As 2013 fades into history, I thought I would note some of the highlights of the year.
2013 was a year of accomplishments, but also of disappointments.
On the positive side, the town initiated some important action steps that will help the town save money long term and manage your tax dollars more efficiently.
We're one of a handful of communities that have maintained our AAA bond rating. We are complying with the tax cap levy for the third consecutive year. We're undertaking reassessment and replacing our street lights with efficient lighting and transitioning to a new sanitation truck that will require fewer employees.
The disappointments: our failure to sell Frank’s Nursery (we will try again next year) and our unsuccessful (so far) efforts to persuade the county to approve a lease to convert WestHELP into affordable housing.
Here are the highlights of 2013:
225th Anniversary Of Greenburgh: 2013 was the 225th anniversary of the town. We had two celebrations. During the winter we reenacted a town board meeting from 225 years ago. Members of the town board and department heads dressed in colonial attire. This summer we had fireworks at A.F. Veteran Park.
Real Estate Valuation: The town board approved a plan and funding to revalue all properties. This is the first time in more than 60 years that this action is taking place. The initiative will significantly reduce certiorari actions saving the town millions of dollars. Reassessment will stop the bleeding (certiorari tax refund actions) and is more equitable. There will be more stability and predictability for taxes. A number of other communities in Westchester are joining Greenburgh and Yonkers, and will hire the same company to conduct the reassessment, which will save taxpayers a great deal of money.
LED Lighting: The town board is embarking on an ambitious program to replace lighting with LED lighting. We anticipate saving millions of dollars with the more efficient lighting. All lights will be replaced within three years.
New Sanitation Trucks To Use One Person Instead Of Three: The town board authorized the purchase of a new kind of sanitation truck that will help us reduce costs long term - a one arm bandit sanitation truck. The truck uses one employee instead of three and automatically picks up garbage.
Another Infrastructure Enhancement: We're replacing water meters which will enable water rate users to feel more confident about the accuracy of meters and will reduce our costs. We are embarking on an effort to repair, renovate, and paint our water tanks.
AAA Bond Rating: Westchester lost its AAA bond rating from Moody's. Greenburgh kept its AAA bond rating from Moody's and Standard & Poor's in 2013. Only one percent of localities in the nation have an AAA bond rating from both S&P and Moody's.
New Ideas For Parks Using Non-Taxpayer Dollars: We're planning to redevelop various parks and recreation facilities. Massaro, Veteran, Presser, Travis & Yosemite are a few. Among ideas: replace cabanas at A.F. Veteran Park with a pavilion, outdoor sports: ping pong tables, shuffleboard, maybe miniature golf, and a spray area at Massaro. We will use non taxpayer dollars (developer escrow funds) to pay for these enhancements.
CDBG Federal Grants On Hold Because Of Feud Between HUD And Westchester: The Town of Greenburgh had counted on over $1.5 million dollars in federal CDBG grants to enhance Manhattan Ave. and for other projects. Among them were sidewalks on 9A in North Elmsford. HUD decided to punish Westchester County for failing to comply with the housing discrimination lawsuit, and has denied Westchester County communities federal dollars for CDBG programs, designed to help lower income populations. I wrote to our federal representatives asking if the administration of CDBG could be turned over to the state. Greenburgh is one of the few communities in Westchester that is not part of the federal government lawsuit. We have an excellent record, approving affordable housing voluntarily. We should not be a victim when we have done nothing wrong.
Fortress Bible: The town board settled the Fortress Bible lawsuit for $6.5 million. We had rejected the application of Fortress Bible to build a church on Dobbs Ferry Road in 2004 after receiving advice and analysis from the police chief and traffic consultants. The church took us to Federal Court and we lost. Our primary insurance carrier has agreed to pay $1 million dollars towards the settlement before the end of 2013. We are seeking additional reimbursement from another carrier. I have written to our congressional delegation requesting that an independent traffic safety official from the federal government be available to local governments to verify whether or not traffic safety objections are valid – if they are the proposed church, synagogue or mosque would locate elsewhere. The federal laws make it very difficult to deny religious institutions the right to build a house of worship – even if there are legitimate safety reasons.
New Health Center Opens: The Greenburgh Health Center opened in 2013 on Knollwood Road. New sidewalks were installed.
New sidewalks on Central Avenue: New York constructed new sidewalks on Central Avenue, which is a good thing, but failed to finish the job.
Greenburgh Town Board Approves New Law Allowing More Assisted Living Facilities: The Greenburgh Town Board approved a new law amending the zoning ordinance of the town by adding a definition of assisted living facilities and by creating a special permit criteria allowing for such facilities. We allow up to 100 bedrooms to be constructed in an assisted living facility on four acre sites within 200 feet of a state or county road. Brightview Assisted Living received approval to build near the Sheraton/Marriott, close to the Tarrytown border. Some of their units will be offered at discounted rates-making them more affordable.
New York State Legislature Approves Our Request To Make Jackson Avenue Safer: The New York State Legislature approved our request to straighten an S curve along Jackson Avenue (near Jackson & North Sprain Road). The Governor signed the safety improvement into law. This will make the avenue leading to Costco, Stew Leonard’s much safer. The town, villages of Hastings and Ardsley received $5 million after the Ridge Hill lawsuit settlement to make safety improvements on roads impacted by Ridge Hill.
Town Gets $200,000 Donation From Lanza Foundation For Town Programs: Our arts and culture program is funded in its entirety by the Lanza Foundation. Other funds went to our Special Olympics program, our nutrition program, and Hartsbrook Barn.
