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January 2021

From the Mayor’s Office

 

DECEMBER 22, 2020

 

President John F. Kennedy said, “We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.” As we enjoy the holiday season and the tradition of counting our blessings, I thought there was no better time to stop and share my gratitude. Covid has certainly changed our lives, but I also think it has brought words like gratitude, blessed, loved and appreciated more to the forefront. My personal thanks starts with you, all of the Village residents, who have given me the opportunity to be part of the leadership team governing our special home. It has been the job and the honor of a lifetime. I thank everyone in Village government who stepped up when called and stepped up extraordinarily -our police officers who continue to pick up medicine and groceries for our senior citizens in addition to their normal duties of answering calls; our police chief who is passionate about trying to control the virus in our Village; our DPW staff who never missed a day of work during the height of the crisis; the administrative and library staffs  who kept things opened when so many other communities closed shop and whose leaders, Village Administrator, Jim Palmer and Library Director, Greg Wirszyla, led by sterling example.

 

And of course, overwhelming thanks to all of our first responders; the Bronxville Police Department, EVAC and the Eastchester Fire Department who early on and continue to risk their lives entering people’s homes and caring for them not knowing what awaits them. So many of the people they aided were brought to NYP/Lawrence Hospital where they were cared for by some of the most hard-working and dedicated people I have ever had the privilege to witness. I would often see staff, after long shifts, waiting patiently for Metro North trains that arrived at a snail’s pace. Their selflessness was awe inspiring.

 

All of our civic groups stepped up in one way or another with our Rotary Club leading the way. When I helped to deliver gift cards purchased by the Rotary to our postal workers, there was many moistened eyes of gratitude. Villagers then bought gift cards, gift cards and more gift cards; ordered books online from Womrath‘s and take out dinners from virtually every eating establishment. Then our Bronxville FOR Bronxville initiative was launched as a completely organic response from concerned residents who immediately distributed 19 $5,000 loans to keep some of our businesses afloat in early spring and are now in the process of dispensing almost $400,000 in low interest loans to local merchants. The third prong of this grassroots generosity is online donations via the Chamber Commerce. With gifts averaging well below $100, almost $25,000 has been raised so far to disperse to merchants to cover costs of Covid protections as well as partnering with the Chamber of Commerce to make the Village as attractive as possible during this critically important holiday season.

 

In essence, every resident seems to say, I am here to help. I thank our restauranteurs and merchants who show indomitable spirit, perseverance and hope in the face of an unimaginable adversary. How lucky are we that they chose Bronxville as their business home. Despite Covid, we in Village government knew we have had to keep going with as much business as usual as possible. Much was accomplished in the past nine months thanks to the literally dozens of Village residents who stepped up to join our volunteer boards, be it Planning, Zoning, Design Review, the Board of Assessment Review, the Library Board and the Finance and Ethics Committees. We simply could not have functioned without their commitment to give of their time and share their skills.

 

A huge debt of gratitude goes to the Bronxville School faculty and staff under the inspired leadership of Superintendent Roy Montesano who keeps our school going thanks to incredible commitment that required months of planning.  Our school’s continuous functioning, despite so many obstacles placed before it, serves as a beacon of hope to all Villagers. The young people of the Village deserve our admiration and frankly I am in awe of their resilience, their spirit, their kindness and the smiles on their faces despite a truly unprecedented change in their lives. So many of them lost the opportunity to share in the collective joys of graduations, sports victories, birthday parties and just being with friends.  You are an example to all of us.

 

I think our Village proves what David Brooks one said in an editorial that there was a lot of surplus goodness in daily life that cannot be explained by logic. It could be explained by gratitude which is the form of social glue that binds us all together and reminds us that a society isn’t just a contract based on mutual benefit but an organic connection based on natural sympathy; connections that are nurtured not by self-interest but by loyalty and service. I send this message filled with gratitude described by G.K. Chesterton, “thanks are the highest form of thought, and gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” We are so fortunate to live in a Village resplendent with wonder.

 

DECEMBER 14, 2020

 

This past week I partook in a zoom meeting with my fellow New York State mayors under the auspices of our larger organization, the New York State Conference of Mayors. We got together to prioritize issues germane to our communities for advocacy purposes as the State Legislature begins its new session.

 

The following is a snapshot of the issues and concerns that directly affect Bronxville.

Unrestricted State Aid: The state has been withholding 20% of local assistance payments as well as highway funds and various grant monies. Municipalities have already experienced 12 years without an increase in unrestricted aid while school districts have received increases every year to help them maintain essential services. Local governments need and deserve similar annual increases.

 

Highway assistance has also not been increased since 2013. The formula for distribution also seems to encourage car traffic, not walking traffic as it does not calculate sidewalk miles, purely roadways. Not only should funding be increased, but the formula should be changed to encourage more walkability and with it sustainability.

