City Review to roll out new website

 

NR-CONSTRUCTThe website for The City Review New Rochelle is currently under construction and a new website is in the process of being created to provide viewers with an enhanced digital version rivaling our newspaper. This new website has been in the works for more than a month already and is set to launch, under the same domain name, in the coming weeks. The new cityreviewnr.com promises to offer a fresh look, improved functionality and a uniqueness that has long been missing from our online presence. Speaking on behalf of the company,  we’re excited to put the old, archaic site to bed in favor of launching something new, fresh and worthy of complementing our traditional print product.

All you have to do is stay tuned.

-Christian Falcone, editor-in-chief

Rye councilwoman preps for state Senate run

Rye councilwoman preps City of Rye Councilwoman Julie Killian, a Republican, plans on launching a campaign for state Senate. Killian will try to upend popular Democrat George Latimer. Both candidates live in the city of Rye. File photofor state Senate run

City of Rye Councilwoman Julie Killian, a Republican, plans on launching a campaign for state Senate. Killian will try to upend popular Democrat George Latimer. Both candidates live in the city of Rye. File photo

By CHRISTIAN FALCONE
Julie Killian, a city of Rye councilwoman, will try to do what no other Republican has been able to: beat George
Latimer.

Killian announced that she pl-
ans to seek the New York state Senate seat for the 37th District currently occupied by Latimer, a Democrat, at a Rye City Republican Committee meeting last month, the Review has learned. She is in her first full term on the Rye City Council and earlier this year was appointed deputy mayor. Killian, a mother of five, first joined the council in 2012 after being appointed to the seat following a vacancy.

Tony Sayegh, a political analyst for Fox News and News12 Westchester, said the 37th District, which stretches from the city of Yonkers north to the town of Bedford, is one of the Senate’s very few true swing districts in the state, meaning that either political party could wrestle control in a given election cycle. “It really requires somebody who is independent in some respects,” he said, adding that it’s also a very diverse district.

Sayegh, also a Republican strategist, has already been retained by the Killian camp as she prepares to officially launch her candidacy with an announcement expected on Friday, after press time. According to Sayegh, she has been listening to people’s issues and gaining a better understanding of the district.

“Julie is trying to understand all of the concerns and slowly we’ll be rolling out some of the solutions to those problems,” said Sayegh, adding that as far as a platform, it’s still too early for Killian to start talking specifics.

But the analyst said, based on her record of service, Killian is viewed as a problem solver. “She knows how to build consensus, she’s worked across the aisle [and] she has been a thoughtful leader in the realm of public policy,” he said.

Killian, 54, has been a member of the Westchester County Charter Revision Commission, a group established to recommend changes to the county charter, as well as New Yorkers for Growth, a PAC that promotes fiscally responsible policies in the state.

In Rye, she has served on the city Finance Committee, been a volunteer in the Rye school district, and a supporter of the Rye library, Rye Historical Society and Rye Arts Center. Her latest project was helping to launch an anti-drug coalition in Rye in 2015.

“Julie is a positive person, that is one thing that overwhelms you when you talk to her,” Sayegh said. “I imagine she will stand up for issues she believes are right and also draw a contrast where there is a difference of opinion.”

Conversely, Sayegh criticized Latimer by calling his record of bipartisanship hollow, adding that he has voted with the Democratic leadership more than 98 percent of the time. “He has aligned himself with the Bill DiBlasio New York City agenda,” he said, referring to the liberal mayor of New York City.

For Latimer, 62, the criticism is nothing new, as he seems to always be the target of state Republicans, who want to maintain control of the Senate. The senator told the Review that he has a bull’s-eye on his back.

“It’s because I don’t have personal wealth,” he said. “I have lived within my means. Given the fact that my salary as an elected official is all the income I have, that is not a lot of money in a place like Rye. It’s probably laughable to people [with] successful business careers. [Republicans] know they can always outspend me.”

But Latimer, who is seeking his third term in the Senate, said there is a reason why he has been consistently re-elected.

“I don’t think anyone has proven they care more about the people they represent than I do, day after day,” he said.

