Comments both for and against the proposed 2012-13 Village Budget and the use of reserves were given at the Village Board meeting on Tuesday night April 10th. The League of Women Voters and the Scarsdale Forum support the proposed budget which raises taxes by 5.49%, while a few residents spoke out against the budget, criticizing the Trustees for putting forth a budget that does not comply with the state imposed tax cap and outpaces inflation.
Both the League and Forum warned the Trustees against dipping into reserves to reduce the tax increase, as proposed by Trustee Robert Harrison. Speaking for the Scarsdale Forum, Howard Nadel of Aspen Road said that using reserves could set a precedent for future years, while draining funds available for emergency use and for capitol projects. Instead, a report from the Forum’s Fiscal Affairs Committee recommends that, “the Village consider various measures to achieve cost savings as well as to increase certain fees, … the Committee believes that it is through the implementation of these kinds of measures the Village should endeavor to lower the tax rate, not the use of additional reserves.”
Nan Berke, reading a prepared consensus from the Scarsdale League of Women Voters agreed that the undesignated fund balance should not be used to comply with the tax cap. In the League’s statement they offer the following reasons for their position:
• Any number of contingencies could arise under the proposed bare bones budget where additional funds from the surplus would be needed;
• The tax cap is an artificial number that does not necessarily reflect what is in Scarsdale’s best interest;
• The use of undesignated surplus could potentially be viewed negatively by Moody’s and result in a downgrade of our AAA bond rating;
• Taking funds from the undesignated reserves would negatively impact next year’s budget.
However, Michael Weinstein of Butler Road and Robert Selvaggio of Rochambeau Road urged the Trustees to decrease tax increases.
Using strong language, Weinstein told the Board, “When I reviewed the budget I was left speechless….the bottom line is, if you adopt this budget you have failed in your role as trustees. Over the last 10 years we have increased taxes at twice the rate of inflation. How long can we do this and continue to consider this a desirable place to live? In the last five years as many have endured deep financial hardship, has their incomes or their property values increased by 34%? The state has recently enacted a cap. It is interesting how cavalierly the Board let that go.”
He added, what would happen “if we put a sign up on the Hutch that said, Move to Scarsdale. We aren’t content to have the highest property taxes, our goal is to increase them at twice the rate of inflation.” He closed by saying, “It is time to live up to the fiduciary spirit of the title of trustee and reject this proposed budget.”
Selvaggio commended the Village Manager for submitting an initial budget proposal that complied with Governor Cuomo's tax cap, but added that the current proposed tax rate increase is both above that cap and two times the general rate of inflation. He said, “We have been on that unsustainable trajectory for over 10 years.”... and “we need to break the back of this twice-the-inflation-rate tax increase trajectory now.” He suggested that the Trustees use the savings from the snow removal budget for taxpayer relief, and add $300,000 to reduce the Village tax increase from 5.5% to a bit under 4%, which is more in line with both County tax increase of 3.2% and the school tax increase of 3.8%.
Toasts for Toder:In other Village business, Mayor Flisser alluded to criticism from former Village officials who criticized the Board for omitting a period for comments on the retirement of Trustee Richard Toder at the last board meeting.
Before giving the Trustees the floor to laud Toder, she said, “I am deeply saddened to learn that the social actions of the Village Board had caused such acute psychological distress—to some who have been retired for decades.”
Trustee Jon Mark said it was an honor and privilege to serve with and learn from Richard Toder, crediting him with great intelligence, good humor and abundant energy. He said that Toder “was as good a listener as he was a talker,” and “was not afraid to call it as he saw it.”
Trustee Stacey Brodsky said that “Richard leaves a hole that we already feel.” She said he had the “quickest wit, the greatest energy, the biggest smile and was the person in the room who always seemed to be having the best time.” She thanked him for his “painstaking work on the revaluation and on longstanding litigation on behalf of the Village,” and said “Richard set a high standard all of the time.”
Trustee Robert Harrison said that “he learned a great deal from him,” and told the community that as a parting gift, Toder had labels made for Bob that read, “Hi I am Bob Harrison, the Trustee that cares. Do you have a complaint? Let me know so that I can take action.”
Trustee Steves said that Toder taught him what it means to be prepared for a meeting, the importance of speaking your mind and being well-informed and thoughtful.” He hopes the community will somehow recognize Toder’s value to the Village.
Building Woes: Perhaps the most impassioned speaker at the meeting was Village resident Sandy Frankel who took the mike during the public comments section. A resident at 17 Richbell Road, he and his wife Ruth have voiced frequent complaints about a neighbor’s construction project and Mrs. Frankel recently presented a petition to the Village with 200 signatures complaining about the Village Building Department.
Frankel told Trustees, “I am not here to address the dirt issue where we have been forced to swallow dirt during the construction. The Village gave me no protection.
I am here to address the unilateral, unauthorized change in the topography of the Tretter’s (his neighbor’s) driveway.” He explained, “This narrow neck of property has been the focus of controversy between the Tretter’s and the Rose’s since the Tretters began their construction project.”
He continued to claim that the grade of the Tretter’s driveway had been changed so that it now drains onto his property -- and also stated that a drainage pipe has been installed inches from his property that will cause the water to flow onto his land.
He said that the Tretter’s project had caused “tens of thousands of dollars in damage to his garage,” and urged the Trustees to come to visit his home that night to view the exposed drainage pipe. He also suggested that the Building Department’s lack of attention to the drainage issue was retribution for the petition filed by Ruth Frankel.
Cudner-Hyatt House: Former Mayor Ed Morgan spoke about the Cudner-Hyatt house on behalf of the Scarsdale Council for the Arts. He said, “this is really about the plight of a 1745 Colonial farmhouse,” which he called “an endangered landmark.” He urged the Board to give the “community the chance to become aware of what this is about and coalesce around a solution.”
Personnel: With the installation of the new Board, the Mayor announced Trustee liaison and committee assignments and appointments to Village Boards and Councils. Robert Steves was appointed Deputy Mayor, Jonathan Mark as Police Commissioner and Kay Eisenman as Fire Commission. The full list of assignments and appointments can be found on the Village website.