The new year opens with much on the agenda of the Board of Trustees, chief on the list is a very ambitious capital program to maintain/improve the village’s aging infrastructure. Taking advantage of the historically low cost of borrowing money, one of the few bright spots in the current economy, the trustees and I approved a $2,526,560 capital improvement program at our December meeting. The big ticket items in the plan include funds for an aggressive paving plan, extensive sewer/drainage repairs and a retooling of all of the village’s public streetlights. It seemed more than an opportune time to undertake these long term improvements.
Unfortunately, 2012 brought the village the 2 percent tax cap legislation but not the promised corresponding mandate relief.
As we begin 2013, the state mandates are truly crippling. Since I have been mayor, our pension obligation has increased 6,000 fold and we are still doing much better than most of our peers. Colleagues in upstate communities are now spending more on mandated costs than on their operating budget, necessitating a draconian lessening of village services. It is no wonder the state lost two congressional seats in the recent census as residents leave for states with less tax and better services.
In order to decrease the escalating property tax burden on their residents in 2013, many communities are now evaluating their services with an eye toward who uses them and charging accordingly.
As illustration, municipalities have carved out specific sewer, paving and sanitation districts and charge all who benefit from the service proportionately, regardless of their taxable status. Other communities are asking their tax exempt institutions for PILOTS (payments in lieu of taxes) to fund the municipal benefits that accrue to them.
In our own sphere, Bronxville has joined with nine other communities to petition the state legislature to change the way hydrant maintenance fees are allocated. Currently 100 percent of the cost falls on property tax payers regardless of usage, and the cost is not insignificant: $105,614 equating to 1.5 tax points in the village’s last budget. We are all looking to spread the hydrant costs across all water users, creating a much more equitable paradigm.
In that same vein, the village board will be taking a fresh look at our recreational facilities. Though we currently charge both resident and non-resident fees for tennis and paddle usage, the fees do not nearly cover the cost of operating these amenities, the shortfall being shouldered by every village taxpayer.
Other high priority initiatives for the trustees in 2013 will be a continued emphasis on assisting our business district and promoting local shopping by using some of the proceeds of the recent television/movie shoots to enhance our business community.
Recently, there has been renewed interest in developing the Kensington Road property, so a conversation with neighbors and residents will come to the fore again in 2013.
We continue to work pro-actively with Westchester County as a named community in the affordable housing judgment. As yet, nothing that we have put forward has met the economic viability test. What is particularly crippling, especially in regard to rental units, is the settlement’s requirement that the unit(s) be encumbered for 50 years, something unheard of in residential rental parlance.
A four-year labor agreement was reached with our police department late in 2012 and we hope to settle with the CSEA which represents our library staff and the Teamsters who represent our public works employees in early 2013.
Labor settlements produce a level of harmony and stability that then allows us to focus on the real work of the village. However, desirable and beneficial this end result, the trustees and I are acutely aware that we are only stewards of taxpayers’ dollars and negotiate accordingly.
I liken the job of a trustee in these times to that of a football player who plays both ways, both offense and defends in the same game.
One not only has to think and act proactively to make positive improvements to the village but also be very mindful of actions or inactions that may be detrimental to the village.
Constitutional issues of equal protection, separation of church and state and first amendment rights have figured into many recent trustee decisions.
As illustration, we chose to leave the free newspaper boxes standing on village streets understanding there was a free speech component. Neighboring communities who chose to remove the boxes either settled with the publisher or lost in court with penalties in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Supporters of political figure Lyndon La Rouche are seen with some frequency in front of the post office. Unless they are blocking the sidewalk or harassing passers by, their actions are constitutionally protected. The same is true for door-to-door solicitors who are not selling a product, rather an idea, be it Greenpeace or the Jehovah Witness. We even had to curtail our assistance to the annual Christmas pageant due to constitutional concerns.
We have an experienced group of trustees who bring all needed skill sets to the table, so I am very confident 2013 will be a positive and productive year for village government.