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The following is Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner's annual "Year In Review" column.
2012 was a very active year for town officials. There were many major and minor accomplishments and issues that were addressed. The following are some of the highlights:
FINANCIAL: For the second consecutive year the Greenburgh Town Board complied with the tax cap, which limits tax increases. About 25% of local governments around the state overrode the cap and increased taxes by more than the 2% tax cap levy. We did not! I Am proud of the fact that the town received in 2012 the prestigious AAA bond rating from Moody's and Standard & Poor's, a distinction earned by less than 3% of localities in the United States. A triple A bond rating is the highest rating any government can receive!
In 2012 we took some long-term steps that will help the town be managed in a fiscally prudent manner in the years ahead. The just-ratified teamsters contract requires employees to start contributing towards their health care costs, something that was not required previously. Health care contributions will be required as part of all salary hike negotiations. We reached out to other communities in Westchester and invited them to join Greenburgh and Yonkers and reassess all properties. Reassessment will significantly reduce the certiorari's (successful tax grievances that reduce the revenues the town receives each year). In addition, we will be able to create two separate classes: commercial and residential. If a commercial entity files a certiorari and wins a big tax reduction, only the businesses (not the homeowners) will absorb the loss. The town, joined by other communities, will start the reassessment in 2013. We expect that over half of all parcels in the county will be reassessed and that we will save significant dollars by partnering with other communities on this initiative
In 2013 we will authorize the purchase of a "one arm bandit" sanitation truck. The truck will need one employee ‒ not three. We will gradually reduce our workforce, via attrition (not layoffs) and become more efficient. The one arm bandit trucks are used around the nation. Another saving: We have retrofitted two trucks (brine trucks). We put the brine on roads before storms, helping the town save overtime during small snow storms. The pre-treated roads do not require plowing and as much attention during small storms. We need to think out of the box to save you dollars.
SPORTS FACILITY ON DOBBS FERRY ROAD: In 2011 the town posted signs at Frank's and invited businesses to submit proposals to the town for the use of the old Frank's nursery. We also publicized the RFP process via the web, newspapers and radio. We showed the property to a number of people. We received three bids: Game On expressed a desire to lease the property for an indoor sports facility (playing fields). Two others offered to buy the property ‒ the maximum offer received was for $1.5 million. The Town Board decided that we liked the sports facility option the best. Revenue for the town will help the Golf Range stay in business. We desperately need more playing field space in Westchester. We scheduled a referendum this past November (something not required). Voters approved a referendum to allow an indoor sports facility (Game on) to be built at the abandoned Frank's nursery by a margin of close to 70%. Although voters approved the referendum, a competitor to Game On has filed some lawsuits against the town trying to prevent or delay the construction. They indicated that they could tie up the sports facility in court for up to eight years. As a result, we are proceeding with plans to sell the property to Game On instead of leasing the property to them. We will sell for more than $1.5 million. Game On will be responsible for all taxes and will also be responsible for the cleanup. The sale will make the lawsuits moot.
FERNCLIFF MANOR IS TOWN BOARD'S WISH FOR WESTHELP SITE: The Town Board has rights to the former WESTHELP property on Knollwood Road for almost 20 more years. Earlier this year we issued an RFP for the use of the Westhelp facility. Ferncliff Manor, an organization that serves the developmentally disabled community, proposed giving the town $500,000 a year in rent. The second closest bid was $360,000 from an affordable housing developer. The Town Board and I prefer Ferncliff Manor over the other options. The County Executive, Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, State Assembly member Tom Abinanti, and a majority of the County Legislators agree. We need 12 of the 17 Legislators to support our request since Ferncliff wants a long-term contract. If the legislature rejects the application (we need a super majority of legislators on our side) we will lease the property to an affordable housing developer. Ferncliff has many benefits for the town: a good use (helping the developmentally disabled). Most revenue to the town each year. Ferncliff will require the least amount of services from the town or school district.
LOIS BRONZ CHILDREN'S CENTER OPERATING AT A SURPLUS: Two years ago the Lois Bronz Children's Center was in danger of closing. Now, thanks to excellent management and a hardworking and smart board, the center is running at a profit.
