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From the Mayor: Crucial State Legislative Priorities for Local Governments in NY PDF Print Email

Oct. 30, 2013:  I have been asked to join a panel of New York State mayors to set the state legislative priorities for the upcoming legislative session for our parent organization, the New York State Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials (NYCOM).

Though at times, I have felt it an exercise in futility of late due to inaction on the part of the legislature, the voice of those in the trenches is critical to the conversation.

Pension Reform:  Number one--pension reform--will always be the number-one priority because the current system is unsustainable and it is the single most expensive state mandate in terms of local property tax dollars.

Just since 2010, the average contribution rates charged to local governments have increased by 91% for police and fire personnel and 182% for non-uniformed staff.  These devastating increases have already led to property tax increases coupled with a diminution of local services and the work force necessary to deliver them.

In an effort to curry favor for his gubernatorial run, then New York State comptroller Carl McCall rescinded the small 3% contribution to the pension program by some state workers costing taxpayers billions of dollars in the years since that election. The 3% contribution for Tier 3 and 4 employees needs to be reinstated at a minimum while the entire system is overhauled. 

The state's current "defined benefit" system is virtually nonexistent in the private sector, and the average retirement benefit for retirees in New York State is more than twice the average company or union pension benefit.

There has been a perennial unwillingness for state elected officials to address the pension issue. In some cases, it is a fear of not being re-elected and not staying in office long enough to avail themselves of this same generous benefit.

I would argue that these legislators, because of their inaction, are the real enemies of the state worker. The system is simply unsustainable, and without changes the system will go bankrupt and then all is lost.

Unfunded Mandates:  State mayors are also united in supporting legislation to constitutionally prohibit the enactment of laws that impose an unfunded mandate or fiscal burden on local communities. 

All current unfunded mandates should also be required to sunset in two years unless it can be demonstrated that the mandate is essential and a funding source found to offset the cost to local governments. Currently, there are more than 200 state unfunded mandates.

One particularly onerous unfunded mandate is the Wicks Law, dating back to 1912 and affecting both village and school construction projects. Under the current law, separate plumbing, heating, electrical, etc.--virtually all contracts on a construction project--must be separately bid. The coordination issues involved often lead to costly delays, increased administration costs and lawsuits, raising the cost of projects anywhere from 8% to 30%.

Other smaller but costly mandates are found in the myriad of state tort laws. Their impact amplifies the financial exposure a local government faces from lawsuits and increases the incentive to commence frivolous lawsuits against municipalities. Under current state law, private defendants are allowed to offset the amount of any damage awards by the amount a plaintiff receives from collateral sources such as insurance. Municipal defendants do not receive the same benefit and in addition must pay interest on judgments at a rate of 9% regardless of the prevailing rate.

Gross Receipts Tax:  Because of the myriad of unfunded mandates, municipalities are desperate for additional sources of non-property tax revenue. NYCOM urges an increase in the rate and to expand the scope of the utility gross receipts tax (GRT). 

Currently, cities and villages have the option of imposing a GRT on the gross operating income of utility companies at a rate of 1%. Bronxville exercises this option. I along with my colleagues support a rate increase to 3% that is already enjoyed by Buffalo, Rochester, and Yonkers. 

Additionally, in recognition of the predominance of wireless technology and to achieve equity in the tax treatment for all telecommunication providers, cellular service should be subject to the local GRT. Both the state and New York City have already made changes to their respective statutes to include cellular service as taxable for the state's excise tax and New York City's gross receipts tax.

I am hopeful that some of the initiatives above can be accomplished via a true partnership between state and local governments, because one can certainly make the argument that local officials represent the biggest special interest group of all--the New York State taxpayers.

 
From the Mayor: Myriad of Projects; Some in Infancy, Others Reach Fruition PDF Print Email

Oct. 23, 2013: The trustees and I are working on a myriad of projects; some in infancy and others about to reach fruition.

Hydrant Maintenance Bill: Just this week, we received very good news that the hydrant maintenance bill that we have championed for several years with nine other communities was passed by both state houses and sits on the governor's desk for signature. If signed, the bill will allow our water company to spread the cost of hydrant maintenance over all water users instead of the responsibility placed solely on the village property taxpayers. The village will realize $130,000, equating to almost one and one half tax percentage points, if the law goes into effect.

Scout Field: Almost four years in the making, the County of Westchester and the Town of Eastchester agreed to contributing upgrades of over $800,000 to the Scout Field complex, with Eastchester taking a lead role in field scheduling. In the coming days, the Town of Eastchester and the Village of Bronxville will enter into an inter-municipal agreement delineating the field needs of The Bronxville School and in turn the responsibilities the school and the village will undertake as partners with the town. With the closing of the day camp, the village does not have any events on the field, but by law all agreements with the county and town on such usage must be between a government unit and a government unit and not a school district.

