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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.

From the Mayor: Developer for Kensington Road Condominium to Be Decided December 9 at Village Board Meeting PDF Print Email

Dec. 4, 2013:  After an exhaustive and thorough process, the board of trustees will be ready to make a decision on selection of a developer for the long-approved Kensington Road Condominium Project at the December 9 monthly meeting.

As a refresher, the village sent out a request for proposal (RFP) the week of June 7, 2013. Responses to the RFP were due back to the village by 4:00 pm on September 3, 2013. The announcement of the RFP's availability was publicly broadcast and was followed by publication of the news in various local outlets. The information was also put on the village website. The announcements were sent to a number of developers who had expressed interest in the project going back to 2008 when the WCI Corporation abandoned the development. During the intervening summer weeks, many interested parties interviewed with village staff and the project's architect about the RFP.

With the responses in by the September due date, an expert committee was convened to review submissions, chaired by Deputy Mayor Robert Underhill, trustee point person Guy Longobardo, former trustee Frank Sica, village resident Jay Urstadt, village counsel James Staudt, and Village Administrator Harold Porr.

After careful study of submissions, specific candidates were selected for interviews and an intense review followed both as to the potential developer's financial soundness and the quality of their product. I joined in for the site visits of the finalists.

The RFP was essentially the same document issued in 2003-2004 that required the construction of a residential condominium project of approximately 110,000 square feet creating up to 54 housing units and the inclusion of an underground municipal parking garage with 200 spaces for the exclusive use of the village.

Over a period of two years, the prior developer, who filed Chapter 11 due to a heavy investment in Florida real estate in 2008, obtained all required land use and board approvals for construction of the project. These approvals include an environmental finding statement, a planning board site plan, and a planning board special permit. In addition, agreements were also secured with multiple interested and/or involved third parties, including the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation regarding environmental remediation, MTA/Metro-North relating to access, construction management, drainage and utility issues, the owners of One Pondfield Road modifying an existing easement and providing for relocation of utility lines, United Water replacing a water main, and agreements to protect the property of Christ Church.  In addition, both the former project's architect and project engineering firm have agreed that their drawings and specifications may be used by a new developer. 

All of these pre-approvals, both in terms of time and expenses incurred, have great value to the new developer, making this a truly shovel-ready project.

After extensive market research, the condominiums are designed to attract empty nesters, ideally current residents who want to downsize but still remain in our village. The design schematics provide for formal dining rooms, few bedrooms and many staffing amenities.

In addition to the carefully designed building whose every feature was vetted in the prior comprehensive two-year review process by the village planning board and village staff, the adjoining neighborhood to the project itself will be beautifully landscaped with new sidewalks, curbing, planting, and underground utilities.

Perhaps even most important, approximately 20,000 cubic yards of contaminants will be removed and the property, formerly a power and steam station, gas station, and general industrial site, will be returned to pristine condition.

Proposers provided a bond, letter of credit, or equivalent form of security to insure completion of the environmental remediation and the entire parking facility. So net-net, in the worst case scenario, the village is guaranteed an environmentally clean property and a brand-new parking facility.

The property is not only a visual eyesore in its current condition but has been off the tax rolls for decades. The new high-quality development is conservatively estimated to add $600,000-plus to the village tax coffers, of which 85% would go to the school district.

The bottom line is that a blighted property in the village will be transformed into a show-place, bringing new, quality housing, new tax revenues, and improved public parking facilities to the village. This will be our third attempt to get this project built, but all indications are that this effort will be the one that gets done.

From the Mayor: Roundup of State Legislation Affecting Local Governments PDF Print Email

Nov. 27, 2013:  During the recently ended New York State legislative term, over 16,000 bills were proposed in just two years. Thankfully, a vast majority of them died in committee. As Mark Twain is reputed to have said, "No man's life, liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session."

No major reforms were undertaken and very little legislation directly impacts the village.

The binding arbitration law that allows firefighters and police to go to outside arbitrators when an impasse is reached in negotiations was tweaked, but not in the village's favor. It now uses "ability to pay" as the main driver of pay raises, so any community who was frugal and amassed a fund balance for a rainy day will be penalized. In an ironic twist, arbitrators' awards are not subject to the 2% tax cap, though the municipality paying the raise is so bound.

A bill currently sitting on the governor's desk, though seemingly innocuous, would set a new and unusual precedent. The proposed law would require local governments to provide mandatory training to local dog control officers. The local government would then be given the authority to solicit and accept funds from any public or private sector source to cover the cost of such training. This would be the first time that fundraising would be allowed for a mandatory municipal purpose.

As a member of the Legislative Priorities Committee of the New York Conference of Mayors Association, I recently met with approximately 25 of my colleagues to prioritize an agenda for advocacy for the upcoming 2014 legislative session. Priority one is an increase in revenue-sharing funds from the state, which have decreased by over 7% just since 2009. For decades, the original fairly thought-out "revenue sharing" formula, intended to redistribute state tax revenues, has been disregarded, making the revenue stream inconsistent, unfair, and unpredictable.

