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From the Mayor: Thanksgiving Sentiments Written Almost 100 Years Ago Resonate Today PDF Print Email

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By Mary C. Marvin, Mayor, Village of Bronxville


Nov. 21, 2018:  I was so moved by the hundredth-anniversary remembrance of the cessation of World War I in Europe. It made me think what our country was feeling collectively as a nation at the time.

A little known but poignant tradition in our country since our founding has been a Thanksgiving proclamation issued by the sitting president. Given the confluence of the war anniversary and our distinctly American Thanksgiving holiday, I thought it would be fascinating to see what our president at the time was thinking as many of our grandfathers engaged in "the war to end all wars."

In his 1917 proclamation, President Woodrow Wilson viewed the war as:

The opportunity to serve mankind as we once served ourselves in the great day of our Declaration of Independence, by taking up arms against a tyranny that threatened to master and debase men everywhere and joining with other free peoples in demanding for all the nations of the world what we then demanded and obtained for ourselves.

In this day of the revelation of our duty not only to defend our own rights as a nation but to defend also the rights of free men throughout the world, there has been vouchsafed us in full and inspiring measure the resolution and spirit of united action.

We have been brought to one mind and purpose. A new vigor of common counsel and common action has been revealed in us. We should especially thank God that in such circumstances, in the midst of the greatest enterprise the spirits of men have ever entered upon, we have, if we but observe a reasonable and practicable economy, abundance with which to supply the needs of those associated with us as well as our own. A new light shines about us. The great duties of a new day awaken a new and greater national spirit in us. We shall never again be divided or wonder what stuff we are made of.

As the years went by, President Wilson's Thanksgiving proclamations embodied the mood of the nation as the war took its toll. In 1918, President Wilson proclaimed:  

This year, we have special and moving cause to be grateful and to rejoice. God has in His good pleasure given us peace. It has not come as a mere cessation of arms, a mere relief from the strain and tragedy of war. It has come as a great triumph of right. Complete victory has brought us, not peace alone, but the confident promise of a new day as well in which justice shall replace force and jealous intrigue among the nations. Our gallant armies have participated in a triumph which is not marred or stained by any purpose of selfish aggression. In a righteous cause they have won immortal glory and have nobly served their nation in serving mankind. God has indeed been gracious. We have cause for such rejoicing as revives and strengthens in us all the best traditions of our national history. A new day shines about us, in which our hearts take new courage and look forward with new hope to new and greater duties.

In 1919, Wilson sensed a healing spirit across the nation and so gave thanks.

During the past year we have had much to make us grateful. In spite of the confusion in our economic life resulting from the war we have prospered. Our harvests have been plentiful, and of our abundance we have been able to render succor to less favored nations. Our democracy remains unshaken in a world torn with political and social unrest. Our traditional ideals are still our guides in the path of progress and civilization.

These great blessings, vouchsafed to us, for which we devoutly give thanks, should arouse us to a fuller sense of our duty to ourselves and to mankind to see to it that nothing that we may do shall mar the completeness of the victory which we helped to win. No selfish purpose animated us in becoming participants in the world war, and with a like spirit of unselfishness we should strive to aid by our example and by our cooperation in realizing the enduring welfare of all peoples and in bringing into being a world ruled by friendship and good will.

And finally, the Thanksgiving of 1920 saw a level of hope and recovery and the promise of a great future.

We have abundant cause for thanksgiving. The lesions of the war are rapidly healing. The great army of freemen, which America sent to the defense of Liberty, returning to the grateful embrace of the nation, has resumed the useful pursuits of peace, as simply and as promptly as it rushed to arms in obedience to the country's call. The equal justice of our laws has received steady vindication in the support of a law-abiding people against various and sinister attacks, which have reflected only the baser agitations of war, now happily passing. In plenty, security and peace, our virtuous and self-reliant people face the future, its duties and its opportunities. May we have vision to discern our duties; the strength, both of hand and resolve, to discharge them; and the soundness of heart to realize that the truest opportunities are those of service.

All of these sentiments, though collectively written almost 100 years ago, resonate as if written for us to take heed and guidance as we celebrate Thanksgiving 2018.