Parkway Road Bridge: We are still working with all the parties involved--the county, the City of Yonkers, the Town of Eastchester, and our village--to formulate an equitable distribution of the cost to repair the Parkway Road bridge. Our hope is that the responsibilities can be resolved without seeking legal review. Upon the request of neighbors, we did petition the state department of transportation to remove the large, unsightly signage. We ask for your patience as we find an equitable solution.

Phase II of Business District Revitalization: We are about to embark on Phase II of our downtown business district revitalization plan, which will be two-pronged at the outset. The experts are to offer us ideas/potential village code changes to streamline the business approval process while not sacrificing quality review. Our neighbors in Scarsdale recently accomplished this with much success. On a parallel path, a parking analysis will focus on identifying strategies to maximize existing parking resources through smart management of time intervals, pricing, location restrictions, etc., and evaluating the amount of needed future additional parking, especially in light of the increase in food and service businesses.

Village Website: At the October trustees' meeting, the village board approved a revamping of our village website to make it more informative and user friendly and to allow residents to access services from home.

Village Lighting: As fall is upon us and night comes earlier, we are very mindful of the need for enhanced village lighting. We will soon be embarking on a village-wide plan to increase and upgrade lighting throughout the village with an emphasis on energy efficiency. In the interim, we will soon be adding temporary additional lighting at the Park Place and Kraft Avenue intersections near Starbucks. We are vigilant in changing street light bulbs and if a light is out in front of your home for more than a few days, it is a Con Ed issue. We are efficient about alerting Con Ed to the problems but find the response time unacceptable. 

Metro-North Railroad: We also operate with a similar level of frustration with our other monopoly, Metro-North railroad. The condition of our underpass, which is a Metro-North responsibility, has deteriorated to beyond unattractive levels. Assured that there are no structural integrity issues, I have nonetheless sent photos of the underpass conditions to everyone I could think of at Metro-North. I await a response. In desperation in the past, the village has offered to step in on cosmetic repairs but was denied due to jurisdictional and liability issues.

Street Signs: In concert with our police department and department of public works, trustee Poorman and I have undertaken an effort to rid the village of duplicate, useless, faded, or damaged street signs. We have become numbed to the steady proliferation of signage, but a closer look at some of our poles will demonstrate the unattractiveness of sign pollution. If you notice a damaged or duplicate sign in your neighborhood, email me at CLOAKING  and we will add it to the list for removal or refurbishment.

Paddle Tennis Courts: In an effort to reintroduce our residents to our unique village asset--our paddle courts--we have lowered the cost of the resident permit to $100 individual/$150 family. Our hope is that more villagers, young and old, will take up what is a lifelong sport! Permits can be purchased at village hall from Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm or by mail. If you are also interested in serving on our village paddle committee, please volunteer by calling Karen Buccheri at 914-337-6500. 

 
From the Mayor: STAR (Property Tax Relief) Requires Registration by December 31 PDF Print Email

 

Oct. 16, 2013:  All New York State homeowners receiving the Basic STAR (School Property Tax Relief) tax exemption must now register with the New York State Tax Department in order to receive the STAR exemption in 2014 and going forward. Every current recipient will receive registration instructions by mail with a registration deadline of December 31, 2013.

Senior citizens receiving Enhanced STAR benefits are not affected by the new registration requirements. In order to continue to receive the Enhanced STAR, seniors must renew annually at village hall.

The Basic STAR tax exemption is available to all New York State citizens living in their owner-occupied primary residence where the adjusted gross income of the owner(s) and spouse(s) is less than $500,000.  Since the Village of Bronxville assesses at 100% of current fair market value, STAR exempts approximately $96,000 of the full value of a home from school taxes.

The Enhanced STAR provides a further benefit for senior citizens living in their primary and owner-occupied residence as long as the owner is 65 and over and has an income of $81,900 or less. 

For the upcoming 2013-2014 tax bills, the Enhanced STAR will exempt the first $203,310 of the full value of a home from school taxes.

Of the over 200 tax exemptions granted by the State of New York, STAR is the only one actually funded by the state. Called a tax cut when initiated as part of Governor Patacki's 1997-1998 budget, STAR is fundamentally a tax shift from residential homeowners to those property owners who are ineligible under the program, including renters, owners of industrial or commercial properties, and second and vacation homeowners.

Condominium and cooperative owners are eligible under STAR if a unit is their primary residence. Residents are required to apply individually in order to receive this exemption. Worried that STAR would encourage school districts to spend more, Governor Patacki included a school tax cap provision in the original legislation, but the legislature uncoupled the provisions and only passed the STAR exemption. The further Enhanced STAR was partially motivated to encourage senior citizens to support their local school budget votes.

