We’ve Seen This Movie Before!

The following letter was published in last week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:

I grew up in Elwood, Long Island; a place not altogether different than Croton.  Like Croton, Elwood has a small but excellent school district in an otherwise big town. Also similar to Croton, Elwood still had lots of natural beauty and open space. Often referred to as an exception to the rule, Elwood was supposed to be a tight knit community and a great place to raise a family.

By the time my wife and I decided to move our young family from the City, Elwood was an easy choice. However, after doing so we quickly realized little Elwood had big problems. Like many suburban districts, Elwood had a perpetual budget crisis, a bloated town government and many other issues conspiring to push taxes to new heights every year. In accepting, and despite those taxes, we expected to be content, but year after year we weren’t. Eventually we realized Elwood wasn’t what we had hoped. You see, Elwood, like anywhere I suppose, kept developing over the years. Little by little, or sometimes a lot at a time, open space was consumed by suburban sprawl. As houses multiplied and the population grew, little was done to improve the infrastructure. As a result, we suffered under the crushing burden of local traffic.

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Traffic simply made everything harder. Mundane errands became hair-raising ordeals. We couldn’t let the kids roam around the neighborhood as it was in my youth. Where proximity to the schools prohibited busing, parents were forced to drive their kids. Parents were under constant pressure to keep children entertained, endlessly shuttling them between activities; all leading to still more traffic.

We attended the first Croton rezoning forum on March 21 and felt like we’ve seen this movie before! Of course, no analogy is perfect, but it was abundantly clear we weren’t being told the whole truth. In fact, the presentation was woefully inadequate. No authority at the meeting, nor documentation thereafter, suggested a motive for even broaching the topic. And yet, talk of 3-story structures, mixed residential/commercial, etc. was pervasive. The introduction was laced with politically charged phrases like demographic and economic diversity, making it clear the Village Board already had an agenda. Later, we discovered the Village had already been approached regarding such developments; an omission which is tantamount to a lie! Worse still, the potential tax ramifications either to the Village or the school district went completely unmentioned. Call me old fashioned, but I would’ve thought that to be a central issue on the minds of those specifically elected to protect our interests.

It wasn’t simply the number of cars. As traffic increased, attempts to control it also grew. Stop signs and traffic lights among other controls slowly multiplied. The latter being expensive, poorly programmed, uncoordinated and ultimately neglected. It was a losing battle. The more it was controlled, the more pressure people felt and the worse they drove. A vicious cycle took hold.

In 2011 a developer proposed a 400-unit condo complex on aptly named Elwood road; the busiest and most critical route in our community. As rezoning was required, this conversation bears a striking similarity to Croton’s current rezoning discussion. A benevolent and beholden tone was struck, such to suggest no one would dare do anything without the community’s consent. It was a ruse. Ultimately, despite overwhelming opposition the town rewrote the very zoning laws that were meant to protect the community from exactly this type of thing.

Given the prospect of still worse traffic, we finally decided to move, and chose Croton in large part because we felt the Village government would protect us from over development. Elwood isn’t a village, therefore the town was able to force such projects on them. We turned our lives inside out to move here, accepting even higher taxes to escape gridlock, and now we feel like the same thing is going to happen in Croton.

We attended the first Croton rezoning forum on March 21 and felt like we’ve seen this movie before! Of course, no analogy is perfect, but it was abundantly clear we weren’t being told the whole truth. In fact, the presentation was woefully inadequate. No authority at the meeting, nor documentation thereafter, suggested a motive for even broaching the topic. And yet, talk of 3-story structures, mixed residential/commercial, etc. was pervasive. The introduction was laced with politically charged phrases like demographic and economic diversity, making it clear the Village Board already had an agenda. Later, we discovered the Village had already been approached regarding such developments; an omission which is tantamount to a lie! Worse still, the potential tax ramifications either to the Village or the school district went completely unmentioned. Call me old fashioned, but I would’ve thought that to be a central issue on the minds of those specifically elected to protect our interests.

Elwood is hardly unique. Many area suburbs are tense, and it shows in people’s attitudes. Over-development, overcrowding, and grinding traffic are big components in creating an atmosphere where people aren’t very nice to each other. What sets Croton apart, is the people don’t just say they are a community they act like it. Simple things like greetings from total strangers are commonplace. Courtesy and consideration are the norm, rather than the exception. It’s this collective personality and character that’s at risk, with cavalier plans to turn Croton into just another New York suburb.

Furthermore, we later learned of numerous costly fiscal and administrative missteps from current and former regimes. I’ll leave it to longer-term residents to expound on that, but certainly we have a right to demand fiscal responsibly before entertaining indelible changes to our community.

