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One Scarsdale for the Young and the Old

circleoflifeI'll never forget the day we closed on our house in Scarsdale. We had two kids – ages 1 ½ and 4 and a Mazda that had been vandalized eight times on the Upper West Side. We had been lucky to get a house near the train station at a time when bidding wars broke out over homes that young families could afford. And the truth was we really couldn't afford the house when we bought it – but we figured that in time, our salaries would go up enough so that we would be comfortable and secure.

I had never been to a closing before and did not know what to expect. I arrived with a few certified checks and assumed we would sign some papers and be given the keys to our first house.

Things seemed to be going smoothly with documents passing back and forth between the attorneys. My husband and I were signing this and that when the lawyer from the bank asked for the check for a full year of taxes on the house in advance. That threw me for a loop. Though I had an MBA, what did I know about escrow accounts? I wasn't sure we had the $11,000 in our account. I held my breath, wrote the check and figured we would find a way to cover it before it cleared. Then our attorney turned to us and said, "Would you like to tip the title man?" All I could think was – I'd like to tip the guy but I have already overdrawn our account.

What does this have to do with what's going on in the Village today?

Here's what I think:

Young families who are lucky enough to be able to move to Scarsdale today have similar mindsets. They choose Scarsdale because they want good schools for their kids, a cool pool for the summer months, day camp at reasonable prices and like-minded parents to meet. From the outside, it looks to them like Scarsdale is a well run town – and though the taxes might be a bit higher than in neighboring towns, they figure the schools and the services are worth it.

I recently spoke to one young mother of three who works full time. We were discussing the future of the Greenacres School and I asked her what she thought. She surprised me when she said, "I work every day and I am trying to manage three kids all under the age of ten. I elected people to find good candidates to serve on the school board and the village board and I pay taxes for the salaries of school administrators and village managers. Why do I need to oversee them? I don't have time to go out to meetings at night. They should do what's best for the kids and the village."

So when I hear candidates running for office with promises to cut taxes so that empty nesters can retire here, I think of these young families – who are the lifeblood of our real estate market. Many of them stretched to come here but felt it was important to give their children a first-rate education.

If they had time to focus on the Village election I am sure that most would be surprised to hear that the candidates for the Scarsdale Voters' Choice Party want to keep taxes down, and possibly cut services, so that empty nesters can comfortably retire here.

Bob Selvaggio and Brice Kirkendall-Rodriguez, both from the Scarsdale Voters' Choice Party, appealed to these empty nesters at a recent Candidates Forum saying, "empty nesters and seniors on fixed incomes are being priced out of town."

Young parents might also be surprised to know that the Voters' Choice Party candidate for mayor Robert Berg, orchestrated the first successful "no vote" on a Scarsdale Schools budget in 43 years in 2013 – and pressured the district's superintendent into early retirement. As one parent put it, "Berg is no friend of our schools." He urged voters to vote NO to the Scarsdale School budget, saying, "Empty nesters, in particular, should ask themselves: "How long will I be able to afford to stay in my home?"

When it comes to the Village budget, however, all Berg's hyperbole about making things more affordable for empty nesters is in reality overblown. Village taxes represent a very small portion of residents' tax bills, and in fact all this discussion involves an average tax increase of about $200 a year on the Village portion of the tax bill. Village Manager Steve Pappalardo estimates that the owner of a home assessed at $1,505,238 would pay $223 more in Village taxes for the proposed 2017-18 Village budget.

The real danger is that if elected mayor, Candidate Bob Berg wants to expand his sphere of influence beyond the Village budget. On the Voters' Party website, even though the candidates are running for election as officers of the Village, they offer their views on the school budget too, saying, "As private citizens we will speak out to ensure that the Scarsdale School District tax levy stays within the tax cap" In the Scarsdale Inquirer Berg says he wants to sit down with the school superintendent once every month or two. He says, "There needs to be more communication and cooperation between the two entities," and that he "expects Superintendent Hagerman would be willing to sit down and talk." Does he really want to talk or does he want to pressure the superintendent to save money? That's a scary thought. Though it would be beneficial if school facilities could be used for community meetings, I fear that Berg wants to go beyond sharing space. It's vital to preserve the independence of the School and Village Boards.

In my view our priority should be to maintain and enrich the schools and the services that that attracted all of us to Scarsdale to begin with. We need to finance education, programming, services, facilities and infrastructure and refrain from balking if the tax bill goes up by a few hundred bucks. Young families will benefit from this and empty nesters will too.

If Scarsdale continues to flourish and its schools remain on top, the value of all of our homes will increase. Making Scarsdale into an ideal retirement community should not be the goal. Rather, the priority should be investing in Scarsdale, to attract young families to town to live in this extraordinary community. As an empty nester, this is something I will look forward to when I sell my own home.


#23 Max L. 2017-03-18 14:49
Quoting Chris Morin:
1. Bob effected change for the school district that led to governance reform and ever-increasing investment, which he has supported; 2. If Joanne and Alice rated the school district as highly as Bob does, they'd respect the administration’s mettle; 3. Disingenuous reporting and cowardly, furtive sniping threaten Village institutions more than Bob Berg could.

