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From the Mayor: Modest Budget Increase for 2018-2019, but Many Projects PDF Print Email

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By Mary C. Marvin, Mayor, Village of Bronxville


Mar. 28, 2018:  It is the yearly budget season, when trustees must go into overdrive. Warts and all, here is where we are with our preliminary budget. We will continue to dissect it at a public work session on April 9.

As an overview, our budget calls for general fund appropriations of $16,458,082, an increase of $274,675, or 1.7%, from the 2017-2018 adopted budget. The village has a taxable value of $3,160,000,000, reflecting an increase of $45,631,022 from last year.

The net result is a real estate tax levy increase of 3.84%, resulting in a 2.35% increase in real property taxes next fiscal year.

In real-dollar impact, the village median-priced home with a value of $2,200,000 would see a $160.60 increase in the village bill to $6,976.20. Along the continuum, a home valued at $1.2 million would see a $79.00 increase to $3,440, and a home valued at $4.2 million would see a $307.00 increase to $13,348.

The principal drivers for the modest budget increase is a salary increase attributable to the fourth year of a negotiated labor contract with our police department as well as a significant ($70,000) increase in our health insurance payments.

To put it in perspective, the 2017-2018 village fiscal year saw many exciting and long-planned projects come to fruition, notably the completion of the flood mitigation project and the opening of Villa BXV, hospital enhancements, and the Kensington Road parking garage. 

The proposed revenue side of the equation is projected to be down by $191,351 as a corollary to our major initiatives. Parking meter revenues dropped near the respective construction sites, and building permit revenue will decrease to reflect the completion of the major projects. The good news is that revenues from sales tax, state-local funding share, mortgage tax, and franchise and gross receipts tax are on track to remain largely unchanged.

Expenses unique to this budget are the purchase of Kevlar vests for our police. This expense appears every five years, as the fiber of the vests disintegrates after a five-year life. In addition, we needed to add a new budget item--electricity for the new Kensington garage. Our new camera system has also added some first-time expenditures. 

Believe it or not, the snow season was not a budget-breaker, as we calculate our snow removal projections based on ten years of costs, so it served to even out.

In an effort to plan for the future, we have created a tax stabilization reserve through the use of $500,000 from unassigned tax reserves, still leaving us with an unassigned fund balance reflecting a very healthy 38% of proposed appropriations. The healthy fund balance will ensure retention of the highest possible bond rating for a village as well as monies on hand to contemplate major improvement projects.

The focus of the trustees this past year has been to retain the highest level of services to villagers while being good stewards of the future.

To that end, the 2017-18 year included the commencement or completion of an unprecedented number of capital projects focusing on repairs of a now 100-year-old-plus infrastructure.

To put it in a more global perspective, the passage of the proposed budget as described above will be 14¢ of your town/county tax dollars, with the other costs being fire, 8.6¢, county government, 13¢, school taxes, 60¢, Eastchester Town taxes, 2¢, and sewer and water district taxes equating to 3¢ per dollar. On the village level, 17¢ of every tax dollar funds the municipal government.

There is not much room for further trimming. One possible exception would be the collection of leaves in bags vs on-street pickup, which would save almost $100,000.

Staffing, which is the major cost driver of all municipal budgets, is as lean as possible. In the 30 years that I have been in the village, the police department, public works department, and administrative staff are at their lowest personnel numbers.

In addition, people are crossed-trained, especially in the administrative division. As an example, our front desk staffer is also now the registrar responsible for the several thousand birth and death certificates we process yearly.

Our village administrator is also our village clerk responsible for running all elections and being a Memorial Day parade coordinator in addition to his regular duties.

I am confident that in this budget we continued to maximize the use of your tax dollars and prepared a responsible budget, mindful of the fact that we are stewards of your tax dollars.

Editor's note:  As a public service, MyhometownBronxville publishes press releases, statements, and articles from local institutions, legislators, and candidates. MyhometownBronxville does not fact-check statements therein, and any opinions expressed therein do not necessarily reflect the thinking of its staff.

 
From the Mayor: Recounting Preparations and Emergency Procedures for Handling the Recent Storms PDF Print Email

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By Mary C. Marvin, Mayor, Village of Bronxville


Mar. 14, 2018:  After the past few weeks, I thought it would be instructive to share a diary of the process of “repowering” our village, as roles and procedures are not often intuitive.

