police department costs a "normal" $27,000. However, to make it a functioning patrol car, $13,000 worth of equipment must be added, including emergency lights, striping, sirens, and license plate readers. The one bright light bar on the top of a police car costs $4,000 alone.

The officer who will then drive the car is wearing $3,800 in required gear and clothing. His or her handgun costs $500, with an aggregate cost of $20,000 to outfit the entire department. A Kevlar vest costs $900, and, contrary to popular belief, it is not indestructible. Effectiveness is lost after approximately five years due to the breakdown in fiber caused by changes in heat and cold, perspiration, and repeated bending to wear.

Though a seeming look-alike, a police radio is very different from a conventional walkie-talkie. Costing $900 each, police radios have 16 frequencies connecting to different emergency departments, and similar to a Kevlar vest, only have a five-year-plus life.

The recently purchased Tasers, at $1,200 each, give our department a weapon on the gradient from physically restraining and handcuffing to the use of a firearm.

The above numbers do not reflect the high maintenance costs to keep the equipment operable as well as the training associated to ensure that our officers are proficient in using the specialized equipment.

After the officer and the police car are properly outfitted, we must then account for the cost of operating the vehicles. On average, an officer will drive 35 miles around the village during an eight-hour tour. Factoring in three tours every 24 hours times two cars patrolling on each tour, our officers drive an aggregate of 210 miles per day, thus adding gas and maintenance as significant costs.

Even an officer's trousers and shoes must be more heavy duty than the norm, and shirts and jackets require specialized insignia and patches.

Since everything has a finite life, we are almost yearly purchasing something in each category. We look for the most cost-advantageous pricing, and our sources vary. Some years it is more economical to purchase items through a state bid program, while at other times, goods are cheaper on the open market through a competitive bidding process.

Public Works Department Costs

Similar to the police department, our public works department requires the constant purchasing of specialized equipment with purchase prices even higher than patrol needs.

As example, a new garbage truck costs $180,000 and has a life cycle of 12 to 15 years. Since we do not have a modernized maintenance facility, all of our trucks are stored outside, further decreasing their useful life. The newest trucks are used for garbage pickup, as this is the most intensive use, and as they age, they are put to secondary use for recycling or yard waste pickup.

Since we are such a small village, we do not have a fleet of trucks, so every piece of equipment must be configured for multiple uses. The multipurpose function saves in the long run, but costs at the outset are higher.

The same is true for the salt trucks. At a cost of $145,000, they must also serve as sanders and leaf pickup vehicles with the capacity to tow a vacuum.

Using a snowstorm as illustration, before a salt truck hits the road, the salt must be purchased and stored at the cost of $52 per ton, with an approximate usage of 800 tons per season; a $125,000 loader must fill the truck, and all vehicles must be staffed. If the storm occurs beyond normal working hours, our labor costs increase to time-and-a-half to double time depending on the circumstances. In addition, the EPA now requires an expensive gasoline additive to reduce carbon emissions, and if it appears ice is also likely, calcium chloride, a liquid deicer, must first be applied to street surfaces.

Since all the department of public works vehicles contain specialized equipment, including salt and sand calibrators, the maintenance costs are not insignificant.  

We collaborate with our town neighbors in Tuckahoe and Eastchester to joint purchase, but it is only realistic for certain equipment. As illustration, buying one sewer vacuum makes sense, as each community does not need one 24/7, versus when a snowstorm occurs, everyone needs snow equipment at the same time. We do endeavor to purchase materials with our neighbors to benefit from volume discounts.

Street sweepers at $180,000 per and bucket trucks at $140,000 are high cost and high maintenance. Even the seemingly innocuous accoutrements have a decent price tag. I am often asked to add trash cans throughout the village, two here, two there. However, since they have to be of a durable commercial grade, their cost is $700 per receptacle. The replacement of a street tree due to disease or storm damage averages $350 per plant. 

The village's biggest constraint is the lack of indoor storage for vehicles, parts, and inventory, so even the smallest items are purchased on a need basis.

The capital budget process, which is currently under way, is a very thorough and diligent vetting of needs. Each department head meets with the village administrator and village treasurer to prioritize a list of capital requirements with their attendant costs. After the lists are refined, department heads meet with the trustees to defend their decisions and prioritize or triage when necessary as finances dictate. The process takes approximately three months and on average $1.3 million is spent yearly to maintain the equipment and infrastructure needed to run the village.

 
From the Mayor: No Man's Property Is Safe While the Legislature Is in Session: A Recap of Some Federal and State Legislation in 2013 PDF Print Email

Jan. 15, 2014:  In last week's column, I spoke exclusively of our village's legislation--accomplishments and unresolved issues as of year's end.