Given the significance of zoning changes, and the heretofore myopic discussion, I was further bewildered by the proposed timeline. Rushing through the process denies residents the opportunity to air their concerns and contribute to a consensus. As such, discussions of this magnitude must be on a timeline that assures the full conveyance of potential risks, benefits etc. . . . Without casting further suspicions, the Village should stop this process and focus on fiscal responsibility, prudent management and above all government transparency. The public trust must be rebuilt, only then can the Village legitimately propose major changes.

Sincerely,

Steven Saporito

What is the Purpose of the New Humanities and Arts Advisory Council?

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the Editor,
Since 1977, the Croton Council on the Arts has been the principal vehicle for promoting artistic expression in our village and bringing the fruits of those efforts to all of our citizens. While I am certainly not an artist myself, I have had the great pleasure of attending a good number of the exhibitions and productions of the CCOA and its numerous offspring for many years. I am sure that the overwhelming majority of Croton residents join me in appreciation of CCOA’s efforts in spreading the arts throughout our community.

Yet now, more than 40 years later, our Village Board feels compelled to create a separate Humanities and Arts Advisory Council under the direct purview of the Board. Perhaps I just don’t understand exactly what the purpose of this new entity is meant to be and how it is supposed to mesh with CCOA and other arts organizations already established in Croton.

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It strikes me as a duplication of effort in this area and holds the potential for conflicts in a venue that should be devoid of them. Or is it that the Board wishes to exert more control over this phase of life in Croton? Or does it have something to do with the Board’s grandiose (and exceptionally expensive) plans for Gouveia Park? Or is there already a schism in our arts community of which the new council is a manifestation? I simply don’t know.

I found it instructive that during the discussion of the new arts council during Monday’s Board Work Session, the name of CCOA was not mentioned once.

I hope when the resolution to create the Humanities and Arts Advisory Council is brought to the floor, someone will explain exactly how it is intended to interact with CCOA and the other representatives of our arts community and why it will enhance, and not detract, from Croton’s art scene. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Sincerely,
Joel E. Gingold

Turning Gouveia Park Into a Government Office Should Trouble All of Us

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:

What the Croton Board of Trustees is doing at Gouveia Park should be of interest to all residents, even those who don’t have strong feelings about the development of the park.

The terms under which Croton took the land are set forth in Laurel Gouveia’s Will. The land is to be maintained “and its principal use shall be as a park which shall be open to the public.” Allowance is made for flexibility in the development and usage “provided that the park like setting is maintained for a public and park-like purpose.” In addition, $1 million was given to Croton “to be used for the care and upkeep of the park.”

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The fact that the Croton Board of Trustees operates with impunity and hence feels free to disregard their own promise to Laurel Gouveia does not make their decision either legally or morally right. This is yet another example of the contempt which our trustees have for the citizens of Croton and the rules and laws which bind the rest of us. Turning Gouveia Park into a government office should trouble all of us, regardless of our view on the original acquisition.

The claim that there would be tens of thousands of dollars in revenue each year from concerts, poetry readings and other events was never realistic. None of the official financial projections developed by the village as to expenses and revenue has ever been seen during the lifetime of Gouveia Park. Nobody seriously believed the spreadsheets; they were lies designed to support an action the Board of Trustees had already decided to take.

Lack of candor in the acquisition of the park four years ago does not mean that it is now acceptable for the Board of Trustees to violate the terms of the bequest and wishes of the donor.

Originally, about a quarter of the endowment was used to put in a parking lot and driveway. That was entirely in keeping with the development and maintenance of the land for a “park-like purpose.” Now the Board of Trustees is going to blow the remainder of the million-dollar endowment by paving over the park in order to turn it into a government office campus for one of the municipal departments.

I have always been skeptical of the financial projections for Gouveia. The first citizen’s committee was deliberately hobbled by unrealistic constraints imposed by the Board of Trustees. The recent committee led by Ms. Horowitz was perhaps a bit optimistic, but they were certainly in line with the terms of the bequest. If Laurel Gouveia were alive today, my guess is that she would prefer her house being used as an artist studio and exhibition space rather than filled with desks and filing cabinets for government employees.

Croton’s Board of Trustees may be pragmatic in turning Gouveia Park into a secluded government office building. Arguably that is its best use. There is one small wrinkle: that is not what the donor intended, and it is not what the Board of Trustees agreed to when they took the land and the million dollars.

I doubt that the Gouveia heirs or any of the contingent beneficiaries want to go to court to get this land and money. Theoretically the Attorney General’s office could take action, but that is not going to happen given the political actors who are violating the terms of the charitable bequest.

The fact that the Croton Board of Trustees operates with impunity and hence feels free to disregard their own promise to Laurel Gouveia does not make their decision either legally or morally right. This is yet another example of the contempt which our trustees have for the citizens of Croton and the rules and laws which bind the rest of us. Turning Gouveia Park into a government office should trouble all of us, regardless of our view on the original acquisition.