HURRICANE RESPONSE: During and after Hurricane Sandy our employees worked long and hard trying to help you get your quality of life back. About 40 secondary roads were closed after the storm and had to be re-opened, debris and obstructions removed, streets patrolled to make sure your property was safe, questions responded to and complaints followed up. 9,500 homes were out of power right after the storm.
Town staff responded quickly to requests for help. We provided residents with shelter. The CERT team of volunteers helped staff the emergency shelter at the Theodore Young Community Center. The Greenburgh Library expanded hours ‒ offering residents a chance to relax in a warm environment after the storm. We started a House Angels program (which received national attention). House angels offered their homes to the "powerless." We matched those with power with those without.
NO FLOODING AFTER HURRICANE SANDY: The town did not experience any significant flooding after Hurricane Sandy. Prior to the hurricane (during the past year) the town (working with Elmsford) cleared obstructions from the Saw Mill River and checked drains and removed obstructions. We hope that our proactive initiatives were helpful.
MORE THAN HOUSE ANGELS: Our TV angels volunteer their time during the year picking up old TVs and dropping them off at the Highway garage. The TVs are heavy ‒ difficult for seniors to move on their own. And, our snow angels volunteer their time clearing driveways and walkways of seniors and disabled residents. This is what community is about ‒ neighbors helping neighbors.
JOB REFERRALS: About 4 years ago I set up a job club, helping the unemployed find employment. A special thank you to the many residents who have advised me of job openings where they work so I can help your out-of-work neighbors find employment. Job postings are sent to residents who subscribe to a jobs e-list and are posted on www.linkedin.com (Greenburgh jobs group) as I learn of the openings
GREENBURGH HEALTH CENTER ALMOST OPEN: The new Greenburgh health center, which will open its new building in the winter, will provide residents with excellent health care. I'm thankful that the center kept their promise to build a sidewalk from their new building to Route 119.
NEW WATER DISTRICT ADVISORY BOARD APPOINTED: The Town Board created a new Board ‒ the water district advisory board ‒ to review water rates and short and long term infrastructure needs. We appreciate the oversight! The water district no longer is running at a deficit.
WESTHAB WORKFORCE HOUSING: A new affordable housing apartment complex is being built near the Westchester County Center. The need is great ‒ during the year many residents have contacted me requesting applications. When it opens in the spring of 2013, the families that move in will experience a great quality of life improvement.
STATE REPAVES 119: Route 119 was repaved from the Tarrytown/Greenburgh line to the White Plains line.
NEW DISABLED ADVISORY COMMITTEE: We formed a new disabled advisory committee headed by Angela Raso. The committee is making recommendations to the town and advising us on how to be a more disabled-friendly community.
WATERWHEEL AFFORDABLE HOUSING: We are thankful that the town, Ardsley and county all worked together so that additional affordable housing could be built in Ardsley on town-foreclosed land (the former waterwheel property). Some of the units will be designated for volunteer firefighters and ambulance corp members. Construction should take place in 2013.
BERKELEY STUDENT INTERNS: I am grateful to the students at Berkeley College who have been devoting their time to the town, helping departments manage their workload at no cost to the taxpayers. Mona Fraitag, co-chair of the Poet's Corner Civic Association, has donated hundreds of hours overseeing this program. She worked with Alan Hochberg, chair of the Citizens Commission, reviewing the budget and looking for ways to help the town save money. We estimate that the student interns have saved taxpayers $1 million.
STUDENT NEWS NETWORK: A group of hardworking and intelligent students (working with Town Clerk Judith Beville) have started their own student news network, producing news stories and airing them on public access TV. One of our summer student interns, David Schuman, appeared on "Jeopardy!" this year and won a game!
CITIZEN BOARDS AND COMMISSIONS CONTINUE: We have hundreds of citizen volunteers. Many serve as appointed members of Boards and Commissions. They work long hours and meet frequently. A Citizens Commission has been meeting throughout the year (day, night, weekends) helping me review the town budget, offering great ideas. The goal: predictability, stability and good planning.
NEW DISCOVERY ZONE PLAYGROUND AT THE GREENBURGH NATURE CENTER: The town, working with our dedicated employees and the board at the Greenburgh Nature Center, opened up a spectacular new playground. Funding for the playground came from non-taxpayer developer escrow funds. The center's new executive director, Margaret Goldberg, has some great ideas that will take the center to the next level! A new nature center opened in Irvington ‒ the O'Hara Nature Center (some spectacular trails).