Surprised that sitting school board member, Chris Morin, defends mayoral candidate Berg’s school district actions. Morin should not dismiss that a lot of people consider Bob Berg as the face of vicious opposition to the schools. Berg has never championed educational initiatives or sought investment. Why is Morin crediting him for ‘effecting change?’ Isn’t that the board’s business? Does Morin also support Berg’s litigious, bullying tactics that cost school resources and taxpayer dollars? Seems like bad business to me.

I am sure school administration has plenty of ‘mettle,’ but should they need quite so much? Let them get back to the work of educating children. School board, too.
#22 Mike B. 2017-03-17 20:46
Thank you for this thoughtful piece, Joanne.
#21 Property Taxes 2017-03-17 17:17
Bob Berg: Which towns in Westchester have comparible charm, safety, and municpal services as Scarsdale, with materially lower property taxes?
#20 Empty Nester 2017-03-17 11:47

Ironically you are the kind of resident that Bob Berg is fighting to have stay in the community forever. You benefited from the empty nester subsidy for your children and are a willing to provide it as an empty nester. But you recognise that at some point you wont be able to manage it. If the tax increase of 69% pver the last decade were closer to the 30% inflation rate (i.e. if your taxes were lower by almost 40 %) then that day when you are forced to move will be pushed farther out. Ask some of your friends who could not afford stay, if they would have stayed if taxes were 40% lower!!

Quoting Harriet Sobol:
Joanne: What a good piece of work. You never fail my expectations. We're lucky to have your voice.

I remember with appreciation the empty-nesters who, until they moved away from Scarsdale, helped to pay the school taxes that were used to educate my children.

Now, an empty-nester myself, I know that when I no longer can manage Scarsdale village and school taxes, it will be time to sell my house to a family with children, despite Mr. Berg's warnings about our schools being flooded by kids. By now, we all should have learned not to listen to people who predict a grim future that only they can prevent.
#19 Amy M 2017-03-17 10:27
More taxes added to residents Does Not Automatically Mean Better Schools
We need more accountability from school administration, better quality control
#18 Thank you Chris Morin! 2017-03-17 09:08
Thank you Chirs Morin on very insightful comment on the changes that the NO vote few years ago on the school budget.

Blaming the NO vote on Bob Berg is truly disingenuous. I am a father of children under 5, I voted No and I didn't even now at the time how Bob Berg was to influence my decision. I want the schools to do well, I want Scarsdale to do well, but not any cost. We need balance, that's what I voted for and will vote for...
#17 To Edgewood resident 2017-03-17 06:27
"Edgewood resident" -- you have nice, detailed, story, but I can't help but wonder if your comment is just a shill from someone aligned with the Voter Choice Party (you refer to it as "VCP" which is the first clue). You love your neighborhood because of all the empty nesters that live there? That is a new one.

Also there has not been any "unfounded nastiness" directed toward any of the candidates. There has been *founded* criticism here of Bob Berg. Go watch a few Board meetings to see for yourself how he treats people.
#16 Chris Morin 2017-03-16 22:10
1. Bob effected change for the school district that led to governance reform and ever-increasing investment, which he has supported; 2. If Joanne and Alice rated the school district as highly as Bob does, they'd respect the administration’ s mettle; 3. Disingenuous reporting and cowardly, furtive sniping threaten Village institutions more than Bob Berg could.
#15 GA resident 2017-03-16 21:05
I love the diversity of my neighborhood.
Society is changing. The variables we manage here in Scarsdale are the same felt by many no matter what your zip code or budget. Society demographics are that where extended families living in close proximity is not the norm. This has a big impact in addressing elder/parent care. The sandwich generation very often has to manage but child care and elder care. It can be a real juggling act. You go out on a limb, hoping it is the right one - but never knowing till you try. Often elder care is done from a distance and requires us to lean on others. Navigating the equation of whether elder parents should stay or not is a complicated equation for families, - both financially and emotionally. I do not suspect taxes is the exclusive deciding factor. There is what happens if there is a fall, ushering to dr apts, hiring attendants - never mind the maintenance of our inventory of old homes! People move on for both safety and financial reasons. We are facing the same questions as folks in other districts too. It is definitely tough, but the vote is about the future. And I think there is room for both, as much as that may require some change.
#14 Edgewood Resident 2017-03-16 18:23
Scarsdale is not a sustainable Village if it's future is to only attract people to send their kids to school and then leave when the kids are out of school. We came here as a young working couple who needed to split our commute, one to the city and one to northern Westchester and yes, three kids later we have and will continue to benefit from the schools for several more years. But, what makes my neighborhood appealing is not just the schools. It is the empty nesters, the families who have been here for many generations as well as our friends and our kids friends. I have seen many families leave with great sadness because they can no longer afford being here--these were great losses of coaches, community organizers and friends. I spoke last week to my neighbor who is thinking they will need to put their house that has been in their family on the market soon because they can no longer afford it on teacher's salary. That is not right. The reval was a disaster in my neighborhood. There are big houses now valued much lower than small houses and we are all dreading seeing what our new tax bills will be. It will accelerate the exodus I'm sure of at least one family and I see another put their house on the market this week. I feel the current administration did not care and does not care about the people they serve. I think the VCP and Bob Berg is doing a great service for the Village by asking the questions and challenges that need to be raised. And I don't find him divisive. Simply a passionate advocate. I have been on the fence who I will vote for--and I am very happy to have a choice. Although they are all very qualified volunteers, the more I read the rancor and unfounded nastiness directed towards the VCP on this site, the more I lean towards the VCP slate.

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