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You are here: Home Village Voices The Sky Isn't Falling in Scarsdale: Rhetoric and Reality

The Sky Isn't Falling in Scarsdale: Rhetoric and Reality

chickenlittleThis is the opinion of site founder Joanne Wallenstein: For years, Robert Berg, candidate for Mayor of Scarsdale has been warning that the sky will fall over Scarsdale. Just this week, at the Candidate's Forum of the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale, he called the Village "a disaster" that could go into a "death spiral" if spending was not contained. He said the condition of Scarsdale's 79 miles of roads was "atrocious" and called for them all to be replaced. At the same time he raised fears that rising taxes would chase empty nesters out of town, causing more families with young children to move in and strain the resources of the school system.

Why did this all sound so familiar?

I looked back at earlier reports and found this letter that Bob wrote to Scarsdale10583 when he crusaded to organize the first NO vote on a Scarsdale School budget in 43 years in 2013. Again he appealed to older residents saying, "Stop the spending madness and stop it NOW! .... Empty nesters, in particular, should ask themselves: How long will I be able to afford to stay in my home in Scarsdale where I have lived for 20, 30, 40 years or more if my property taxes keep soaring? Unless we are fortunate enough to be multi-millionaires, sadly, for most of us, we will come to the only rational economic decision – we'll have to move away because of the excessive property tax burden, which is predominantly driven by the school budget. Forcing our empty nesters to leave town because of uncontrolled school spending is wrong on so many levels and is destructive to the very fabric of the community and to the many community organizations that depend heavily on the extraordinary time and talents provided by empty nesters. Scarsdale is not just a way station for people to leave after they have had their children educated in our schools – an education which empty nesters subsidize by more than half. Empty nesters – this is your community – you need to come out and vote "NO" and protect your financial ability to remain here."

Berg was successful in defeating the budget, and as a consequence, pressuring Scarsdale School Superintendent Michael McGill to retire a year earlier than planned.

Following the 2016 revaluation, Berg was equally as pessimistic. In the September 23, 2016 issue of the Scarsdale Inquirer, he said, "The system is not working. It's a disaster here."

And on Scarsdale10583 he repeatedly called the Ryan a "train wreck waiting to happen." He continued, "The Ryan reval mess is just not "unanticipated consequences of well-intentioned actions." These consequences were forewarned by me and others. We are not Chicken Little, and yes, the sky did fall."

So is Scarsdale a disaster?

That issue was debated at the candidate's forum on Tuesday night March 7 when several sitting Village Trustees presented facts to demonstrate that the Village is by all measures fiscally sound and well managed.

Trustee Matt Callaghan said that Moody's has given the Village of Scarsdale a AAA bond rating citing healthy reserves, low debt and a wealthy tax base. Trustee Carl Finger told the group that Con Edison would now pay to repair all roads that they tear up repairing or replacing equipment and that an audit of Optimum's contract with the Village yielded an additional $100,000 in revenue.

At Village Hall, Mayor Jon Mark disputed the claim that all of the roads need to be replaced, saying, "Note also that most of our roads are not in horrible condition. Sweeping statements that imply all 79 miles of Village roads are presently in need of re-paving tend to overstate the problem."

The most recent demographers reports of the population of the Scarsdale schools show no evidence that an exodus of empty nesters had caused the school population to exceed school capacity. In fact, for the past ten years enrollment has been relatively flat and is projected to remain at current levels for the foreseeable future.

Has the 2016 revaluation caused a train wreck? An analysis of home sales in 2016 shows that Ryan's assessments for the 2016 tax roll are equally if not closer to market value than the assessment roll from 2015.

Recent tax increases do not appear to be climbing to unsustainable levels. The latest projections from both the school and the village are quite reasonable. According to Village Manager Steve Pappalardo, Village taxes which represent about 18% of your local tax bill, are projected to go up or 2.19% or about $223 per year for a home valued at $1.5mm. The school administration is estimating a 1.4% budget-to-budget increase for the 2017-18 school year, even in the midst of a substantial capital improvement project.

Is the sky falling as Berg warns?

By all measures, the answer is no.

In fact, the only crisis that I see in town is the one caused by the use of exaggeration and hyperbole by Berg's new party to unseat the candidates chosen by the Citizens' Nominating Committee. If the Voters' Choice Party succeeds, I fear that Scarsdale will become as polarized as the rest of the country and nasty partisan politics will prevail here as they do elsewhere. Investigations, FOIL requests, attacks on volunteers and village managers and lawsuits will discourage good people from serving on Village boards and working in Village Hall.

The real risk is that we will lose our tradition of building consensus through careful consideration of the facts and civil discussion ... and that might be the disaster for all who value our unique form of governance and the special place we live.