From village hall’s perspective, the chronology was this:

From Tuesday to Thursday, February 27 to March 1, we tracked the storm via special county storm reports. We began a time-tested process of preparing for increased staffing and the fueling and maintenance of all equipment possibly needed. In addition, we also checked the new pumps at the school.

On Friday, March 2, we participated in a morning Con Edison conference call gauging the storm’s impending intensity. The Westchester County Emergency Operations Center was also activated.

At that same time, the village sent out a first in a series of emergency notifications advising residents to call Con Ed directly at 800-752-6633 in the event of a power outage. Their procedure requires calls from the individual homeowners. Calling our police department, or making the assumption that since your entire neighborhood is out they would include you as well, does not translate onto their all-important outage map.

In-house, the police department and public works staff coordinated their response to possible road closures.

On Friday morning, March 2, wind and rain began taking down power lines, necessitating immediate road closures. Concurrently, the village declared an official state of emergency. (This is one of the prerequisites required for later seeking state or federal reimbursement.) Public works employees and police officers were held over and others called in. We retained a tree contractor in advance to be on call and asked Con Ed for a municipal liaison to base at village hall. The police department began the process of tracking all downed wires, power outages, and road closures and communicated the information to the Eastchester Fire Department. Later in the evening, Con Ed sent an on-site liaison who fact-checked and updated the outage database.

Simultaneously, village staff, especially Village Administrator Jim Palmer, personally checked affected neighborhoods.

Friday night into Saturday, our DPW cleared roads of trees and debris. However, if live wires were present, they had to wait for a Con Ed crew to “cut and clear.”

By Saturday afternoon, March 3, all roads, save for Summit and Tanglewylde Avenues, were re-opened and we continued to request crew presence in our village.

On Sunday, March 4, Verizon installed four new poles on Summit and Tanglewylde Avenues and the streets were re-opened. We continued to plead with Con Ed for any crew assistance.

Finally, late in the afternoon, a crew arrived from Wisconsin, did a damage assessment, and prepared to begin restoration Monday morning.

Early Monday morning, we learned Con Edison had reassigned the crew at the last minute as a “cut and clear” team in another community. As a side note, communities that pre-emptively cleared their streets received no added benefit in increased service restoration.

We were reassured that the Wisconsin crew would be with us “first thing” Tuesday morning only to learn they, too, had been reassigned as a “cut and clear” crew. At the time, schools were still closed in northern Westchester due to live wire issues, so they were determined a priority.

Wednesday, just pre-storm number two, two Wisconsin crews arrived and restored Tanglewylde, Sturgis, and Homesdale. We continued to call Con Ed, as persistence seemed a persuasive factor, for crews to address Summit Avenue, the Hilltop, and Avon Road.

Final restorations post-storm were made Thursday through Saturday on Summit, Prescott, and Elm Rock.

Throughout the entire process, we committed to using our new “Swift Reach” notification process to share the facts as we learned them.

Sadly, it felt like the movie Groundhog Day as we relived the exact same negative experience during Sandy. 

In the post-mortem, most are agreeing that the system of mutual aid was to blame. The procedure is entirely controlled by the utilities themselves, with the New York State Public Service Commission having input only after the fact.

Immediately post Sandy, a state panel identified the Con Ed system as “deficient” and in need of reform. However, the same procedure remains in place.

Essentially, Con Ed is too slow to call for backup, this time summoning crews only after tens of thousands of customers lost power. The longer the utility waits, the farther the available crews must travel and more expenses are incurred as Con Ed must cover salaries, transportation costs, and lodging. Hence, trucks around Westchester were from Wisconsin, Florida, and Quebec.

Sadly, municipalities and their residents have little recourse. First and foremost, Con Ed is a monopoly, so bargaining power is realistically nonexistent. In addition, Con Edison’s franchise agreement with the state holds the company not liable for “conditions beyond the company’s control such as storms, floods, vandalism, strikes or fires as long as reasonable efforts are made to restore service.” 

Con Edison’s chairman and CEO recently acknowledged that the company’s information and communication system, including online outage maps and projected restoration times, experienced “very significant problems” and “the end result was something very negative.” (Many residents received the response that power was not restored due to their home community’s fault!)