Mayors across the state support an increase in local funding based on a formula that takes into account the types and level of services a community must provide, as well as the amount of tax-exempt properties within local boundaries.

Continuing on the tax-exempt subject, according to the New York State Comptroller's Office, $680 billion in market value of real property in New York State (27%) is exempt from municipal taxes, equating to approximately $17 billion yearly in foregone property tax revenue. However, the tax-exempt entities need essential municipal services. A proposal that would permit municipalities to impose charges just to defray the cost of local services including police and fire protection, street maintenance, and lighting seems only equitable.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in a unique experiment, called upon all their nonprofits to voluntarily contribute commensurate with the services they received, and many have responded in kind. Even if municipalities recoup only a portion of the expenses they incur serving tax-exempt organizations, it would be a step forward.

As always, the elephant in the room is the New York State Pension System. Conservative estimates say that state and local employer contributions will more than double by 2016, adding nearly $4 billion to annual taxpayer costs, leading logically to reduced services in tandem with property tax increases.

The current legislators, I would argue, are the true enemies of the loyal municipal worker, as they ignore reforms to an unsustainable pension system. The end result could very well be a result like Detroit, where hardworking people are now getting 16¢ on the dollar in retirement. 

At the very least, the 3% employee contribution that was eliminated in 2000 should be reinstated. It would still give municipal workers a 97% versus 3% contribution rate, unheard of in any other existing industry.

My fellow local lawmakers also want to exempt costs to repair aging infrastructures from the current 2% property cap. Though school districts are exempt, despite one of the most aging infrastructures in the country, New York State communities are disincentivized from doing any capital repairs, as their costs are not exempt from the state tax cap.

Your village trustees, in an expression of the value of local control, routinely override the governor's tax cap legislation on principle though we rarely exceed the cap. We prefer to be accountable in local elections if we do not exert the fiscal controls village residents expect.

My colleagues and I also support legislation to constitutionally prohibit laws or regulations that would impose a direct or indirect fiscal burden on local governments unless a parallel appropriation is made sufficient to hold local governments harmless. 

In addition, we will advocate that all current unfunded mandates such as the MTA tax be required to sunset in two years unless it could be shown they serve an essential purpose and a state funding source can be found to offset the cost to local governments.

Another very specific unfunded mandate is the requirement of local governments to publish official notices in local newspapers. However, with the decline in newspaper circulation and the proliferation of Internet access, state law should be amended to allow local governments to leverage the power of the Internet to reach interested parties in a more timely, efficient, and cost-effective manner.

No longer can local government just advocate for positive change or for what they might need; we now have to play defense and constantly monitor the fiscal and regulatory effects of every potential bill. 

As one of my colleagues said, "If local governments are not at the table, we may find ourselves on the menu." 

From the Mayor: The Importance of Trees to the Village PDF Print Email

Nov. 20, 2013:  This past fall the village planted over 20 street trees, including red maples, lindens, and pears, but given that we lost over 100 during the past two years of storms, we are clearly playing catch-up.

Unfortunately, this number does not even take into account the many lost on private property due to storms or disease or, sadly, healthy ones removed for expansion or remodeling.

The village does not have a tree ordinance, as we have historically relied on the foresight and stewardship of our residents to value this intrinsic asset. With few, though glaring, exceptions, this has been the case.

"Street" trees serve architectural and engineering functions beyond the aesthetic value. They enhance building design, reduce glare and reflection, screen unsightly areas, muffle urban noise, and reduce the "heat island effect" caused by pavement and commercial buildings.

As an added plus, urban trees grow in value as they age, while most other municipal assets, including roads and sewers, decline in value.

Trees on private property produce even greater monetary value. Studies have demonstrated that 10 to 23% of the value of a residence is based on its tree stock.  A municipality also captures some of this monetary value as enhanced property values increase assessed values and the resulting tax base.

Trees also provide important symbolic links with the past and are important often simply because they have lived through eras with which we have few other connections left.

They also positively alter our environment by moderating climate, improving air quality, harboring wildlife, preserving soil, and conserving water.

As example:

  • Tree roots hold soil in place, slow run-off, and combat erosion.

  • Leafy trees catch precipitation before it reaches the ground, allowing some to drip and evaporate, thereby reducing run-off and erosion.

  • Leaf litter creates an environment for earthworms and other organisms that helps maintain soil quality.

  • Trees reduce the heat intensity of the greenhouse effect by maintaining low levels of carbon dioxide.

  • Trees also remove gaseous pollutants from the air by absorption of particulates such as ozone sulfur dioxide and PAN, the chemical component of smog.

  • Trees also shield people from ultraviolet rays, reducing UVB exposure by about 50%. Trees are especially important on playgrounds, where children spend hours outdoors. 

Not only do the trees themselves represent economic value, the ancillary benefits also translate into long-term economic savings.

  • The net cooling effect of just one young healthy tree is equivalent to 10 room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day. Well-placed trees on a property can cut air conditioning cost by 10% to 15% as well as indirectly cutting the carbon dioxide emissions from cooling units.

  • Rows of trees, even small conifers, reduce wind speed up to 85%, and a good windbreak can save up to 25% of winter heating costs.