TOWN CORRECTS OUTDATED ZONING MAPS: There were some outdated zoning maps around town that needed corrections. We corrected them.
MORE THAN 90 VETERANS TAPE THEIR STORIES FOR LIVING HISTORY INITIATIVE: A few years ago Steve Wittenberg of Ardsley and Alan Hochberg of Hartsdale started a new initiative: the living history initiative. They have been interviewing veterans of World War II and the Korean conflict. The goal: to make sure that the stories of our veterans (local heroes) are never forgotten). Over 90 living history interviews have been filmed. The United States Library of Congress will be archiving the stories. New interviews have been conducted weekly during 2012.
NEW BUSINESSES: I am thankful every time a vacant storefront is replaced with a vibrant new business. Captain Lawrence Brewery, H Mart, Acorda and some new restaurants are among the new businesses. Stop & Shop opened a supermarket on 119. Ben's deli is coming soon to Central Avenue.
TOWN LOSES FORTRESS BIBLE APPEAL: The town had fought the placement of a church on Dobbs Ferry Road because of safety concerns. We lost our appeal of a federal court ruling that the town must allow the church to build.
GOVERNOR SIGNS LEGISLATION AUTHORIZING TOWN TO LEASE TENNIS COURTS: In 2012 the town was able to successfully push for state legislation authorizing the town to lease tennis courts to private vendors. More recreation. No cost to the taxpayers. This will be helpful to the town in the years ahead and enable the town to enter into public/private partnerships. We are currently meeting with some possible vendors.
POPHAM ROAD BRIDGE CONSTRUCTION IS ALMOST FINISHED: The Popham Road bridge links Scarsdale to Edgemont. The construction took a few years (this wasn't a town project) and created lots of inconveniences. I am glad that the bridge construction is almost completed! It's a beautiful new bridge that will reduce traffic congestion for motorists driving to Scarsdale from Ardsley Road.
TARRYTOWN NAMED BY FORBES AS ONE OF PRETTIEST TOWNS IN AMERICA: We are proud that this village is located within the town.
STATE MOVES FORWARD WITH NEW TAPPAN ZEE BRIDGE: I spent some time this year opposing possible toll hikes that could be as high as $14. Seems as if the hikes won't be as high as they were originally projected.
NEW LED LIGHTS: During the past year we tested some LED lights around town. These light poles will save energy and money. We hope to expand the program.
OBJECTED TO HARTSDALE TRAIN STATION HATE ADS: I objected to ethnic/religious hate ad's being placed at the Hartsdale train station. The MTA agreed to my suggestion to post disclaimers.
SPRAINBROOK NURSERY GOING OUT OF BUSINESS: Sprainbrook Nursery is going out of business. We have been meeting with residents and the owners of the property trying to help them come up with a plan to keep the property special.
TOWN GETS LAND FOR $1: We purchased parcel Q from the county (Old Sprain Road) for $1. Land will be kept as open space.
TOWN BOARD AUTHORIZES LAWSUIT SETTLEMENT WITH VALHALLA SCHOOL DISTRICT FOR $1.1 MILLION: The Town Board authorized me to execute a stipulation of settlement with the Valhalla School District for $1.1 million (town to receive the money which had been given to the school district as part of the WESTHELP partnership, which courts and the state comptroller found was invalid).
CUMBERLAND FARMS CAN OPEN CONVENIENCE STORE: A three-year-old application was approved when the Town Board passed legislation authorizing Cumberland Farms to open a convenience store off Old Army Road and Central Avenue. There was an abandoned gas station at the location for a number of years.
NEW ASSISTED LIVING PROPOSED IN GLENVILLE: An assisted-living facility is being proposed in the Glenville woods section of town. Some of the units will be priced at more affordable rents. The board is currently reviewing the application.
The above are just some of the highlights of 2012. Now you know why I'm never bored with the job. It's always interesting. And there is a variety of issues that are addressed each year. Have a happy New Year. Looking forward to hearing from you next year!
Paul Feiner is the town supervisor of Greenburgh.