At its inception in 1998, the program cost the state $582 million. In the 2010-11 budget, $3.2 billion was expended for STAR benefits to 3.4 million residents, making it the largest state exemption program by a wide margin.

STAR monies are sent directly to local school districts, thereby running counter to the distribution of most state education aid. Districts with the highest potential for financing public education also receive proportionately the most property tax relief under STAR. 

When traditional formulas are used, state education aid is targeted more heavily to low-wealth districts. STAR relief flows more towards wealthier communities because by design STAR concentrates its rewards in districts with high levels of homeownership.

As illustration, while approximately 70% of residents throughout New York State are homeowners, just 35% of New York City residents own their residences, making 65% of the city population ineligible for STAR.

While the STAR program remains immensely popular among state politicians in both parties, the new procedures are the result of conclusions in the audit of the program by the state attorney general this past February. The audit determined that fully 20% of those on the STAR program were ineligible for the benefits, translating into a loss of $13 million in state monies just this past year.

State officials agree that the data demonstrates rampant double-dipping and abuses. The two most pervasive problems are multiple property exemptions by one owner in New York and using two states as a "primary" residence. 

Local assessors simply lack the state database to find double-dippers. The problem is further exacerbated because the exemption does not have unique identifiers for tracking ease such as employed in Florida. It is hoped that the centralization of the STAR data will minimize the very large incidence of abuse that is costing taxpayers dearly.

For additional information, you can call 518-457-2036 or go to www.tax.ny.gov.    

 
From the Mayor: Pay Attention to Six Amendments on November 5 Ballot PDF Print Email



Oct. 9, 2013:  The New York State Legislature has proposed six constitutional amendments that will appear on the November 5 ballot. Though often ignored in relation to election for office holders, because voters often do not cast ballots for topics they have not studied, the amendment changes do have lasting impact.

Like most state constitutions, New York's provisions tend to be more detailed than those in its federal counterpart and therefore amended more often. There have been 220 amendments to the current constitution since 1895.  Because constitutions protect fundamental rights and define core governmental structures, they are logically harder to amend than ordinary laws.

To change the New York State Constitution, both chambers of the legislature in successive legislative sessions must approve the proposed amendment by a simple majority vote. It is then referred to the New York State attorney general, who is required to provide a written opinion as to how the proposed amendment language meshes with other provisions of the constitution. If voters, after a general statewide vote, approve the amendment by a simple majority vote, it becomes part of the constitution on January 1. The governor has no formal role in this process.

Proposed First Amendment:  The first amendment allowing an expansion of casino gambling has dwarfed all others in attention and a great fall off in votes is expected on the other issues.  In addition to the five casinos run by Indian tribes and the nine state-run racinos, the proposed amendment would add a maximum of seven full-scale casinos, most located north of Albany. Proponents of the amendment believe casinos that will provide tourism and good jobs and will increase revenue currently lost to Connecticut and New Jersey and that the constitutional provision that limits the growth to seven will curb their proliferation. Opponents argue that expanding casino gambling increases gambling addiction and has harmful effects on the casino communities, including increased crime.

Note:  In a very interesting divergence, the casino amendment is the only one with one-sided positive wording stating that approval would be "for the legislated purposes of promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools, and permitting local governments to lower property taxes." This is a clear departure from the non-judgmental bone-dry language always employed in proposed amendments. How this passed muster with the ultimate arbiter, the state board of elections, remains a mystery.

Proposed Second Amendment:  Amendment Two would allow veterans who were disabled in combat to get more "points" when competing for jobs within the civil service system. Because it alters the civil service law, the change has to come via a constitutional amendment. Those in favor of the change argue that the amendment would not only increase employment opportunities for disabled veterans, but would also put their training and experience to work for state and local governments. Currently, there is no expressed opposition to this change.

Proposed Third Amendment:  Amendment Three would allow local governments to exceed their long-term debt limits if the money is used for sewage improvements. This exemption began in 1963 and has been extended every ten years since. The genesis of the 1963 amendment was to encourage municipalities to participate in a then-new state sewer construction plan without impairing the financing of other needed capital improvements. Since pollution concerns continue as well as the need to constantly maintain and upgrade sewage treatment systems, this amendment appears to be universally non-controversial.

Next Two Proposed Amendments:  The next two amendments (amendments four and five) address land within the Adirondack Parks and the New York State Constitution via the "forever-wild" clause, which forbids the lease, sale, exchange, or taking of forest preserve land without a constitutional change.

The proposed fourth amendment would settle a century-old private-public dispute over 200 parcels near Raquette Lake. Proponents of the amendment believe it will finally settle a long-standing and costly dispute and in the end, in a land trade, will actually add significantly to the Adirondack Preserve. Opponents believe such disputes should be resolved via the judicial system and not a constitutional change, setting a very poor precedent for this type of dispute resolution going forward.