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

 
From the Mayor: Assessed Values of Bronxville Real Estate Defensible; Grievance Numbers Low PDF Print Email

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By Mary C. Marvin, Mayor, Village of Bronxville


Nov. 14, 2018:  As a result of the federal tax law changes and the uncertainty that has followed in the real estate market, the village trustees had our assessor give us an update as to current property values and sales trends. The information was so valuable that sharing with residents was imperative.

As background, the village undertook a full property revaluation in 2007 after over 50 years without a comprehensive update. A full revaluation is a municipality’s only legal opportunity to increase undervalued homes. This is undoubtedly its greatest benefit since without a revaluation, undervalued homes would remain so in perpetuity continuing decades of inequity unless improvements were made.

Even home improvement can only be legally assessed at the value increase they add to a home. As an example, if one’s home is valued at $1 million, even though the market says it’s worth $1.5 million, the addition of a $20,000 bathroom improvement can only raise the assessment to $1,020,000 without a full revaluation, so inequity persists.

Conversely, the state allows for a yearly grievance process where assessed values can only be left intact or lowered. In municipalities with a history of no revaluations and thus indefensible numbers, there is a steady stream of claims that result in decreases in property values that soon prove unsustainable in the long term.

As an example, in 2007, Bronxville had 275 grievance claims, putting 27% of our village taxable assessed value at risk vs 2018, when grievances totaled 34, placing 5% of our total taxable value on the table.

Our grievance numbers are now so low because our values are so defensible. We update village values on a state-approved three-year cycle with roughly 400 homes chosen randomly on a yearly basis.

Outside of this normal cycle, building permits that result in improvements are reviewed yearly to discern additional home value and home sales in real time outside of the three-year cycle.

As perspective,

  • In 2015, $150,816,875 of village valuation was sold in 66 transactions with a median sales price of $2,135,000.

  • In 2016, $130,691,100 of value transferred in 59 sales, transactions with a median sale price of $2,200,000.

  • In 2017, 58 sales were transacted, representing $136,300,000 in village values, repeating a median sales price of $2,200,000.

  • Thus far, in 2018, $101,675,768 in value was sold in 45 transfers with a median sales price of $2,010,000, representing an 8.6% decrease from 2017 values.

Post-tax act (December 2017), village properties sold for 1.43% over actual assessments. Clearly, other factors were also in play, but the tax charges loomed large in the equation.

Addressing the issue of lower sales numbers at the high end of the market, the assessor is contemplating a special review for the home price strata of $3.6 million and above as a legally distinct class and adjust values accordingly.

If grouped as a class for revaluation, $200 million of village-assessed valuation would be in play. If values should drop, for example by 10%, the result would be a $20 million decrease in our current village cumulative assessed value of $3.162 billion.

Thanks to over 90% of villagers opening their homes for inspection, our revaluation serves statewide as a model for accuracy and fairness.

We now defend our values with vigor as our numbers are so defensible and have been almost uniformly victorious in court proceedings affecting all facets of the market – residential, commercial, and multi-unit.

Bronxville Village values uniformly and consistently approximate the assessing ideal of 10% or less from the mean or so-called coefficient of dispersion (C.O.D.). Since assessment of value is as much an art as a science, courts are not likely to impose any revaluation remedies unless the value delta is a full 25% from the mean. Consequently, and unlike Bronxville, municipal taxing authorities that await a court solution to the fairness problem are caught in a spiral of litigation and fruitless expense.

The village has no discretion as to assessment policies, as we are governed by the rules of the New York State Office of Real Property Services. New York procedure is considered rather cumbersome and arcane vis-à-vis those of other states. As an example, Connecticut reassesses property every five years by state law, and Florida uses the method that whatever you were willing to pay for property simply becomes its value. Though no system is perfect, these states offer a level of certainty and predictability not found in New York State laws. 

Photo by A. Warner

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

 
From the Mayor: As a Nation, We Have a Dreadful Voting Record PDF Print Email

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By Mary C. Marvin, Mayor, Village of Bronxville


Oct. 31, 2018:  As you read this, the 2018 election cycle is winding down. The last-minute saturation of the airwaves got me to thinking about all the aspects that prompt us to vote or not vote as Americans.

As a nation, we have a dreadful voting record, as judged by the eligible voters who actually cast a ballot. We rank 31st of 34 nations when compared with developed countries.