Latimer has never lost an election, winning 14 consecutive races dating back to his one term on the Rye City Council in 1987.

Killian’s campaign is likely to be well-financed with a high level of organization and full of support from some of the top Republicans throughout the state.

However, the last time the GOP put an all-out assault on Latimer, it backfired.

In 2012, with Latimer seeking the Senate seat following the retirement of longtime Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer, a Democrat, the state Republicans ran Bob Cohen, who nearly defeated Oppenheimer just two years prior.

Many pundits predicted 2012 was Cohen’s time.

Cohen and Latimer battled it out before a statewide audience. The duo set the record for campaign expenditures in a state race at the time; the Cohen campaign spent more than $4 million on attack ads, including radio spots and TV commercials. But Latimer won the seat in surprisingly easy fashion, with 54 percent of the vote, and celebrated his hardest fought victory to date.

In 2014, Latimer defeated Republican Joe Dillon, a late entry who didn’t launch his campaign until July.

The district encompasses the cities of Yonkers, White Plains, New Rochelle and Rye; and the towns of Eastchester, Harrison, Mamaroneck, Rye, Bedford and North Castle.

Candidates are elected to the Senate for two-year terms with an annual base salary of $79,500.

Killian could not be reached for comment as of press time.

CONTACT: chris@hometwn.com

 

Senegal puts Mamaroneck High School on the map

Mamaroneck High School sophomores Colin Lavin, left, and Tim Sommer, far right, pose for a selfie with a trio of Cem Lambaye students. Just 30 students can be accommodated on the trip to Senegal. Photos courtesy Jamie Schiff

Mamaroneck High School sophomores Colin Lavin, left, and Tim Sommer, far right, pose for a selfie with a trio of Cem Lambaye students. Just 30 students can be accommodated on the trip to Senegal. Photos courtesy Jamie Schiff

By SARAH VARNEY
A few members of the Students for Senegal Club at Mamaroneck High School used to think that lions ran wild in the streets of the West African country of Senegal, but now that the organization has been around for four years, they know better. In this country, too, dangerous wild animals are kept in nature preserves far from populated areas.

While the distance between Senegal and Mamaroneck is about 4,000 miles, the gap has been bridged by AP Chemistry teacher Amary Sek, a Senegalese native who left his country 40 years ago.

Sek, who spearheads the high school club and its 24 members, recently traveled to the country over the winter holiday break to deliver books and other goodies. The club makes the trip to the village of Lambaye every two years, Sek, who grew up poor in the village, said.

Students for Senegal started out as a small club in 2009, and is now a separate nonprofit organization that strives to foster cross-cultural exchange and extend the gift of education to the people of Senegal, according to its website. Since its inception, the organization has raised more than $75,000 and has sent more than 30 preschoolers to school in Lambaye. The organization has also expanded chapters to Hommocks and Fieldston middle schools.

Students for Senegal evolved from the childhood stories Sek used to tell his students after school. Although Sek left Senegal years ago, his memories of growing up are fresh.

“I would tell [students] stories about how I grew up, how things were in my village,” he said. “More and more students would come and listen, and then one day a student came up with the idea to have a formal club.”

Since its inception, the club has undertaken numerous fundraisers and charity drives and has raised a total of $100,000 toward its goal of building a Learning Center for Lambaye. The Learning Center will have a women’s center, a preschool and a meeting room. The students organize all the fundraisers themselves, Sek said. Once a year, they hold a gala event as their biggest fundraiser.

Sophie Miller, an 11th-grade member of Students for Senegal, hangs out with a group of middle schoolers in Lambaye. Group members say they feel like rock stars when they arrive at the village.

Sophie Miller, an 11th-grade member of Students for Senegal, hangs out with a group of middle schoolers in Lambaye. Group members say they feel like rock stars when they arrive at the village.

Lambaye currently has a population of nearly 13,000, but Sek said economic conditions are not so different from the way they were when he was growing up there, and that the area is still quite poor.