The subject prompted me to look more globally as to what was accomplished on the federal level nationwide and at the state level in our state government.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have always subscribed to the viewpoint expressed reputedly by Mark Twain that "no man's life, liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session."

On the federal level, "only" 65 laws were passed by a very divided Congress, despite 6,726 bills introduced in this Congressional term. Rest assured, the bill to repeal the legislators', cabinet secretaries', etc., ability to charge taxpayers up to $50,000 to commission a portrait of themselves did not make it out of committee.  However, under the aegis of administrative power, 4,659 rules and regulations were promulgated by the federal agencies to implement the 65 new laws. As illustration, the regulations relating to the Affordable Care Act are eight times longer than the Gutenberg Bible. The trend is continuing as 141 regulations were posted in the first four working days of 2014 by our federal agencies. 

On the state level, of the 40,000 laws passed nationwide, there were clearly some common threads on issues du jour. Uppermost was a focus on gun regulation. In 2013, 41 new laws were enacted in 21 states and the District of Columbia that make it more difficult to own guns, the strictest of which were enacted in Connecticut, Colorado, Maryland, and New York.

Twenty states also now have Stand Your Ground laws following pioneer Florida. They vary greatly in the sphere in which one can defend oneself from just one's home, to one's car, or to the street corner. 

Distracted-driving laws were high priority, with 41 states now banning permutations of text messaging and handheld cellphone use while driving.

Laws to increase minimum wage received mixed reviews nationwide but were debated in many state houses. Connecticut ($8.70/hour), New Jersey ($8.25/hour), and Rhode Island and New York ($8.00/hour) enacted increases only surpassed by California’s minimum wage of $9.00 per hour due to a built-in escalation clause.

Colorado received major press with legislation allowing residents 21 and older to buy up to one ounce of marijuana at state licensed stores. Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia now also have variations on the books relating to medicinal marijuana use.

Other issues of commonality include the prohibition of minors under 18 from purchasing time in tanning beds or buying the relatively new e-cigarettes.

The New York City Council enacted a law raising the age to purchase conventional cigarettes from 18 to 21, making it the strictest law of its kind in the nation. Even if not a minor, it is now illegal in Oregon to smoke a cigarette in a car if a child is a passenger.

In direct response to high-profile news stories, a number of states are enacting or refining their laws relating to human trafficking, state government surveillance, and elder abuse. The outbreak of meningitis at Princeton University prompted many states to require proof of meningitis immunization as a requirement for college entry.

Paid sick leave was heavily debated on many legislative floors in 2013. The trend is to allow paid days for not only personal illness but family sickness. New York City led the way by guaranteeing five paid sick days yearly as of 2014.

The issue of high school athletes and concussion syndrome has now been addressed by every state, save Mississippi. The requirements run the gamut from required education of coaches to detect the possible signs of a concussion to stringent medical clearance guidelines in order to resume play.

Some states enacted laws in response to what they considered poor practices in other states. Texas has now legally limited the number of state standardized tests to five and Mississippi has legally restricted municipalities from regulating nutritional labeling, naming the law an "Anti-Bloomberg" law.

Several states were in the forefront of legislation that is now being considered in many states in their 2014 legislative sessions. As example, Rhode Island enacted a "Ban the Box" law that prohibits prospective employers from inquiring into an applicant's criminal history on a job application. Illinois passed the first ever "Lemon Pet" law, which allows pet owners to return pets or be reimbursed for veterinary costs if an illness is not disclosed at the time of purchase. All California students must be allowed to play sports and use school bathrooms consistent with their gender identity, regardless of their birth identity. 

And finally, a review of some state laws still leaves one scratching their head. In Hawaii, you can now be fined for riding in the back seat of a car without wearing a seat belt, but it is still legal to ride in the back of a pickup truck.

The village's hope is that our New York Legislature will focus on the major issues facing all local governments, namely, unfunded mandates and the soaring pension costs, and not be sidetracked by special-interest requests. 

 
From the Mayor: State of the Village as of January 2014 PDF Print Email

Jan. 8, 2014: As is custom, the new year brings thoughts of future plans as well as reflection upon the year just passed.

In the village government sphere, 2013 was a busy and productive year.

To recap, as a result of vigilant oversight, we continue to have the fairest property assessments in the county, which is a vital underpinning to the entire property tax system. As a corollary, our financial health is particularly strong, as evidenced by a fund balance that is 22% of our operating budget and the highest bond rating possible.

In 2013, thanks to incredible partnerships with our local garden clubs and our state and county legislators, so much of our limited open space has been reclaimed and beautified, including Sagamore Park, Maltby Field, Bicentennial Park, and the areas adjacent to the train station. In the spirit of beauty, we were galvanized to relight the holiday tree on the village lawn.

Our green efforts throughout the village have paid off both financially and ecologically as we rank near the top in recycling tonnage in the county and our mulching-in-place efforts are paying dividends.