#7 25 year resident 2017-03-18 21:33
I can't imagine why people would not want to have a competitive political system. Scarsdalians are an educated and intelligent lot. If the VCP does not present a cogent message, I'm confident that villagers will reject them en masse. But let's at least allow for an exchange of ideas. And I for one don't feel our current tax burden is sustainable.
#6 #2 Empty Nester 2017-03-16 23:20
Is it moral for media to take a side in the political process and incoming election and use nasty politics and insult our intelligence? Anybody that know both Candidates Robert berg and Dan Hochvert know they are qualified for Mayor. However, they are not the same. Aligning with Dan H and writing detrimental positions on Robert Berg is not going to get you to promote vote for the CNC candidate actually it will anger good people, balanced people, who do not believe in personal attacks as part of political discussion and governance.
People are not sheep and they will take their time to choose and vote for the slate that provides with change and proposals that make sense.
#5 Edgewood Resident 2017-03-16 17:28
I find it interesting that the only rancor I see around the election is on 10583 and among some of the posters on Scarsdale Moms. I am impressed with the civility both slate of candidates continue to maintain through the process and the bi-partisan after election event shows that all are willing to work together.

I don't see the VCP as a condemnation of the CNC candidates, just a natural evolution as so many in the village like me who 1. HAVE seen friends and neighbors move away once their kids graduated because they couldn't afford to stay here, 2. DO see plenty of inequities in the reval in our own neighborhoods only to not get a response on what happened from the village. (It took the efforts of diligent volunteers who persisted to uncover the unsavory going ons at Village Hall with their FOIL requests to confirm what we were seeing was not crazy), and 3. continue to question why taxes are so high and service delivery so inconsistent--j ust look at the pictures on Scarsdale Moms of the hazardous roads around our elementary schools yesterday and I can't tell you how often misses our street only. And I always get the run around when I call the village. There's no accountability or acknowledgment that the village government and offices exist to serve the village's residents. I have loved calling this village home for decades, but everything I see lately says we need more responsive government. We lost 3 families this year I was close to this year alone who made this village better (all former coaches, community and PTA volunteers and good neighbors and friends) who left because they couldn't afford to continue living here and I expect even more will leave this year as they feel the effect of the Ryan reval in our tax bills. I have listened to the candidates and they all have good points and are highly qualified and applaud their volunteerism and community involvement. I have not decided how I will vote yet, but my vote will not be a condemnation or endorsement of the CNC. It will be a decision based on who I feel will do a better job. The VCP has done the village a great service by offering a choice and reminding everyone that Village government is ours and must be accountable and responsibility to all who live here.
#4 Joe Levy 2017-03-16 16:53
Interesting the attitude of a few empty nesters (I don't want to say all as it is just only a few). We are seeing it as well in Greenacres where they were using non-sense excuses to put the kids in danger. It is the same case here. "We already took advantage of the system and we don't want to pay for it anymore."
#3 Long Term Resident 2017-03-16 15:36
Both Dan & Bob have the qualifications to be Mayor, however, Dan is more of what we have and Bob is someone who has both tremendous insight (pre-warning on Ryan) and an uncanny ability to stand up for what is best for the community - no matter what is "politically correct." I put my trust in the person that has the insights to solve the problems of our future.
#2 Guy Caballero 2017-03-15 16:48
Joann have you written anything lately that doesn’t bash Voters' Choice Party?

I bet you even threw something in the recent weather articles.

#1 Empty Nester 2017-03-14 21:30
Firstly, Its very presumptuous of the writer to state that the CNC candidates are already seated. They are not! They are proposed and voters are not obligated to go along with the CNC choice foisted on them. Citizenry can vote them in or choose other candidates as they have done on occasions in the past. I recall each of those times (including the last time) that the voters over ruled the CNC choice to be one providing appropriate check and balance to the non-partisan system.

Secondly, what Bob Berg and VCP slate recognize and others don't is that empty nesters paying the same tax rate as others are a gift to the school district and the village. They don't draw on school resources and likely don't use as much of village resources as a family with school children. Everything must be done to make them feel enticed to stay here. The tax hike at 69% over last 10 years exceeding the CPI rate of 30% is actually far higher when you account for the development that has gone on to increase the overall assessment of village. Luckily this has happened with enrollment being flat. So all things being equal tax rates should go down!!! But we have spent that extra money and even increased tax rates. I have asked the village to provide data for tax increase calculation using constant dollar real estate assessment but it has not been forthcoming but it would be materially higher than 70%. This is not sustainable.

Finally, If rates go up at this unsustainable levels then more and more empty nesters are forced to reckon with the financial viability of staying here. The proverbial saying that the problem with spending other people's money is that sooner or later you run out of it.

With all due respect I beg to differ, the real risk actually to continue to hide behind "we are great in Scarsdale" slogan and let status quo candidates try to deny that the Reval was an example of the disaster and incompetence in governance that only the efforts of few citizens revealed for the rest to see.

The non partisan system is very good when it works but it needs purification from periodic challenges. This is one those those times.

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