Senegal is a country about the size of South Dakota, sandwiched between Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania and Mali, with a population of 13 million. A secular Muslim country, 52 percent of the population is under 19 years old, according to a 2013 census.

While the value of an education is understood in more populated areas of Senegal, such as Dakar, the capital city, the message has been slower to trickle down to more rural areas like Lambaye, Sek said.

It is common for fathers to take one or more of his children away from a home village to the city to become street vendors. “There is an exodus of many of the men,” Sek added. “They are leaving their wives and kids behind and often they are not given support.”

Like many African countries, the culture is warmly receptive to visitors. “They are honored when someone comes to visit. They make lots of food; there is dancing. It is a very big deal,” Sek said.

Jamie Schiff, a senior member of Students for Senegal, bears out Sek. “Their [Senegalese hosts’] welcoming attitude and the way in which they received us was like nothing we’d ever experienced before,” she said.

Students for Senegal has donated thousands of books in both English and French, Senegal’s official language, and have founded a small library at the school.

The Students for Senegal Club gathers beneath its logo. The club at Mamaroneck High School currently has about 40 members. Photo/Sarah Varney

The Students for Senegal Club gathers beneath its logo. The club at Mamaroneck High School currently has about 40 members. Photo/Sarah Varney

One of Sek’s stories fostered “Smiles for Senegal,” a 2015 drive that collected hundreds of toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste for their peer students in Lambaye. When Sek mentioned using a stick as dental floss, the Students for Senegal Club discussed how to promote dental health in the country.

Since the club’s involvement with the students at Cem Lambaye, the passing rate for students taking the critical exam that enables them to move on to high school has increased from 30 percent to 70 percent.

Mamaroneck High School students in the Students for Senegal Club benefit from their involvement as well. “You can see your efforts pay off firsthand,” junior Molly Nodiff said.

CONTACT: sarah@hometwn.com

 

Regents board cuts testing as teacher eval. factor

 

In less than a year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo went from advocating that standardized Common Core test scores should account for as much as 50 percent of the basis for teacher evaluations to leaving it up to the Board of Regents to decide. File photo

In less than a year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo went from advocating that standardized Common Core test scores should account for as much as 50 percent of the basis for teacher evaluations to leaving it up to the Board of Regents to decide. File photo

By SARAH VARNEY
In response to “feedback we received,” Board of Regents President Meryl S. Tisch presided over a committeewide vote that did away with the portion of the Annual Professional Performance Review that ranked teachers statewide on how well students performed on annual Common Core standardized English Language Arts and Math Concepts exams.

Rye City Board of Education President Katy Keohane Glassberg expressed her approval of the demise of the ranking percentage.

“The board is very pleased with the four-year moratorium on using state tests as a major factor in evaluating teachers,” she said. “The pendulum is beginning to swing in the right direction, reducing the pressure around testing and allowing school districts to focus on using tests to inform instruction to benefit students.”

Rye City Schools Superintendent Dr. Frank Alvarez said he is hopeful that the change will lead to a teacher evaluation system based on teaching.

Recently, state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, hinted to a group of Westchester school officials that positive changes would be coming soon. At the time, that indication…
was met with surprise and cautious optimism.

That’s because, as recently as last February, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, spoke of his
intention to encourage the Board of Regents to increase the weighted percentage of test scores from 40 percent to 50 percent.

However, he left the final decision to the board.

Under a model that assigned 50 percent of the weight of a yearly evaluation for teachers, 30 percent would be based on Common Core standardized test scores and 15 percent would be based on “locally-determined assessments.” The remaining 5 percent was undetermined. However, that model
was never adopted due to the increasingly vocal controversy around Common Core testing and the fairness issue around test scores affecting teachers’ careers. The remaining 50 percent of the evaluation would be gathered by observing teachers in their classrooms during instructional time.

Now, by a vote of 15 to 1,
using a weighted percentage of tests as a means of evaluating teachers has been overturned. Tisch, who was the lone opposition to the measure, did not provide an explanation.

