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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.

 
From the Mayor: Village Challenges and Priorities for Coming Year PDF Print Email

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By Mary C. Marvin, Mayor, Village of Bronxville


Jan. 31, 2018:  In my first official village-centric column of the new year, I wanted to share with you what the board of trustees has determined to be priorities for the upcoming year.

Truly, the year promises to be one of the busiest I can recollect, as so many major projects are on the front burner.

As an overview 

Garage for Our Public Works Staff and Equipment:  Built in 1942, and not substantially remodeled since, our current facility has a compromised infrastructure. Leaking in so many spots, the building cannot hold our equipment, necessitating outdoor storage, which halves the life of most of our intricate vehicles. Repairs also have to be made in the freezing cold and on a public street.

Last year, we sought proposals, which resulted in estimates much higher than anticipated, so we are going back to the drawing board. Regardless of the scope, something has to be done to improve working conditions and storage of millions of dollars of equipment.

Update Zoning and Planning Regulations:  In light of changing residential and business realities, our overall zoning and planning regulations must be updated to reflect the current climate.

As an example, due to the popularity of Internet shopping, stores want to operate in the village with a service component or solely as a service, such as exercise studios and restaurants.

On the residential side, teardowns, tree removals, and multiyear construction projects need to be addressed with new rules and regulations. The quality of life of neighbors must have a more central role in our consideration of permits and approvals.

Upgrade to Village Commercial and Residential Lighting:  We currently have the most inefficient lighting system possible, employing 189 Watt incandescent bulbs on most of our streets, near both homes and businesses. We will move slowly, especially in residential areas, as needs are very different depending on street width, topography, and density of homes. Our neighbors in Scarsdale are ahead of us in the process, and we are learning from their rollout. Certainly, aesthetics is a major factor throughout the village. In the business district, other factors must be considered, including insurance and liability issues, traffic flow concerns, and illumination needs when businesses are closed.

Teamsters Labor Negotiations:  Our public works department employees are represented by the Teamsters. We are currently in constructive talks to craft a new agreement going forward. As would be no surprise, health care coverage and contribution rates are the main issues under discussion.

Infrastructure Improvements:  We continue on our aggressive course to repair our 100-plus-year-old infrastructure in a methodical way to avoid patchwork emergency deferred-maintenance issues, which are much more costly. The sewer system is currently our main focus as we enter Phase Two of pipe repair and relining.

Midland Avenue/Pondfield Road Intersection:  We continue to seek a light/walk configuration that will improve pedestrian flow, in particular, as we encourage residents to embrace a more walking environment. In recent years, more stringent state rules apply when an intersection is reconfigured (witness what we were required to do near St. Joseph’s Church), and we are conscious of the unobstructed beauty of the village’s crossroads at Pondfield and Midland. Currently, we are reviewing many options, aware that an improvement is warranted.

Budget:  Starting in early February, the trustees, staff, and I begin a very comprehensive review of our spending in anticipation of a new budget being crafted and adopted by May 1, 2018. 

Municipal expenditures are 19% of every village tax dollar. Given the recently passed tax laws, we are acutely aware of the added burden placed on Westchester County residents in particular.

Kensington Road Improvements:  As the Villa BXV project nears successful completion, we are looking toward upgrading the nearby Bacon Woods Park, sidewalks, and intersections that were left in limbo as we awaited positive development on the long unattractive Kensington parking lot. The village owns Bacon Woods, a hidden gem that is a 1.6-plus-acre park straddling Kensington and Sagamore Roads, which warrants upgrading and refurbishing.

Business District Revitalization:  Extremely important to the value of everything in the village, we continue to work with our chamber of commerce, standing committees, merchants, and landlords to not only fill the vacant storefronts but ensure that we have the optimal mix of businesses to promote stability and profit.

Parking Opportunities:  We are actively working with various property owners and village entities to increase our inventory through village ownership and/or public/private partnerships.

Smaller in Scope but Equally Important: 

  • Constant refurbishing and maintenance of the condition and attractiveness of village public spaces

  • Village Hall

    • Improvement of our website

    • Startup of the community garden

    • Repairs to the library’s HVAC system

    • Upgrades to court security, phone system, parking software, records retrieval, and cameras

    • Improvement of our green efforts re composting and recycling volume

    • Replacement of street trees lost over the years to age, storm, and disease

Our overarching goal is to make the village the most efficiently run, fiscally responsible, attractive, and inviting place to live. 

As most residents did, we came to the village for the excellence of the public school system. The task of the municipal government is to offer enough services and amenities within a very small budget for you to want to make the village home long after the children are off to college. 

For long-term sustainability, it is imperative that we keep a healthy balance between school and non-school families and encourage lifetime investment in our community. 

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

 
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