Selecting a tree that will thrive in a given set of site conditions is the key to long-term tree survival. Before selecting a tree for planting, many factors should be considered: the soil conditions, exposure to sun and wind, human activity near the tree site, drainage, space constraints, and hardiness zone. The tree must also have adequate space to grow to maturity both above and below ground. Of particular importance in Bronxville is a tree's proximity to power lines. Con Edison has the absolute right to trim trees into the infamous "V" shape to expose their wires.

The Bronxville Historical Conservancy has embarked on a project to delineate native plant and tree species best suited for the various topographical differences in village neighborhoods. The end product will be a very useful, long-term guide for successful planting in the village.

If you spot a distressed or dead tree or notice a public location that merits a tree, please email us at village hall at CLOAKING , and we will put the location on our list for remediation.

From the Mayor: Westchester Is Home to Many Luminaries PDF Print Email

Nov. 13, 2013:  In doing my research last week on Westchester County political offices, I had a wonderful moment of "accidental learning" as I stumbled upon articles about the county itself. We have a very interesting and storied home. 

From the historical perspective, Westchester was home to many luminaries. Before his rout at the Battle of White Plains in 1776, George Washington stayed at the Elijah Miller House, which still stands on Virginia Road in North White Plains, and when the yellow fever epidemic hit Philadelphia, our second president, John Adams, was forced to leave and came to live with his daughter on Route 22 in Mount Vernon. 

Founding Father John Jay was raised in Rye, matriculated at King's College (Columbia) at age 14, and went on to be governor, co-author of the Federalist Papers, and first chief justice of the Supreme Court before retiring to a homestead in Bedford.

After winning the popular vote but losing the presidential election of 1876 to Rutherford B. Hayes, Democratic New York Governor Samuel J. Tilden retired to a Yonkers estate, Greystone, a 30-room stone villa including the gardens of the now Untermyer Park. 

The third vice president, Aaron Burr, often tried cases at St. Paul's Church in Mount Vernon, and when colonel of the Continental Army, took command of the forces in White Plains.

Horace Greeley, founder of the New York Tribune and the Republican Party as well as a presidential candidate against Ulysses S. Grant in 1872, was a Chappaqua resident and has been immortalized as a namesake of a local high school. 

John Peter Zenger wrote an article about an Eastchester town election that heavily criticized the New York governor and resulted in a trial for "seditious libel."  The result in favor of Zenger led to the enshrining of freedom of the press in the Bill of Rights. 

In the more recent past, a Mount Vernon native, Lt. Ira Palm, led a raid on Adolph Hitler’s Munich apartment in 1945. Though Hitler was not there, Lt. Palm returned home with a gold-plated pistol bearing the letters AH. 

Among the county's many firsts include an elevator company, Otis, in Yonkers; the first self-made female millionaire, hair care maven Madame C. J. Walker of Irvington; America's oldest golf club, St. Andrew's, founded in 1899; and the first synthetic plastic, Bakelite, made in Yonkers. 

In 1912, an inquisitive college student from Yonkers, Edwin Armstrong, invented FM radio, and the year prior, a Dominican nun named Mother Mary Alphonsa founded the first home for terminal cancer patients. Born Rose Hawthorne, she was the daughter of American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, and when she opened a second home in Unionville, the town was renamed Hawthorne in her honor. 

Tuckahoe marble was used to build the New York Public Library, the Federal Reserve Bank in the Wall Street area, St. Patrick's Cathedral, the US Capitol, and the Washington Monument. Painter Norman Rockwell lived in New Rochelle from 1913 to 1939 and painted many of his famous Saturday Evening Post covers while in residence. 

Westchester's highest point at 982 feet is in Mountain Lake Park in North Salem, and our oldest building dates back to 1667 and is still in use as a library for the Rye Historical Society. Westchester is home to over 50 parks and 18,000 acres of green space, the largest being Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, five times the size of Central Park. 

On a less historical and rather fun bent, the Glen Island Harbour Club was built as a summer resort, and during the big-band era, the venue helped launch the careers of Les Brown, the Dorsey Brothers, and Glenn Miller. Its casino adjunct was closed in 1978. 

Howard Stern started his radio career as a disc jockey in Briarcliff Manor, and Beatles' wives Yoko Ono and Linda McCartney both lived in Scarsdale and attended Sarah Lawrence College. One of Scarsdale’s more infamous residents was FBI agent Robert Hanssen, who sold state secrets and began his treason while living in Scarsdale in the late 1970s. Aussie actor Mel Gibson was actually a Peekskill resident until the age of 12.   

A tunnel in the shuttered Memorial Field on Sanford Boulevard in Mount Vernon was used to film the iconic "Mean Joe Greene" Coke commercials so popular in the early 1980s. 

Even though we are home of the cocktail--because legend has it that American soldiers in Elmsford often stole tail feathers from Tory-owned chickens before heading to O'Brien's for a few beverages and the tavern's barmaid began to decorate the potables with the plumage thus birthing the cocktail--Crain's New York Business says we are New York's slimmest, fittest county for our low rates of obesity, inactivity, and diabetes. We truly live in a fascinating county!

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