While the measure has been overturned, school administrators are still left with the vestiges, said Dr. Betty Anne Wyks, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for the Rye City School District.  “I’m curious to see what guidance we’re going to get [from the New York State Education Department] for this. We’re still going to have to live by the testing rules until there’s a clear transition,” she said.

In addition, school district administrators will still have to calculate teacher evaluation scores according to the rules that are in place, and once a score is recorded, it is part of a teacher’s permanent record. Stepping carefully around the issue of fairness, Wyks said that a negative score recorded for a teacher under the current rules could still undermine that teacher’s confidence and motivation.

“Why record the score if it doesn’t matter?” she asked.

Area school community members, including parents, board members, and teachers’ reaction to the news of the test percentage elimination was met with enthusiasm.

President of the Mamaroneck Union Free School District’s Board of Education Ann LoBue reacted positively.

“I think it’s great. While it makes sense to me that student performance should be part of the evaluations, this methodology is flawed,” LoBue said.

CONTACT: sarah@hometwn.com

 

Adopted county budget restores nonprofit funding

 

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, seated center, signs his $1.8 billion budget for 2016—that includes no tax levy increase—as Republican legislators look on. A large portion of proposed funding cuts to nonprofit and arts organizations, originally included in the county executive’s budget, have been restored. For some organizations, however, the restoration may not be enough. Photo courtesy Westchester County

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, seated center, signs his $1.8 billion budget for 2016—that includes no tax levy increase—as Republican legislators look on. A large portion of proposed funding cuts to nonprofit and arts organizations, originally included in the county executive’s budget, have been restored. For some organizations, however, the restoration may not be enough. Photo courtesy Westchester County

By JAMES PERO
On Dec. 14, the Westchester County Board of Legislators voted 10-7 in favor of passing a budget that restores some crucial funding to both nonprofit and arts organizations across Westchester County, adding $8.4 million to the 2016 budget.

The funding cuts were introduced as a part of Republican County Executive Rob Astorino’s original budget, which was released in November.

Despite amendments to restore proposed funding cuts, the $1.8 billion approved budget does not raise the property tax levy, marking the sixth consecutive year without an increase. Cuts to vacant staff positions, which total $3 million, were among the biggest decreases in proposed expenditures.

The decision to pass the budget comes from a bipartisan coalition made up of eight Republicans and two Democrats, county legislators Virginia Perez, of Yonkers, and Michael Kaplowitz, of Yorktown, which controls the board of legislators.

Among the nonprofit organizations that saw a major restoration in funding is the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, which has seen its funding cuts fall from $140,000 to only $40,000.

According to the executive director of Nonprofit Westchester, Joanna Straub, although the restored funding is a step in the right direction, the recently-approved budget still leaves some organizations without the money they need, marking the sixth consecutive year of funding cuts.

“Some organizations [had] small but not insignificant cuts,” she said. “Even a small cut can have a big impact on these programs.”

Straub said that although about 75 percent of the funds proposed to be cut were restored, some organizations like April’s Child—which helps combat child abuse in Westchester—are seeing their funding slashed substantially.

With a cut of $184,000 the organization is set to lose about 40 percent of its total budget, which Straub said will likely lead to massive staffing cuts—about half of their current staff.

She said ripple effects of those cuts could extend to the rest of the county.

“There’s a chance that more children will go into foster care at a much greater expense to the county.” Straub added.

The approved budget also drastically reduces the amount of county staffing cuts from 25 to just six, in addition to the elimination of 64 currently-vacant positions.

Among the restored positions are six curator spots for county parks as well as a salaried position for a farm manager at Muscoot Farm in Katonah.

Despite a bipartisan effort to restore some of the funding cuts to nonprofit and arts organizations, concerns over an increasingly tight budget have still lingered, as sales tax shortfalls continue to plague the county.

“We saw diminished sales tax revenue this year because of plummeting fuel costs, which will leave us short of what we anticipated,” said Kaplowitz, chairman of the county board of legislators, in a prepared statement. “As a result, we will likely have to use dollars from our fund balance to make up that shortfall.”

The shortfall is expected to total about $10 million to $15 million, placing extra emphasis on revenue. Currently, the budget estimates another $1.1 million in revenue, and a 4 percent increase in sales tax revenue for the 2016 fiscal year over what the county collected this year.