Paul Steinberg

What is Croton’s Board of Trustees Doing with the Katz Property?

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
As Croton embarks on a re-zoning to encourage apartment development, we are told that these will be affordable apartments for Croton seniors, teachers, and the like. Last week’s announcement of a 75 unit affordable development in Peekskill has some relevance to the Croton discussion.

The Peekskill development is well thought-out and designed with today’s multi-family market in mind. Amenities include a performing arts studio, gallery exhibition space, a courtyard, fitness room, and a rooftop terrace with Hudson River views. There will be a bake shop, gallery, and Green’s Natural Foods on the ground floor.

This is not the “affordable housing” of yesteryear. It is upscale living designed to attract an upscale demographic who don’t want to pay market rental rates but do want to munch on organic hors d’oeuvres while sitting on a taxpayer-funded terrace watching the sun set over the Hudson.

The numbers look like a vote of confidence in Peekskill: out of a near $28 million asset, there is $14.6M in equity. That sounds like a strong vote of confidence from private investors. But a closer look shows that the “equity” is actually comprised of Low-Income Housing Tax Credits and NYS Department of Environmental Conservation tax credits.

In reality, the only risk to the developer is in a $6.8M mortgage guaranteed by SONYMA, the NYS mortgage agency. SONYMA gets funded thru tax-exempt bond issuance, and SONYMA multi-family mortgages are insured from money raised by a tax you pay when you record your home mortgage. In short, even that $6.8M mortgage is subsidized by we the taxpayers.

There are unique issues with the Peekskill site which arguably warrant some taxpayer subsidy. But Peekskill illustrates some hard economic truths about our Board of Trustee plans to have massive “affordable” apartment complexes in Croton.

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We are seeing no transparency as the village prepares to develop the Katz property. Our tax dollars paid for the Katz property. In February 2007 we spent $900,000 taken from village reserve funds and bond issuance. Given the rise in Croton property values over the last 12 years, this asset is enormously valuable to any developer. The Board of Trustees’ secrecy and backroom dealing is a historical norm here in Croton. But that does not mean that it is proper, and in the case of the Katz property it is time for the Board of Trustees to stop with all the secret “Executive Sessions” and scheming. Come clean and tell the taxpayers of Croton what developer is getting this asset, and what are the terms of the deal.

There is strong demand for multi-family development in Westchester, and the 16,000 units currently under construction or planned will increase apartment stock in the county by 11%. Westchester is expensive, and this creates a problem when developing “affordable” apartments. Tax subsidies in the Peekskill project equate to over $265,000 per apartment, and that number does not include the perpetual annual subsidy resulting from a reduced property tax assessment due to the income restrictions.

As the Peekskill example demonstrates, apartment housing can be upscale and luxurious, and profitable for developers. At the same time, it remains “affordable” because of subsidies: your tax dollars paid for the Hudson River terrace view and fitness room the Peekskill renters will enjoy.

Someone always has to pay, and even with Gov. Cuomo’s claimed expenditure of $20 billion for Peekskill-style affordable apartment development in the next 5 years there is no assurance that there will be enough taxpayer money flowing from Albany to fund Croton’s plans.

Government largesse also raises concerns, particularly when it comes to New York real estate developers. The ability of private investors to get assets for pennies on the dollar makes it vitally important to have transparency. So far in Croton, we are seeing no transparency as the village prepares to develop the Katz property.

Our tax dollars paid for the Katz property. In February 2007 we spent $900,000 taken from village reserve funds and bond issuance. Given the rise in Croton property values over the last 12 years, this asset is enormously valuable to any developer.

The Board of Trustees’ secrecy and backroom dealing is a historical norm here in Croton. But that does not mean that it is proper, and in the case of the Katz property it is time for the Board of Trustees to stop with all the secret “Executive Sessions” and scheming. Come clean and tell the taxpayers of Croton what developer is getting this asset, and what are the terms of the deal.

Paul Steinberg

A Response to Mayor Pugh

The following letter was published in last week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the Editor:
It has been brought to my attention that the mayor of our Village has taken issue with a letter that I wrote stating that it is well established that Westchester County has the highest property taxes in the United States of America. He has chosen to challenge my assertion that the Village of Croton-on-Hudson is the highest taxed village in the County relative to the market value of our homes.

He cites the New York State Comptroller’s Office Report that uses the “full value” (a mathematical model of assessed value designed to mimic sales value) to analyze our effective tax rate, and then refers to the wrong table.

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Even the mayor’s methodology establishes Croton-on-Hudson as one of most highly taxed villages in Westchester County. For a bit of perspective, residents should note that the mayor’s table embarrassingly displays that villages like Scarsdale pay half the taxes that we pay relative to the value of their homes.