The trustees approved a three-year labor agreement with our police officers, the Kensington Road project is moving forward, and we continue to repave our streets and plant trees at a record pace.

Based on recorded data, Bronxville continues to be an extremely safe place to live and work and, should one need help, our police officers are there on average in just two minutes.

As we begin 2014, there is so much more to continue and/or initiate to keep our village the unique home it is.

Our vacant stores need to be filled with new and attractive businesses that reflect a retail mix that will be supported by our residents. We continue to work with our attentive landlords to attract potential tenants. Unfortunately, we have no control over the financial arrangements then proffered.

From the village process and code perspective, the village hired a downtown business consultant to review/revamp our procedures to ensure that our requirements are in line with those in like communities and reflect the current retail reality.

In addition, we have hired a lighting consultant to devise a plan to increase illumination and energy efficiency throughout the village, with the project to begin in the central business district.

Our gateways into the village must be improved, most noticeably the area near the Bronx River Parkway exit and the Metro-North properties, with emphasis on the condition and upkeep of the underpass area.

As I write, we are working on resolving the Parkway Road bridge repair responsibility issues so that residents will not be further inconvenienced.

We will continue to work with The Bronxville School to implement the $5 million FEMA flood mitigation grant as well as with the State of New York to execute a flood mitigation project on the Garden Avenue parking lot.

It will be a year of construction as the hospital continues its expansion project, the Kensington Road project comes online, and the school begins the auditorium refurbishment initiative, and hopefully the county will begin work on Scout Field to increase the quality and availability of field space.

Inside village hall, we need to reach a fair and equitable labor agreement with our public works employees and begin a budget process that keeps the tax rate as low as possible. We are very proud to say we run all of the village operations with just 15 cents of each of your village property tax dollars.

We are beginning long-overdue automation in our courts, parking system, and building office with the goal of modernizing and expediting our services and processes.

We continue to grapple with soaring and unsustainable health care and pension costs that, if left as they are, will be the ultimate downfall of local governments as evidenced by what is already happening in Detroit, California, and Alabama. As of now, our legislators in Albany do not have the political will to confront the issue head-on.

We need to continue and nurture relationships with state, local, and county officials, as all of the above initiatives involve funding or advocacy from other governmental entities. As evidence of intermunicipal success, we worked with ten neighboring communities to change the way hydrant maintenance fees are assessed, resulting in a $130,000 savings to the village.

Village hall is populated with a small but extremely hard-working staff which, like the trustees, works for you, the taxpayer, as the ultimate customer.

To that end, we welcome your input and ideas so we can meet the needs of our residents in the most satisfying way. I am confident 2014 will be a year of positive progress on all fronts in our village.

 
From the Mayor: The 'Why' of a Development on Kensington Road PDF Print Email

Dec. 31, 2013:  After almost three decades of false starts, the trustees and I are so pleased to announce the resurrection of the Kensington Road project.

At our December board of trustees' meeting, we selected Fareri Associates of Greenwich, Connecticut, to develop the project that was originally approved in 2007.

The trustees and I and the ad hoc committee--Frank Sica, Charles (Jay) Urstadt--believe Fareri Associates is eminently qualified to undertake a project of this magnitude and degree of difficulty. The team we chose has clearly demonstrated experience in construction of high-end empty-nester developments, construction of properties adjacent to MTA facilities, and environmental remediation history with New York State's Brownfield Cleanup Program, as well as expertise in building underground garages.

And, most important, John Fareri understands the history and traditions held dear in Bronxville. As he said in his offering statement, "Bronxville has many beautiful multi-family residences, some ninety years old. They are a testament to good planning and excellent construction methods and most still look as good as the day they were built. I pledge to do everything I can to make the Kensington Road project take its place right alongside those others."

As to financial strength, Fareri Associates has developed over $40 billion of real estate in Westchester and Fairfield Counties over the past 40-plus years. Over $600 million of real estate is currently owned by Fareri and three million square feet of development projects are in the planning stages in Westchester and Fairfield Counties. And most important, Fareri Associates has the demonstrated financial security to ensure completion of the entire project.

In addition to answering the "why" of this particular developer, the seminal question is "why" develop Kensington at all and "why" now?

The following are just some of the points considered by both the trustees and the project team:

• Over 20,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil will be removed at a cost of $7 to $10 million by the developer with no cost to the village, and the village will receive a permanent state sign-off as to remediation.

• The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has grant opportunities available to the developer that make the project feasible. These Brownfield Cleanup Programs will sunset in December of 2015 and thus change the economic parameters of any project in the future.

• The entire area, which is currently an unsightly blacktop expanse, will be transformed with extensive landscaping, new sidewalks, and even underground electric cables, increasing the value of not only the Kensington property, but the surrounding neighborhood.