WestHELP: The town has been trying to rent out the abandoned WestHELP homeless shelter. New York state rejected our request to lease the complex to Ferncliff, an organization that provides services to the developmentally disabled population. We then issued an RFP and approved a sublease with MRH to create affordable housing units. The town will receive $500,000 a year in rent if the county approves the lease - millions more than the second highest bidder. We are still waiting for the County Executive and Board of Legislators to approve the lease. This will be a high priority in 2014.
Westhab Opens Affordable Housing, Waterwheel Sold For Affordable Housing: New affordable housing opens at 222 Old Tarrytown Road. Apartments are being leased to families whose income ranges from $22,000 to $69,000 a year. The town finally sold the Waterwheel property in Ardsley for $1.2 million. We had acquired the Waterwheel, thanks to a foreclosure. The Waterwheel property (across from Macy Park) will be re-developed and converted into affordable housing.
Other Unfinished Business - Frank's Nursery: We started the year thinking that we would sell Frank's Nursery to Game On, a business that wants to build indoor sports facility at the abandoned Frank's Nursery. After a competitor (House of Sports) offered the town $3.5 million (with conditions) we decided to have an auction in 2014. We will sell the property to the highest bidder. Three members of the town board voted to ask the Commissioner of Planning to rezone the entire Dobbs Ferry corridor for recreation uses. Game On also announced that they have an option to purchase the Golf Range on Dobbs Ferry Road.
New Police Chief: Chris McNerney replaced Joseph DeCarlo as police chief. On Nov. 12, the Greenburgh Police Department SWAT team received accreditation from the New York State Municipal Training Council Division of Criminal Justice Services. We're the first multi-jurisdictional team in N.Y. to receive this accreditation.
Hamburger Heaven, Ben's Deli: Smash Burger opened up two restaurants in Greenburgh. Bareburger opened up another hamburger restaurant on Central Ave., joining Jakes Wayback Burgers. Ben's Deli, a kosher delicatessen had their ground breaking ceremonies at the old Spiga Restaurant on Central Ave. More economic development: Mrs. Green's opened at the old Morton Williams on Central Avenue. Crossroads Shopping Center spent over a million dollars with a new façade. Lane Bryant, Chef Central, Dress Barn, and Petsmart are new tenants. We're reviewing a request to rezone Landmark at Eastview, land that includes the headquarters of Regeneron, a bio tech company and Madison Square Garden's training facility. The rezoning of the property for mixed use could generate close to $7 million dollars in additional taxes per year. The proposed rezone is being reviewed. A yogurt store is replacing the abandoned toy store on East Hartsdale Ave.
YouTube Tapes: We're going to produce YouTube videos highlighting why Greenburgh is a great place to live. Each YouTube taping will feature a different neighborhood. We had our first planning meetings in 2013. We expect to aggressively start this project in 2014.
Avalon Green seeks 68 additional apartments on Taxter Road in East Irvington. In 1995, they built ten apartments. Last year they completed 444 apartments that are occupied.
New York State Requires Registration For STAR: New York is now requiring registration for STAR. The assessor's office has been devoting many hours responding to resident inquiries. Those who do not register could lose significant tax breaks.
Internal Audit Of Court: Over the years, the town has had problems with our town court. We hired an independent auditor to do a detailed internal audit. They provided the town board with a few dozen recommendations that will improve internal controls at the courts. We are placing more internal controls in all departments.
Energy Conservation - Big Belly Solar Panel Trash Containers: We placed two solar powered trash compactors on East Hartsdale Avenue. These containers used all over the world use solar power to compact waste at the point of collection.
Each solar compactor can hold about five times the amount of waste as a typical receptacle, saving taxpayer dollars. Solar heating hot water system installed at the Theodore Young Community Center Our new gym was installed at the Theodore Young Community Center, replacing a gym destroyed by flooding.
Another important law was approved promoting energy efficiency: The Town Board joined other communities in Westchester that will help businesses save money by making their properties more energy efficient. The program is called Greenburgh Energize N.Y. Benefit Finance Program law.
Repaving: We repaved many streets, including a large section of East Hartsdale Avenue.
Motivating Students To Participate: WCBS Radio highlighted a story about an Edgemont Girl Scout troop that successfully advocated for a safety initiative at the Greenville School. The troop worked with town officials and got results.
This summer student interns working with Town Clerk, Judith Beville and I developed a campaign to promote recycling food waste. We continued the Student News Network, offering students the opportunity to host their own cable TV news show and to produce public service announcements.
Crane's Pond Doesn't Look Like Pea Soup: In 2012 Crane's Pond in Edgemont looked like pea soup. We received many complaints. We responded and contracted with a company to apply aquatic herbicide to control the duckweed. The treatment worked.
Cameras In The Park: Residents of North Elmsford requested that we place cameras at Massaro Park to enhance safety. The town board agreed to the request.
Using Volunteers: I meet with retired executives frequently, soliciting their feedback on approaches that can be taken to manage the town more efficiently. The team has reviewed our budget, helped write the RFP for the internal court audit. They have assisted in developing policies for financial assistance for parks and community center programs.
Water District: We have created a water district advisory board that is developing a comprehensive long term water plan for the town's water system. Major infrastructure upgrades are planned to make sure that you can depend on high quality drinking water.
A Thank You - Thank you for having re-elected me to my 12th term as town supervisor. I am as excited with the job today as I was 22 years ago! Every day is rewarding. I love the challenges and enjoy helping constituents solve big and small problems. I hope you and your neighbors will always feel free to contact me at my office: 993-1545 or at home: 914-478-1219 or on my cell: 914-438-1343. My e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. I will always treat your problems as if they are mine.