 

Funding for Water and Sewer Infrastructure: There is some money in these funds, however its distribution is counterintuitive in that it is not readily available for upgrades or preventive maintenance, rather municipalities are required to demonstrate an emergency situation and not simply a desire to prevent an emergency. In essence, the communities who are not proactive and ignore problems end up being rewarded for their complacency.

 

Remove the Tax Cap’s Disincentives for Economic Growth: Municipal leaders must be given the ability to invest in their infrastructure, promote downtown revitalization and encourage businesses to locate within their communities. The Tax Cap law should be amended to provide an exclusion from the cap for these kinds of municipal expenditures and public infrastructure repairs. This exclusion would only mirror what school districts and the state government itself are currently granted.

 

Increase in Gross Receipts Tax Revenue: Under current law, cities and villages have the option to impose a gross receipts tax (GRT )on the gross operating income of utility companies located within their boundaries at a rate of 1%. Unfortunately, the laws governing this tax were written decades ago and have not been amended to account for changes in technology or the marketplace.

 

Our Mayors’ Conference supports legislation that would permit municipalities, at local option, to impose the GRT at a rate of up to 3%. (This increase has already been granted to the cities of Buffalo, Rochester, Yonkers and Albany by legislation). In addition, in recognition of the predominance of wireless technology and to promote equity in the tax treatment of various types of telecommunication providers, state law must be amended to include cellular services as taxable and subject to local GRT at whatever percentage rate is eventually approved.

 

Interest Rate on Municipal Judgements.: According to current law, judgments against municipalities “shall not exceed 9%”, but almost universally the court applies the full 9% rate which is extraordinarily out of balance with the marketplace. New York local governments are frequently the target of litigation. In an average year, municipalities pay over $1 billion in claims and judgments with the cost by necessity shouldered by taxpayers through higher taxes, increased borrowing or reduction in municipal services. This artificially high interest rate on judgments also creates a barrier to appeal since municipal defendants risk having to pay very substantial interest costs if the appeal is unsuccessful, thus acting as a real deterrent to appeal even if a case appears strong. Legislation that would tie the interest rate on judgments and accrued claims to a market rate would be a fair and significant cost savings at the local level.

 

Equalize Charges For Vital Records: Historically, the statutory amount that a  local registrar could charge for copies of birth and death certificates has been equal to the charge imposed by the State Government itself. However, in 2003, the State fee was raised to $30 without a corresponding change for municipalities whose rate is inflexible at a $10 amount. Taking into account an employee’s time and materials to provide this service results in a monetary loss for local municipalities under the current formula.

 

Allow Public Safety Considerations in Bail Determination: New York’s recent bail reforms provided some long overdue changes in our State’s bail system. While the central purpose of bail is to ensure that defendants return to court for subsequent court proceedings, it also provides the ancillary benefit of keeping dangerous individuals off the streets. However, under the new law, judges have limited ability to consider public safety as a factor in making bail determinations. An amendment to the law to allow New York’s Criminal Courts to consider the danger that defendants may pose to the public when weighing the option of setting bail could foster safer communities.

 

Amendment of the Civil Service Employment Process: As communities look for innovative ways  to manage the workforce, we are often restricted by arcane civil service rules. Most notably is the famous “rule of three” that requires, in many instances, that the top three scorers on an exam be hired by any municipality before another municipality can reach candidate number four. This often causes amazingly long delays in getting to any candidate who scored fourth and beyond, regardless of whether their talents or skill set that would benefit certain community needs.

 

Reform of the Scaffold Law: Enacted in 1885, the Scaffold Law holds contractors , employers and property owners absolutely liable for gravity related injuries even if the worker was grossly negligent. Studies have shown that general liability insurance premiums have skyrocketed in New York due to increased litigation resulting from this law.  As municipalities are major builders and property owners, the cost is particularly onerous. In New York, the only state in the country with this law on the books, insurance premiums are 300% to 1200% higher than any other state in the country. Legislation that would establish a comparative negligence standard would create a more equitable field of play, holding employees who directly contribute to their injury liable for an apportionment of fault.

 

Traffic Safety: Currently under New York State law ,cities and villages may establish area-wide speed limits of not less than 30mph for roads in the municipality’s jurisdiction. However, 30 mph is too fast on many city and village streets. It would be advisable to amend the law to allow cities and villages to impose area speed limits of not less than 25 mph.

 

Red light and speed cameras have been authorized on a limited basis in specific municipalities across New York State. This technology is proving to be a cost-effective way for local governments to help reduce running red lights and speeding in pedestrian friendly neighborhoods and school zones. Consequently, the authority to install and enforce red light and speed cameras should be expanded state wide at local option.