The county’s Democratic caucus has already spoken out against the budget, calling it “structurally unbalanced,” citing overly optimistic sales tax revenue projections as a major area of concern.

“While I’m happy to see that there were some service restorations, I cannot endorse a budget that spends money based on fictitious revenues,” said Legislator Catherine Borgia, an Ossining Democrat and majority leader, who voted against the budget.

CONTACT: james@hometwn.com

 

The Review Roundup

Rashon McNeil fights for a rebound in a tightly-contested game against Mount Vernon on Monday.

Rashon McNeil fights for a rebound in a tightly-contested game against Mount Vernon on Monday.

Boys Basketball

1/4 Mount Vernon d. New Rochelle 72-63

An early Huguenot lead didn’t stand up on Jan. 4, as New Rochelle fell 72-63 to Mount Vernon in the first meeting of the year between the two rivals.

Buoyed by a poor shooting performance by the Knights and a huge rebounding edge in the first half, New Rochelle led the reigning Section I champs by as many as 11 points before heading into halftime with a
38-33 lead.

Mount Vernon picked up the pace after the break, however, forcing 17 second-half turnovers as they cut into the Huguenots margin and eventually took the lead late in the third quarter.

Rashon McNeil goes up for a layup. Photos/Mike Smith

Rashon McNeil goes up for a layup. Photos/Mike Smith

Junior swingman Noah Morgan led the way for Mount Vernon, netting 19 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, while teammate Marco Morency added 17 points of his own.

Jamel Wallace and Jarrett Haines both scored 13 points to pace the Huguenots, and Haines also dished out six assists.

New Rochelle coach Rasaun Young could not be reached for comment as of press time.

With the loss, New Rochelle fell to 3-4 on the season, with two losses coming at the hands of Section I teams. They will be back in action on Jan. 6, after press time, against league foe White Plains. The Huguenots and Knights will square off again on Feb. 2.

Girls Basketball

12/17 New Rochelle d. Rye 52-46

Jarrett Haines guards a Mount Vernon player at New Rochelle High School. Haines finished with 13 points and six assists.

Jarrett Haines guards a Mount Vernon player at New Rochelle High School. Haines finished with 13 points and six assists.

In the finals of the Rye Holiday Tournament last month, New Rochelle fended off a challenge from the host Garnets to come away with a 52-46 win and the tourney title.

Rye stayed with the Class AA Huguenots during the first three quarters of the game, heading into the final stanza tied at 33-33, but New Rochelle’s ability to get to the line proved to be the difference-maker as the Huguenots were able to outlast their hosts.

Kayla Correa earned tournament MVP honors with a terrific performance in the championships, going 11-of-12 from the foul line and finishing with a game-high 24 points. Rye was led by Maddie Eck, who scored 21 points on the afternoon.

“I was happy with our effort, especially on the defensive end,” Rye coach Dennis Hurlie said. “But [New Rochelle] turned it up a notch and we didn’t knock down as many free throws as
we wanted.”

New Rochelle will take on White Plains on Jan. 6, after press time.

Ice Hockey

1/4 White Plains d.

Jamel Wallace goes up for a layup against Mount Vernon on Jan. 4. Wallace had 13 points in a 72-63 Huguenot loss.

Jamel Wallace goes up for a layup against Mount Vernon on Jan. 4. Wallace had 13 points in a 72-63 Huguenot loss.

New Rochelle 5-4

Two goals apiece from Massimo Miceli and Jonas Passante were not enough to help the Huguenots tame the Tigers on Monday, as White Plains earned a one-goal win over New Rochelle at the Ice Hutch.

James Carrier scored twice for the Tigers and freshman goalie Justin Schulz made 27 saves in the win.

The Huguenots will look to turn things around on Jan. 8, when they take on Pearl River.