Recent national elections in Belgium, Turkey, and Sweden brought out above 80% of the voting public. To be fair, Belgium and Turkey are two of the 28 nations where voting is compulsory. Though not at all strictly enforced, with many excuses accepted, the law does have a dramatic effect on participation. As an example, Chile switched to voluntary voting and the percentage of voters plummeted in one year from 87% participation to 42%. 

High voter turnout in Germany and Sweden is credited to automatic registration by the government when one reaches voting age. Registration, a personal responsibility in the U.S., results in only 65% of those eligible doing the paperwork required.

The date of voting seems to have a great correlation with participation. 

In Australia, Brazil, and Belgium, where voting is always on a weekend or national holiday, participation is above 80%.

Our Tuesday voting is anachronistic, dating to a Congressional decision from 1845. As a predominantly agrarian society at the time, with travel by horse and buggy, voters needed a day to reach the county seat, a day to make their voting selections, and then a day to travel back home, all without interfering with the three days of the week dedicated to religious worship. That left only Tuesday and Wednesday, and Wednesday was the traditional market day, so Tuesday was chosen.

The month of November was chosen because spring and early summer voting would interfere with the planting season and late summer and even early fall overlapped with the harvest. The only window open was early November before the arrival of potentially harsh winters.

Since every survey points to inconvenience as the number-one reason Americans do not vote and Congress has managed to move Columbus Day and Martin Luther King Day and carve out a Presidents Day, the precedent is there, if not the inclination, to move from Tuesday voting.

According to the Census Bureau, 245.5 million Americans age 18 and older are eligible to vote, yet only 157.6 million are currently registered. Conversely, 91% of Brits and Canadians and 96% of our Swedish counterparts who are eligible to vote are registered.

According to national surveys, Americans don’t vote for the number-one reason of inconvenience. Following closely behind are reasons ranging from lack of interest, too busy, can’t miss work, think their vote has no impact, illness, dislike of the candidates, out of town, or simply forgot.

The data reveal that if you are young, a minority, less affluent, or less educated, you vote in record low numbers.

Financial security, in particular, is strongly correlated with nearly every measure of political engagement. Citizens earning over $100,000 vote in double the numbers of those with incomes below.

As to the correlation with education, 44% of eligible voters without a high school diploma voted in the 2012 presidential election vs. a 77% turnout rate by those with a college degree.

The surveys also uniformly confirm that our young people do care about politics, but a majority of them just dislike it! Less than a third of eligible voters ages 18 to 30 think running for office is an “honorable thing to do,” and 75% of them didn’t even vote in the most recent presidential election.

In what was a major surprise to me, we, as New Yorkers, have dreadful participation numbers. For the 2014 election, we ranked 48th out of 50 states in voter turnout despite having the fourth most registered voters in the nation. Even during the 2016 presidential election year--election years always garner the highest turnout--only 57.2% of those eligible voted, ranking us eighth worst in the country.

Maine leads in voter participation, with 72%, while Hawaii is last, with just 47%. Daniel Webster’s words from two centuries ago perhaps resonate now more than ever. “Impress upon ... children the truth, that the exercise of the elective franchise is a social duty, of as solemn a nature as man can be called to perform; that a man may not innocently trifle with his vote; that every free elector is a trustee, as well for others as himself; and that every man and every measure he supports has an important bearing on the interests of others, as well as on his own.”

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



 
From the Mayor: Con Ed Taking Steps to Mitigate Outages and Improve Communication PDF Print Email

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By Mary C. Marvin, Mayor, Village of Bronxville


Oct. 24, 2018:  Given the extremely porous nature of the ground so early in the fall, Con Edison has ratcheted up its program to address hazardous trees, not only in the public right of way but on private property, to minimize customer outages.

In a pilot program, in partnership with the town of Cortlandt, Con Edison has identified hazardous trees and is working with certified arborists, municipal officials, and property owners to allow Con Ed to remove private trees as necessary. Given the frequency and severity of rain storms of late, much lower wind conditions can cause trees to become uprooted or dangerously list. We encourage residents to do a seasonal check on your tree inventory before the winter months.

As a direct result of last winter’s much-criticized response to storm events, Con Edison has taken a much more proactive approach to mitigate the length and severity of future outages in Westchester County.