The proposed fifth amendment would authorize a land swap with a private company, NYCO Minerals of Willsboro, to expand its current wollastonite mine (a mineral used in paints, plastics, and auto parts).  The current mine has only three to four years of material remaining. In exchange for mining on adjoining property, which would extend company operations by eight to ten years, upon completion the land would be donated back to the state. Proponents argue a "yes" vote would preserve jobs in a very depressed area and eventually leave New York with more preserved park land. Opponents fear that a dangerous precedent would be set as a constitutional revision is undertaken for private gain and not a clear public purpose. They also argue that alternatives on NYCO’s current private property are viable.

Proposed Sixth Amendment:  The final proposed amendment would increase to 80 from 70 the maximum age supreme court and appeals court justices could stay on the bench. Proponents believe that the services of experienced, dedicated judges is being lost to a retirement matrix that does not reflect current life expectancies. Opponents argue conversely that the current retirement rule encourages fresh ideas, healthy turnover, and diversity.

Net-net, the more umbrella issue is whether the above issues are truly worthy of state-wide constitutional amendment versus less expensive ways of adjudication or change.

 
From the Mayor: Valuable Home Safety Services Offered by Bronxville Police Department PDF Print Email

 

Oct. 2, 2013:  At the extremely successful "Salute to Seniors Day" this past Saturday, where we said a village-wide thank you for all the contributions of our senior citizens, our police chief was perhaps the most listened-to speaker as he shared safety tips with the audience.

Much of the information seems so applicable to all our residents, not just our seniors, and thus worth sharing with a wider audience.

Our police department offers many safety services that add to the peace and security of village life. 

As an example:

  • Residents can leave a house or apartment key at the police department, where it will be stored in a secure and locked cabinet. It can be signed out for something as mundane as a lockout to being used by police and fire emergency services. As illustration, just last week, a 90-year-old-plus resident fell during the night and could not reach the door. Because we had her key on file, the police did not have to smash in her door or call a relative or the super and were able to get her medical aid immediately.

  • Our police will also do a security evaluation of residences, advising on door and window locks, whether more lighting is needed or if trees and hedges should be trimmed to enhance visibility.

  • If away, even for only a few days, a call to our department for a "dark house" patrol will result in an officer checking on your property daily.

  • It is extremely helpful if you alert our police department to any particular needs of the home occupants--whether someone is hard of hearing, wheelchair bound, or has emotional needs. Our police department can then tailor their response to one's particular situation, resulting in a better and tailored response. 

Some other vacation tips include:

  • Putting timers on TVs and radios as well as lights so the house appears occupied.

  • Phone ringers, especially in apartments, should be lowered as an audible persistently ringing phone is a sign of an empty apartment.

  • Ask a neighbor to pick up the PennySaver or other advertisements that cannot be cancelled, as the red wrappers in a driveway are a public notice that no one is home.

  • Even when home, cars should always be locked and valuables removed from plain site. The vast majority of our car thefts are not break-ins, rather, crimes of opportunity when unlocked doors are tried, opened, and GPS, money, and valuables taken.

  • If upon return to your home you think something has been disturbed, do not enter your residence; rather, dial 911 from the street or a neighbor's home.  If you enter your home, the intruder could still be inside and/or you might touch items and destroy anything of evidentiary value.
  • It is important to note that the Bronxville as well as the Eastchester and Tuckahoe Police Departments never solicit support by phone, so any such funds raised never reach the departments.

  • Just recently, residents have been receiving very professional-looking notices alerting them to "free" airline tickets or lotteries they have won, all just requiring a small check to secure the huge prize. As a rule, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

  • A more insidious recent scam is transmitted through the email system as well as the phone. A "concerned" person alerts someone that a friend's wallet was stolen or a grandchild's car broken down, and money must be sent immediately. The perpetrators are quite clever, often knowing the correct names of the grandchildren or friend in need.

Some other excellent safety tips shared by Chief Satriale include: 

  • Keeping car and house keys on separate rings and unlabeled, so if lost, cars and homes are not vulnerable to theft.

  • Medications and their doses, blood type, and special medical conditions of each family member should be in an envelope on a bulletin board or affixed to the refrigerator so that if EMS is needed, the responders will immediately know your allergies or particular medical needs. These have proved to be lifesaving documents.

  • When moving into a new dwelling, always have the locks re-keyed or changed.

  • If living alone, only list your last name on the mailbox and in the telephone directory.

  • Always ask for identification before allowing any service worker into your home. Unfortunately, uniforms of various companies are not that difficult to purchase to deceive a homeowner to gain entry.

  • And finally, if you see or hear anything suspicious, do not hesitate to call the police and do so immediately. As trained professionals, let them make the final determination of the activity. 
 
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