• The village will receive brand-new underground parking, increasing both the safety and number of spaces available to our residents and merchants to park their cars.

• An empty-nester home option will be available to current residents who want to downsize but remain in the village.

• Over $600,000 in new property taxes will be generated on a property that currently produces none.

• The project is preapproved, shovel ready, and consistent with local and regional planning requirements.

• The village will also receive a substantial cash consideration that will directly assist to defray village property taxation.

The number-one concern at the onset appears to be that the structure will generate a large number of school-age children.

The previous developer, who was building the exact same structure, was required in the draft environmental impact study to do an analysis of potential school-age children to be generated by the proposed project. The analysis was prepared without conjecture, rather using nationally accepted multipliers from the Urban Land Institute and the Center for Urban Policy Research. The developer produced several scenarios with the "worst case" bringing four to six new children to the school system.

Even with certifiable data, it stands to reason that no one can forecast with exact certainty the number of children, just as we cannot predict to the exact person the number of empty nesters who will move each year because they have hit the property tax "tipping point" or the number of children who will occupy rental or owner-occupied residences.

The trustees are required as stewards of the community to take the long view, and we came to the unanimous decision that the Kensington Road project will only serve to enhance the village in the years to come. There will be some short-term disruption to the neighborhood just as there will be when the school begins the auditorium renovation, but both projects will result in the betterment for all.

We welcome your input and pledge to work with all interested parties with transparency and open two-way dialogue as our guide.

 
From the Mayor: Village in Best Financial Shape in Recent History PDF Print Email

Dec. 18, 2013:  At the board of trustees' December meeting, our village auditors from the firm of O’Connor Davies presented their review of our financial statements for the budget year June 1, 2012, to May 31, 2013.

I am pleased to report we are in the best financial shape in recent history.

The village received an unqualified opinion, which is the highest grading possible, equating to full compliance with generally accepted accounting principles as well as all the standards promulgated by the New York State comptroller's office.

Our financial statements include three operating funds titled general fund, library, and debt service. Our capital project fund is not under this heading because capital projects stay on the books until completed and there is not a uniform yearly closeout.

In the general fund, we ended the fiscal year of May 2013 with an operating surplus of $647,426 on a budget of $13,829,824, thus increasing our fund balance to $3,222,350, or 22% of our subsequent year’s operating budget. The amount of fund balance is a standard benchmark in municipal bond ratings, and this healthy percentage will allow us to maintain our AAA bond rating, the highest we can achieve and indispensable for advantageous borrowing.

Our positive variance in the general fund resulted from a combination of operating revenues coming in over budget and operating expenditures remaining below budget estimates. 

In the revenue category, building permit income was significantly over budget due to the hospital project as well as a robust home improvement trend. We also saw small increments in our sales tax and gross receipts tax revenues and parking permit fees.

Sadly, interest income is no longer a major revenue source at only $20,018. 

On the expenditure side, we saw small savings in a multitude of departments due to tighter budget estimates and watchful internal management, including general administration, street maintenance, sanitary sewer service, police/public safety, and the planning and zoning functions. Unlike other years, fuel costs remained relatively flat. 

Our pension payment of $1.5 million and health care benefits obligation totaling $1.4 million continue to be major drivers in our budget and show no signs of abating.

Our library continues to operate frugally and within budget.

Continuing on a very positive note, the first-half numbers in our current fiscal year are demonstrating a very positive upswing, most notably in parking revenues and sales tax collections. In addition, for the period of April 1, 2013, to September 30, 2013, we received a mortgage tax check from Westchester County in the amount of $152,700.95, representing an increase of $35,511.34, as compared to the same period last year, translating into a healthy 30.30% uptick.

The trustees will begin reviewing the distinct 2013/2014 capital projects spending plan in January with adoption of that plan in early 2014 in conjunction with our upcoming budget season.

Most capital expenditures are the big-ticket items, including police cars, garbage trucks, and road resurfacing, which are financed through the issuance of debt, making our bond rating so determinative. If a project is funded through the issuance of debt, any remaining balance on a project may only be applied to pay off subsequent debt service. If a capital project is financed via the general fund, such as computers and printers, any surplus may be returned to the general fund. As of May 31, 2013, the village has $2.7 million in current capital projects.

The village audit, as discussed, is available for review either online or at village hall. In addition, our village finance committee will further evaluate our financials in a very comprehensive line-by-line analysis with the auditors present at a January meeting chaired by our finance liaison, Deputy Mayor Robert Underhill.

This upcoming budget will be the last one prepared by our village treasurer, Robert J. Fels, Jr., who is retiring in the spring after 23 years of exemplary service to Bronxville. Bob has been a steady hand and a fiscal watchdog and a major reason for our sound financial management. We wish him the best in life's next chapter.

 
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