Just as post-Sandy, he pledged “a review of performance once power is completely restored.”

I have joined my fellow elected officials at every state level to register our dissatisfaction, frustration, and anger at the service from a company with $1.5 billion in net annual income whose motto seems to be “let it run until it fails.”

Editor's note:  As a public service, MyhometownBronxville publishes press releases, statements, and articles from local institutions, legislators, and candidates. MyhometownBronxville does not fact-check statements therein, and any opinions expressed therein do not necessarily reflect the thinking of its staff.

 
From the Mayor: Wish List Unanimously Adopted by Mayors at NYS Conference of Mayors PDF Print Email

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By Mary C. Marvin, Mayor, Village of Bronxville


Mar. 7, 2018:  I recently returned from the three-day New York State Conference of Mayors in Albany. I find it one of the most productive gatherings of minds. The mayors who show up and attend in the hundreds tend to be less political and quite collegial.

Under the philosophy of not reinventing the wheel, so many ideas, documents, and cautionary tales are shared, and this has saved me hours at our local level. Though quite collegial and upbeat, the conference often can be rooms of shared frustration with a sense of déjà vu because it is quite clear to the powers that be that elected officials are not “special interests” like police, teachers, fire unions, and tort attorneys. Our constituencies are everyone, but in a sense, no one, so our voices don’t offer reach to the levels of influence of those with election fund coffers and voting blocs.

But we are uniquely optimistic and craft legislative priorities on a yearly basis with the hope that some of the items will at least be brought to the attention of lawmakers and the public at large.

The following is the list we compiled together with unanimous agreement, and I urge you to reach out to our legislators if any topic particularly resonates for you.

Increase Unrestricted State Aid to Municipalities

A recent Cornell University survey identified stagnant state aid as one of the top contributors to local government fiscal stress in New York. Municipalities have suffered through nine straight years without an aid increase, receiving $715 million annually in contrast to the $24 billion directed to school districts. In fact, the governor’s proposed budget increases aid to school districts this year by $770 million, more than the aggregate amount received by all communities in the state. The 2% tax cap, which has been well below 2% virtually since its inception, only accentuates the need for further growth in unrestricted state aid.

Amend the Tax Cap

  • Make the cap a true 2%, akin to the state governments' “voluntary” cap and delink it from inflation.  (There were years the cap was actually 0.2%.)

  • Provide an exclusion from the cap for municipal expenditures on public infrastructure just as school districts and the state have from their respective caps.

Increase State Funding for Water and Sewer Infrastructure

We are all addressing crumbling sewer and storm water systems with much of the infrastructure over 100 years old, including our own. No one has been able to keep pace with the constant deterioration of pipes. A fund would help all of us address our systems before expensive crises emerge. 

Prohibit Unfunded State Mandates

Statutory or regulatory mandates that impose a direct or indirect fiscal burden on local governments should be prohibited unless an appropriation is made sufficient to hold local governments harmless. During the past legislative session, the governor signed three very expensive bills relating to volunteer firefighter disability benefits, paid leave, and filing deadlines for disability benefits that added fiscal burdens to local government.

Increase Funding for Local Roads

Again, funding for needed road and bridge repairs have remained flat despite the accelerated deterioration of roads and bridges. As illustration, local governments are now required to buy more eco-friendly blacktop mixes that incorporate old street pavement. Though this clearly results in savings on oil reserves, the roads are proving to have a lifespan of a third less than conventional blacktop mixtures.

Authorize Municipalities to Charge for Services Provided to Tax-Exempt Properties

Local governments, at local option, should be permitted to defray the cost of local services provided, such as police protection, fire protection, street maintenance, and lighting and sanitation services. Currently, municipalities are expressly prohibited from charging property owners that are tax-exempt entities for some of the most costly services, chief among them police and fire services.

In 2017, Gannett conducted a study of tax exemptions in New York State that highlighted the magnitude of the issue. Approximately $866 billion in property is exempt from local taxes; the number of wholly exempt parcels in New York grew from 179,420 in 1999 to 219,602 in 2016, a 22% increase; and the value of those properties more than doubled from $276 billion to $576 billion over the same period.

Level the Sales Tax Playing Field

As a result of the rapid increase in e-commerce, main street brick-and-mortar businesses are at an unfair disadvantage. In addition, local sales tax revenue that villages and towns receive is determined by their respective county governments. Mayors support providing a role for towns and villages in negotiating these sharing agreements.