-Reporting by Mike Smith
Bold denotes home team or location

 

Column: Misery loves company

On Jan. 3, Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills dashed the Jets’ playoff hopes with a 22-17 win over Gang Green. For a Giants fan like Sports Editor Mike Smith, the Jets’ loss was a bright spot in an otherwise terrible NFL season. Photos courtesy Wikipedia.com

On Jan. 3, Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills dashed the Jets’ playoff hopes with a 22-17 win over Gang Green. For a Giants fan like Sports Editor Mike Smith, the Jets’ loss was a bright spot in an otherwise terrible NFL season. Photos courtesy Wikipedia.com

I swear that I’m not a spiteful person, but when it comes to sports, it seems like a healthy dose of “schadenfreude” is sometimes unavoidable.

Last Sunday, while watching my New York Giants put the finishing touches on a dreadful 6-10 season—and Tom Coughlin’s coaching career—the only thing that gave me any sort of comfort was seeing the Jets’ season come to an equally disastrous end.

I know. I’m a bad person.

The truth is, even for a Giants fan, this wasn’t a hard Jets team to root for. After jettisoning swagger-y blowhard Rex Ryan in the offseason, Gang Green was under new management in the form of Todd Bowles, a coach cut from the same cloth as the no-nonsense Coughlin. They played hard-nosed defense, had the franchise’s most explosive offense in more than a decade and had a likeable—if not imperfect—signal caller under center in Ryan Fitzpatrick. What’s not to like?

But jealousy is a strange emotion. I came into Week 17 with every intention of rooting for the Jets to beat the Bills—now helmed by Ryan—and clinch a playoff spot. But as the two 1 p.m. games unfolded, I found myself almost subconsciously cheering each Buffalo third-down conversion, delighting in the growing despair of the Jets fans around me.

I guess part of it is the residual resentment built up from the Rex Ryan regime. I never had strong feelings one way or the other about the franchise before Rex took over, but his tenure was marked by the kind of bravado and boastfulness that doesn’t engender a lot of goodwill from opposing fan bases.

But mostly, it had to do with the Giants’ failures. If I had to watch my team blow chance after chance and miss yet another postseason, why should anyone else—let alone people I have to see every day—have the right to be happy?

Am I being juvenile? You bet. But at least I’m not alone.

Throughout the course of the game, I was communicating with some friends in a group chat, the majority of whom were Giants or Eagles fans, and had no real stakes in the Bills-Jets game. Only my friend Mike, a season ticket-holder for years, swears allegiance to New York’s other team. But as Fitzpatrick’s interceptions doomed the Jets, you would have thought the rest of us were members of the so-called “Bills Mafia.”

Giants’ coach Tom Coughlin lost his job after another bad season for Big Blue. For Sports Editor Mike Smith, the only silver lining is that the Jets aren’t in the playoffs either.

Giants’ coach Tom Coughlin lost his job after another bad season for Big Blue. For Sports Editor Mike Smith, the only silver lining is that the Jets aren’t in the playoffs either.

GIFS of plane crashes, butt-fumbles and jubilant Rex Ryan celebrations flooded the chain, as we did our best to pile on to our buddy’s already crummy day.

I may not be proud of myself, but if I can’t be proud of the Giants, watching someone else suffer might just be the next best thing.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a Tyrod Taylor jersey to order.

 

Follow Mike on Twitter
@LiveMike_Sports

 

 

Column: Hopes for 2016

New Year’s resolutions are fine for matters within our own power to control such as what we do to others and to ourselves. But for what is beyond our reach we can only hope and pray for, according to our beliefs. Here are some yearnings that fall now into the category of mere hopes.

I hope that in 2016, we Americans will gain a president-elect with the brains and stamina for this hugely demanding responsibility. Considering the broad range of our present and foreseeable problems, the person we need may not seem to be able to beat the present in our sight. But candidates can sometimes rise above their prospects.

I hope that our organs of government will function successfully in 2016, bringing about lawful and practical solutions that have been thoroughly discussed among the interested parties.

I hope that age-old religious schisms and hatred of other humans, regardless of race, color, creed or beliefs may be defeated by love and kindness and, if that fails, by either a national or international criminal court where the eyes of world might be “the jury of their peers.”

