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Letter from Bill Kay: Correcting the Record

letter to the editorTo the Editor: I am a former resident of Scarsdale and I still follow developments in the Village via the Internet and the Inquirer. I worked in numerous civic organizations in the 30 years I was a Village resident, including the Scarsdale Forum and predecessor organizations, SNAP, neighborhood associations and a number of official boards and councils of the Village. I had the honor of serving as chair of the Citizens’ Nominating Committee after having been elected to two terms as a member of the Committee – I spent nine years serving with the Nominating Committee in various positions. Part of my service with the Scarsdale Forum included working on the Village and County Budget Committees.

I have no doubt that the citizens of Scarsdale are impacted, like people in other communities in Westchester County, by the national health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic imported from overseas. However, health crisis notwithstanding, the Village is still responsible to provide municipal services (water, trash collection, etc.) and function as a Village.

The recent letter from the Scarsdale Voters Choice Party (“SVCP”) that was widely distributed via e-mail, espouses a bleak and incorrect message. Certain of its suppositions clearly indicate a lack of understanding of how Scarsdale government operates, how it is funded and even how services are provided by the Village.

Many parts of their message assert that the Scarsdale Citizens Non-Partisan Party controls the Village Board of Trustees, that certain Village employees, particularly in the safety services (police and fire, especially) work unnecessary overtime and that the Village Board can just change the way Village citizens are taxed. Another central message of the SVCP letter is that the Village budget must be filled with excess spending that can be cut while preserving “the services and programs that we find most essential” – a quote from the SVCP Working Paper that the letter refers to.

Having reported on at least ten annual Village and County budgets, I can say that what is described here is either not true or is misleading. Just three examples:

Overtime worked by the police and fire safety personnel in the Village is a result of those professionals actually working for more time than they are scheduled, not because the amount of time they work is predetermined when the Village budget is passed. Scarsdale residents are safer and more secure because the professionals in these departments do what is necessary rather than just get up and leave when their shift ends.

Property taxes are, for many, a daunting part of living in Scarsdale, but every property owner pays the same tax rate. The so-called “flat tax” that the SVCP calls for is already in place and has been for decades. New York State tax law prohibits charging different tax rates to similar entities in the same municipality, whether it be the Village or the County.

Although the SVCP message claims to “have never advocated cutting the salaries and regular hours…” of many Village employees, the very next paragraph in the message says “We have suggested a salary freeze…” Since the budget does contain some increases in personnel costs – some of which are governed by contracts in place and others like pension costs being not within the control of the Village, these two statements seem to contradict each other.

Finally, the whole point of the non-partisan system of nominating candidates for Village Trustees, Mayor, Village Justice, etc. is that it is non-partisan – it is free of partisan party influence and affiliations. By not being hostage to partisan political influence, like so many national, state and local political parties, the Scarsdale Citizens Non-Partisan Party can consistently get the best, most qualified citizens of Scarsdale to serve on Village governing boards. The Citizens Non-Partisan Party “administration”, as the SVCP suggests, simply does not exist.

The SVCP claims to be able to reduce both taxes and Village expenditures, without seriously affecting services. My review of their message does not reveal any realistic proposal on their part for doing so. Further, based on my years of experience reviewing Scarsdale’s budgets and familiarity with the Village’s budget process, if this were the case, it would already have been thoughtfully done – decades ago.

Bill Kay
Hawthorne, NY

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