Restructure the Local Gross Receipts Tax

One of the few sources of local non-property tax revenue available to local governments is a tax on communication services. Because the laws governing the topic were written decades ago, villages and cities, unlike both the state and New York City, are governed by statutes that do not include cellular services. In recognition of the predominance of wireless technology, local governments want the same privilege.

Election Reforms

In a very interesting development, Governor Cuomo’s 2018–19 executive budget includes a proposal to amend the state Constitution to allow New Yorkers to register and vote on the same day. In addition, the executive budget would enact a system of automatic voter registration when someone applies for a driver’s license. It would also authorize early voting in all special, primary, and general elections. This would require early voting polling sites to be open for a period of 12 days prior to special, primary, and general elections. 

Editor's note:  As a public service, MyhometownBronxville publishes press releases, statements, and articles from local institutions, legislators, and candidates. MyhometownBronxville does not fact-check statements therein, and any opinions expressed therein do not necessarily reflect the thinking of its staff.

 
From the Mayor: Budgets, Taxes, and Financial Health PDF Print Email

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By Mary C. Marvin, Mayor, Village of Bronxville


Feb. 21, 2018: Last week, I wrote about longevity and stress reduction. In a complete one-eighty, I am focusing on budgets, taxes, and financial health–proven stress inducers!

Our village budget must be approved and filed with the state by May 1, so the staff, trustees, and I are already culling numbers and making projections as to fluctuations in our big cost drivers.

As background, our last village budget was $9,649,646. At this juncture, we know we have scheduled contractual raises for employees as well as a projected health care cost increase of 5% to a staggering $1,930,000.

In the positive news category, Moody’s has called our current credit position “exceptional.”

Our Aaa rating far surpasses the median rating of Aa3 for U.S. cities. Moody’s cited our “robust” financial position, negligible debt burden, and a mid-range pension liability.

Our cash balance as a percentage of operating revenues (46.9%) exceeds the U.S. median with an impressive increase from 2013 on. Our fund balance as a percentage of operating revenues (47.3%) is notably higher than other Moody’s-rated cities nationwide. Our full value per capita ($477,736) is materially above the U.S. median and again increased significantly from 2013. In addition, our median family income equals 378.7% of the U.S. level. Our village’s total full value ($3.1 billion) is slightly stronger than other Moody’s-rated cities nationwide.

In addition, our debt and pension liabilities are low across the spectrum. The net direct debt to full value (0.6%) is below the U.S. median; the adjusted net pension liability to operating revenue (1.3x) is consistent with the U.S. median.

However, placing the village’s financial position against the backdrop of state and federal financial changes of late paints a much bleaker picture.

Governor Cuomo recently unveiled his projected executive branch budget with a price tag of $168 billion, representing a $4.4 billion deficit, the largest gap in the state budget since 2013.

What is most concerning to local governments is the governor’s refusal to increase direct tax dollar aid to municipalities.

Unchanged for nine straight years, municipalities receive a combined total of $715 million, while corresponding school districts receive $24 billion in taxpayer give back. In fact, the governor’s proposed budget includes a $770 million school aid increase, equating to more than the entire municipal subsidy. Infrastructure funds for road repair and maintenance will also remain flat at $438 million, shared statewide. Currently, of each of your tax dollars sent to Albany, 29 cents comes back to Bronxville.

On the federal level, for each tax dollar New Yorkers send to Washington, we receive 84 cents back. The national average is $1 to the Feds and $1.18 returned back to the home state.

Add to this a record high amount of tax-exempt property in New York representing 30% of the property north of New York City. This translates into a $457 billion tax loss. Approximately 23% of the property in our village is tax exempt.

On the national level, I attended the Conference of Mayors last week, and every tax expert brought in to speak truly had no idea of SALT’s (state and local taxes) impact and validity. Governor Cuomo has offered several methods of mitigating the effects, but they are subject to legislative approval and judicial review and he has joined the governors of Connecticut and New Jersey, the three hardest hit states, in commencing a lawsuit. 