I hope to see a new Rye City Council that swears off the sloppy habit of holding private meetings to discuss the public’s business. Even in the infrequent situations where allowed by state law, private meetings are a blot on our civic reputation.

And I also hope to see a City Council where differences of opinion are welcomed and aired in a spirit of respectful debate, rather than being shunned as some sort of juvenile behavior. Let friendly smiles and good will prevail in City Hall.

And I hope to see continued support for architectural and environmental preservation in our city of Rye and that the only rock-splitting sounds that we hear this year will come from the traditional suburban “garage band” of a guitar, bass and drums and not from any destructive earth-shattering chipping machine.

And I hope to see all members of our community, Republicans and Democrats, white collar and blue collar professionals, women and men, young and old, continue to volunteer their time and expertise on our many boards and committees, our firefighting companies, nonprofit organizations and houses of worship in order to preserve the unique character of this place that we call home.

CONTACT: j_pcarey@verizon.net

 

Column: Honoring Sgt. Lemm and My Community Alert

As many of you know, our community suffered a loss with the tragic death of West Harrison resident Staff Sgt. Joseph Lemm, who was recently killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan. Sgt. Lemm was cherished by his family and was greatly admired by our community. Through these dark days, I have been deeply moved by the outpouring of love, friendship and faith I’ve witnessed, especially by our residents. I hope that this show of support will encourage those who knew and loved Sgt. Lemm to draw strength from the sense of community we have in Harrison. Thank you to those involved in honoring his memory. I hope we can all find solace in celebrating Sgt. Lemm’s short but meaningful life and remembering better times.

I would like to extend my warmest wishes for a prosperous and healthy new year. I hope you and your family had a happy and festive holiday. I want to thank you for all your support over the last year. The town board has achieved incredible things so far, and I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish together in 2016.

As we begin the new year, I am happy to report that Harrison continues to build on the success of the last few years while keeping tax increases in check, sustaining a healthy reserve and maintaining all our basic municipal services. In addition to our improved bond rating from Moody’s, Harrison’s 2016 budget was adopted and remains under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s mandated tax cap. Advancing this positive trend is a priority and I look forward to the challenges and opportunities in the year ahead.

I would like to bring your attention to My Community Alert. This valuable system allows Harrison police officers and other town officials to notify residents in the event of an ongoing emergency. Text messages and emails are sent to registered residents if the Harrison Police Department believes that the community should be informed of a local incident or event. Recently, our Police Department has sent out alerts pertaining to road closures and weather updates, and has warned our community that fraudulent phone solicitations had been reported in our area. Residents can register with My Community Alert at mycommunityalert.net. I encourage all to take advantage of this very useful tool.

Please be aware of the following sanitation notice: Christmas trees may be placed curbside for pickup through Sunday, Jan. 31. Please do not place trees in plastic bags. No holiday wreaths or roping will be collected. Visit harrison-ny.gov for more information.

The library is continuing to offer great programs. I encourage all interested movie buffs to attend our library’s Brown Bag Cinema. Enjoy the new large screen at the recently-renovated Halperin building of the Harrison Public Library. This event is free of charge and is held on one Thursday each month at 1 p.m. Bring your lunch, sit back and enjoy a screening of a film newly released on DVD. Upcoming films include “The Walk” on Jan. 21 and “The Intern” on Feb. 18. Refreshments are provided by The Friends of the Harrison Library.

Column: New York state villages face added burdens

The New York state comptroller’s office recently announced that beginning with the June 2016 budget cycle, the 2 percent tax cap law will translate into only a 0.12 percent tax ceiling for villages in compliance.

This unrealistic limit was extrapolated from a signature piece of legislation for the governor, which limits spending growth to either 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.

In contrast, state spending is not limited in this way, nor are the projected increases in the more than 200 unfunded mandates annually delivered to villages from Albany.

Clearly, the tax cap operates in a politically expedient vacuum devoid of economic realities.

Although it is rhetorically brilliant, the long-term detriment of the tax cap cannot be overestimated.