The following is a sampling of its new initiatives recently communicated to municipal officials:

  • A $100 million capital program to upgrade overhead systems including stronger poles, smart switches, and break-away power lines

  • Recruitment of outside contractors and utilities to retain their services prior to storms

  • Collaborating for better and faster mutual aid from other utility companies

  • Securing bucket trucks for deployment to utility crews that are flown into the area

  • Working directly with municipalities to identify critical arteries and facilities that should be restored as a priority and having contractors employed and at the ready to begin to clean roads

  • Upgrading the IT system to improve timeliness and accuracy of restoration information

  • Based on customer feedback and on-site crew evaluation, communicating with customers with daily texts, email, or phone updates

These efforts are laudable, but it remains to be seen if they improve the Con Edison track record of late.

When and if you should lose power in the coming months, the process for reporting has also been streamlined.

As a caveat, you still must report your house outage even if the entire neighborhood is out and logic dictates that Con Edison should know of your situation.

There are now multiple ways to communicate with Con Ed:

  • Report using the Con Edison app for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices.

  • Text REG to OUTAGE (688243) and follow the prompts to register. Log in to My Account to get your account number or check your bill for the account number. Once registered, text OUT to OUTAGE (688243).

  • Call 1-800-75-CONED (1-800-752-6633).

To check the status of a restoration, use any of the following:

  • Go to coned.com/StormCentral and see “Check Status” or “View Outage Map.”

  • Check the Con Edison mobile app from your iPhone, iPad, or Android device.

  • Once you register for text alerts (see above), text “STATUS” to OUTAGE (688243).

  • Call 1-800-75-CONED (1-800-752-6633).

Because of safety concerns, the village DPW can play only a minimal role in tree branch and debris removal if near or intertwined with live or untested wires.

In other news, the comptroller of the State of New York also recently released a report on the financial health of New York State government and, to no one’s surprise, our relationship with the federal government remains inequitable.

In 2017, New York was one of eleven states that sent more money to Washington than it received back in federal aid. We received roughly 90 cents on the dollar, resulting in a deficit of $24 billion. (This actually improved from only a year prior, when we received 84 cents for every dollar we sent to D.C. for an imbalance of $40 billion). Since the federal government supplies one-third of New York State’s annual budget, the numbers are critical to the cost of living here.

Only New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts got back less than New York last year, with the national average of monetary return to states of $1.19 per dollar sent to Washington. On a per capita basis, Connecticut leads the nation with $14,671 per person in federal budget obligation, with New York close behind at $12,588 and Mississippi in last place at $5,884.

The village also recently received rainfall data from Westchester County on the recent storm. The amount of water we received was the highest per two-hour period ever recorded, at 2.81 inches, vs the second highest, during Irene at 2.17 inches. In light of the intensity of the rainfall in such a compact period, the engineers have already lowered the wet wells by 18 inches to accelerate the onset of pumping.

As of today, 200 of the 400 storm sewer drains have been cleaned throughout the village and the project continues.

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

 
From the Mayor: Answers to Questions about the Recent Flooding in Bronxville PDF Print Email

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By Mary C. Marvin, Mayor, Village of Bronxville


Oct. 3, 2018:  Last Tuesday, we had the third major rain event in as many weeks and clearly the most damaging, affecting every corner of the village including homes never before flooded. As a result, many questions were directed to school and village officials as to the whys and wherefores. The following are responses to the questions for which we could garner immediate answers after consultation with the project engineers and pump manufacturers. Many other issues we continue to research and will answer in follow-up columns. Please send any additional questions to my email at  CLOAKING . Responses are in narrative form, but if you wish to see the background data that predicated the answers, you are welcome to come and review at village hall.

Background - Midland Valley Drainage Basin

In 2007, after $22 million in damages to school property and the loss of multiple weeks of school and significant damage to village residences, school and village officials began exploring grant opportunities to avoid such catastrophic flood damage to our village going forward. After years of applications and cost-benefit analyses, we received a FEMA grant of $5,770,000. However, the funds came our way only after another storm in 2011 that caused an additional $6 million in damages to the school alone. The school district could not be the grantee or lead agency of the FEMA grant by law, so village government led the project. A multiyear plan was designed and fully vetted by FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Westchester County, and two regional engineering firms.