As a small counterbalance, sales tax revenue did increase statewide, up $620,000 to $16.6 billion, and 850,000 jobs were added in the state last year. In a tale of two New Yorks, 90% of those jobs were generated from Rockland County south. The state pension fund is extremely healthy, with only Wisconsin and South Dakota in better relative stead, and last year’s rate of return was 4.12%

All of these trends and indices must be weighed and factored in as we craft our local budget. As an economist at the Mayors Conference recently said, “New York communities cannot have property taxpayers as their biggest exports.” 


Editor's note:  As a public service, MyhometownBronxville publishes press releases, statements, and articles from local institutions, legislators, and candidates. MyhometownBronxville does not fact-check statements therein, and any opinions expressed therein do not necessarily reflect the thinking of its staff.

 
From the Mayor: Living in Bronxville Will Add to Your Longevity PDF Print Email

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By Mary C. Marvin, Mayor, Village of Bronxville


Feb. 7, 2018:  I often write about the importance of preserving our business district and its small-town atmosphere because of the benefit to our tax base, home values, revenue stream, and village aesthetic.

After listening to a TED talk on aging, I can add that living in and supporting our village will add to your longevity!

As an illustration, citizens in the Sardinian village of Villa Grande have centenarians ten times the number we have in the United States and six times the number in continental Italy, just 200 miles away. After years of research, it was determined that the driving force affecting longevity was not diet quality, level of exercise, or genetics. Rather, no resident lived a solitary life, as they were constantly surrounded by family, friends, shopkeepers, and neighbors, and they constantly intersected in village life. In addition, the topography of Villa Grande itself lent to interconnection, as the population was small, streets narrow, housing was high-density, and there were several village squares – not unlike a description of Bronxville.

A recent study at Brigham Young corroborated the Villa Grande experience on a US level. Their results demonstrated that having close relationships, more than a life without smoking, drinking, or heart disease, is a predictor of longevity. How many people one talks to during the day, both those you are close to and those who are a passing acquaintance, has a direct effect on one’s health.

Studies at the University of Chicago determined that direct human contact caused neurotransmitters in the brain to release dopamine, a natural mood elevator, as well as oxytocin, which lowers the cortisol or stress hormones – simply through eye to eye contact, the brain is also engaged on multiple complex levels.

Sadly, the study hypothesized that social isolation could soon be our number-one health issue, as over one-third of the population polled said they had two or fewer people they could lean on, and one-quarter of those surveyed said they have no one to talk to. This is further magnified by the fact that now one in three Americans over the age of 65 lives alone.

In addition, Americans now spend a staggering 11 hours a day on the computer, on the phone, and/or watching TV, eclipsing the amount of time we dedicate to sleep.

Worldwide, women live on average six to eight years longer than their male counterparts, and studies are linking it to women’s propensity to prioritize their personal friendships.

In nursing home studies, the lowest rates of dementia onset were in the highly socially engaged, and social contact proved better than a pill regime for a group of men recovering from strokes.

In essence, there is a biological imperative to know that we belong somewhere. As Emily Dickinson wrote of loneliness, it’s "the Horror not to be surveyed.”

There is also a growing body of research demonstrating a connection between these human health needs and the designs of towns, and many of the prototypes now envisioned look much like our own village.

How insightful of our forefathers to design Bronxville in the way that they did. Now I would argue it is our duty to capitalize on their forward thinking.

This goal is a major priority of the trustees for 2018 – to revisit our community plan and identify local assets and create a strategic plan based on our unique attributes.

As examples:  The walkability of the village to our schools, houses of worship, transportation, and shopping; the infrastructure of a commercial downtown with space for businesses of every size and consumer need; varied housing stock from studio apartments to multi-bedroom homes in a dense configuration; a significant age diversity from toddlers to a strong, active senior population; an extremely safe living environment, yet so close to a world city; the value residents place on quality of life, aesthetics, and open parkland.

We hope to engage many of you as the process moves forward, but in the interim, meet our shopkeepers, learn the names of the folks making your morning coffee, check in on your neighbor, help a senior, chat with your postman, and talk to the students out for lunch. A true community doesn’t magically appear, rather, it stems from a series of small actions over time.

Your health and the health of the village depend on it!

Editor's note:  As a public service, MyhometownBronxville publishes press releases, statements, and articles from local institutions, legislators, and candidates. MyhometownBronxville does not fact-check statements therein, and any opinions expressed therein do not necessarily reflect the thinking of its staff.

 
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