As illustrated, if Bronxville were to come in under the cap in this budget cycle, we would have to forfeit $5 million-plus in FEMA flood mitigation monies because our 12.5 percent matching share would exceed the tax cap limit.

Unlike the exception made for school districts, capital improvements and infrastructure repairs undertaken by a municipality are not exempt from the tax cap spending calculation. This prohibition creates the most powerful disincentive for communities to repair one of the nation’s most aging infrastructures.

In an effort to counter the unrealistic 0.12 percent spending increase ceiling, many of our neighboring villages, including Tuckahoe, Irvington, Dobbs Ferry, Ardsley and Hastings, petitioned for a 3 percent hotel tax on each rented room; the logic being that the revenue would be a user tax, rather than a property tax, and the increased funds would at least keep local services flat.

Even though the governor signed an almost identical bill allowing the city of Yonkers to generate this revenue, he vetoed it for local villages after most of Westchester’s elected officials and the bipartisan Westchester Municipal Officials Association objected to it.

Why are there disproportionate burdens on villages, including the unrealistic 0.12 percent tax cap, the lack of an exemption for capital/infrastructure repairs and the continuation of the Metro-North tax for municipalities only, which cost our village a half percent tax point yearly?

As a close follower of the governor’s statements, I have concluded that the tax cap legislation and the recent veto are rooted in the governor’s overarching goal of municipal consolidations.

When he was our attorney general, Andrew Cuomo’s office submitted a bill allowing any citizen of New York state to start the process of the dissolution of a village, regardless of whether they lived in that village, by garnering the support of only 10 percent of the residents who voted in the last mayoral election. To put the governor’s bill into context, a non-resident would need to find only eight Bronxville residents to force a villagewide referendum or vote on dissolution. The incredibly flawed bill was amended several times, but the new bill passed has provisions that require communities to vote on their own dissolution before a consolidation plan and financial impact statement are produced. The village of Seneca Falls went this route and is now mired in years of litigation between cost sharing and financial obligations with its merged town.

On the subject of consolidation, Cuomo states that there are 10,500 government units in New York state, which are far too many in his estimation. Refuting this, the state comptroller’s office sets the number at 4,200. Included in both calculations are all of the Off Track Betting operations and Industrial Development Authorities, which have no taxing authority, so both numbers are misnomers.

In his stump speeches, the governor states, “I support consolidations. I think if you said to the taxpayers of most districts in this state, I know you like to have your name and identity. Is it worth $2,000 a year—the supposed, though undocumented, savings from consolidation—to have your name and identity, they would say, ‘Change my name.’”

The statistics don’t bare this out.

Since the most recent revision of the Consolidation Law was enacted in 2007, thanks to the governor’s efforts as attorney general, one community in the state, Altmar, with a population of 407, has consolidated with its neighbor.

Based on the federal census of local governments per capita, there is also no correlation between the number of governmental layers and a person’s relative tax burden.

Two of the most intensely-governed states are New Hampshire and Oklahoma, yet they are two of the least taxed.

New York and New Jersey are near the bottom in governmental units, but are near the top in tax burden. This is the result of New York’s “trickle down” policy of making local governments shoulder tax burdens shifted from Albany.

In Westchester County alone, $225 million collected annually at the local level is remitted to Albany for the state Medicaid program. Westchester County taxpayers could see this $225 million in local tax relief immediately if the governor and the state legislature would only do what 49 other states have done already and fund Medicaid
at the state level.

The consolidation theme mirrors the tax cap mantra in its political appeal and simplicity of message, but again does not address the true underlying issues. Eliminating a few positions in a police or public works department does not ameliorate the underlying unsustainable pension system. Rather, consolidation puts an added distance between the taxpayer and their government. I would also argue that elected officials closest to the impact of their decisions, and personally sharing the financial consequences thereof, make the more efficient decisions and are directly answerable to their constituents, be it at Village Hall or in the aisles of Value Drugs.

Consolidation decisions should be made on factors unrelated to the vicissitudes of the current Albany agenda, rather on the benefits to the most important special interest group, the New York state taxpayers.