A five-pump system was designed for the rainfall and river flow distribution based on the 2007 storm event of 7.52 inches in a 24-hour period--the equivalent of a 50-year-magnitude storm. The village and school partnered to absorb the cost of two pumps and a new stormwater force main, with the school going out to a required bond vote for the additional pumps and corresponding increased level of mitigation.

Did the pumps work?

School and village officials met post-storm with the pump manufacturer and project engineer at the pump site to determine their efficacy. There was indeed a problem on pump one with the automatic nature of the trigger switch and float sensor. It is being remedied with new and redundant mechanisms.

Thankfully, Mike Lee, the Bronxville School’s director of facilities, received the alarm, was on site, and started the pump manually, causing no delays. Even if pump one had failed to activate, pump two would have engaged automatically. 

Were the pumps worth it?

Given $30 million in damage, five feet peak water levels in our school in both the 2007 and 2011 events, and multiple weeks of lost instruction, the pumps clearly meet the cost-benefit test based on just the past three storms in September when they activated.

During this past Tuesday’s event, the pumps ran four hours straight as the flow of water in our Midland basin pipes exceeded the level of both the 2007 and 2011 storms.

What will the additional pumps accomplish?

There were periods during the storm event on 9/25 when the water was rising in the pump station chamber with both pumps running. This indicated that stormwater runoff was entering the system at a rate greater than the available pumping capacity, resulting in excess runoff in parking lots, etc. In essence, two pumps mitigated a great deal of damage, but more were needed.

Additional pumps will provide further flood mitigation for storms similar to 9/25, as well as larger-magnitude storm events that result in even higher river flows and longer periods of rainfall, resulting in potentially greater damage to school property.

What kind of storm was this past one? 25-year? 50-year?

Data from the National Weather Service gaging systems that are used to analyze rainfall in the Bronx River Watershed are not yet available for the 9/25 event. As far as intensity, we do know that the maximum hourly rate change of rainfall was almost 100% higher during the 9/25 storm vs the 2007 Nor’easter, which was the impetus for the system. The 9/25 maximum hourly and two hourly rate change of rainfall was even more than 100% greater than the 2011 storm. The damage from last week’s storm was from the intensity, not the duration.

Why did Meadow Avenue flood with two pumps working?

The two pumps were clearly at capacity during the rain event, and we have requested that the mitigation effects of a third and fourth pump be analyzed by the project engineers with focus on Meadow Avenue. In the interim, we are re-clearing the drains on Meadow Avenue as well as all the drains in the Midland Valley Drainage Basin. In the coming months, we will clean all 400 drainage basins throughout the village. Lawn and tree debris, road gravel runoff, and roof leaders emptying into the storm sewers are our constant clogging culprits. We are also reviewing the size of the conveyance pipe on Meadow Avenue with the thought that the capacity may need to be increased and/or dry wells/retention tanks added in that area as well.

Did areas near Park Avenue/Sycamore Street flood more because of the pumping system? The artificial field? The removal of trees?

Water from these neighborhoods is collected into the Midland Basin storm conveyance pipes, which are 36” and 72” in size. The pumping system actually helped move the water downhill to the storage chambers below Hayes Field and then removed uphill via a force main to the Bronx River at the outlet at the intersection of Palumbo Place and Gramatan Avenue, where it was discharged. The system, as designed, “operates as a closed system with no release of collected runoff into adjacent soils and no groundwater entering the system.” In short, the new force main took water from the existing 36- and 72-inch pipes (via the pump), allowing them to capture additional runoff. As to the permeability of Hayes Field, the school district is reaching out to the turf field designers for absorption data. Ten trees along Midland Avenue were removed for the pumping station but were replaced by 20 new ones as well as additional landscaping.

Why did water cause damage by seeping up through basements?

Given the rain levels of this summer followed by three major storm events in three weeks in September, the absorption rate of the soil was compromised. (The county sent us numerous advisories during even small wind events because of the fear of trees toppling in the saturated soil.) When I spoke with my colleagues in Tuckahoe and Eastchester, they relayed incidents of residents’ basements filling with water in some of their highest elevation neighborhoods--a never-before occurrence.


Editor's note: As a public service, MyhometownBronxville publishes articles from local institutions, officeholders, and individuals. 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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