I remain convinced that my earlier statement is correct, however, even the mayor’s methodology establishes Croton-on-Hudson as one of most highly taxed villages in Westchester County. For a bit of perspective, residents should note that the mayor’s table embarrassingly displays that villages like Scarsdale pay half the taxes that we pay relative to the value of their homes.

John McKeon

Questions for Trustee Olver

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
Where are the affordable apartments for Croton residents and teachers? The proposed massive rezoning to encourage multi-story apartment buildings along Riverside Ave is promoted by our Croton Board of Trustees as being necessary to serve the Croton community.

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Board member Richard Olver (The Gazette, week of April 4/10) points to the imminent opening of the apartments at Benedict and South Riverside as the beginning, and challenges others to come up “with your own good ideas for keeping our children, parents, teachers and municipal employees here in Croton.”

Trustee Olver says the purpose of erecting all these apartments is to have “affordable private housing for Croton people.” As Mr. Olver notes, this new building on Benedict is the first of many to come. Since the Board of Trustees is pushing this new vision as a benefit to “Croton people” how about telling us how many of the new Benedict apartments are going to “Croton people” and how much the “affordable” monthly rent will be?

So far, the village has been silent as to how any children, parents, teachers, or municipal employees can get those affordable apartments. Other municipalities require landlords to publicize and have lotteries and preference systems for affordable apartments. Croton has remained silent as to how village residents and workers are going to be able to get the first of these apartments on Benedict. We don’t even know the rental prices or how many affordable units are set aside for Croton residents and employees.

In fact the only benefit so far is to the residents of Young Avenue. They are being offered the opportunity to provide parking spots for tenants of the new building. Understandably, the folks on Young Avenue are not clear as to why turning their street into a parking lot is a benefit.

Trustee Olver says the purpose of erecting all these apartments is to have “affordable private housing for Croton people.” As Mr. Olver notes, this new building on Benedict is the first of many to come. Since the Board of Trustees is pushing this new vision as a benefit to “Croton people” how about telling us how many of the new Benedict apartments are going to “Croton people” and how much the “affordable” monthly rent will be?

Paul Steinberg

Why Are Our Politicians So Fond of Cop-killers?

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
Why are our politicians so fond of cop-killers? This past week we saw the disturbing attitude expressed in Albany and here in Croton.

Our televisions were filled with the beaming smile of Judith Clark, who was a getaway driver (armed with a 9mm handgun) for the 1981 Brinks robbery, where her fellow self-described “revolutionaries” killed Nyack police officers Sgt. Edward O’Grady and Officer Waverly Brown, along with Brinks guard Peter Paige.

Edward O’Grady, “Chipper” Brown, and Peter Paige will never walk the streets of Nyack again but Judith Clark is being paroled to walk the streets, having been granted clemency because Governor Cuomo chatted with Ms. Clark and came away smitten with “a sense of her soul… almost transparent as a personality.”

Governor Cuomo is more transparent than Croton Mayor Pugh. In his official “Mayor Brian Pugh” Facebook post last week, Mr. Pugh put up a clipping about the Italians striking at New Croton Dam 119 years ago, together with an FDR quote praising “immigrants and revolutionists.” Having grown up in Croton, Mr. Pugh ought to be familiar with the April 1900 incident at New Croton Dam.

History is a messy thing because the people who make history happen are complex. In the case of New Croton Dam, Mr. Pugh is well aware that this was no labor action or “strike” in the sense we use the term today.

At the Dam, “revolutionists” murdered a cop in cold blood while hiding in the darkness of night. Afterward a cheer rolled through the hills of Croton as news of the assassination spread across the worker’s encampment.

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The workers who built New Croton Dam were rough men (plus a few women) living in a rough time. They were poorly paid and overworked, as was common at that time. There was a lot of fighting and even murder, fueled by anger and alcohol: the Croton of April 1900 had some very dangerous neighborhoods. There were also tensions between the skilled immigrant laborers and their less-skilled countrymen. Tensions existed between immigrants working on the Dam and immigrants who made their living supplying goods and services to the construction project.

Immigrants at the Dam were oppressed and oppressor—sometimes the same person was both.

The NY State wage and hour law changes of 1900 resulted in a serious financial problem for the companies building the Dam under a government contract which did not anticipate such legislation, as Albany ultimately recognized with a 1902 law resulting in the builders being able to retroactively recover a large amount to recoup for increased labor costs.

Robert Douglass was a Westchester County Deputy Sheriff, a native of Mt. Vernon called up as a Sergeant in the NY National Guard. Douglass was a law enforcement officer doing his job, shot down by a coward hiding in the forest. He was on duty there because some of the workers at New Croton Dam had taken knives and clubs, beating workers and vendors who did not support the strike.

Most importantly, Robert Douglass was there because the strikers had made explicit threats to use explosives on buildings and even threatened to blow up the Dam itself.

Neither the employers nor the workers at New Croton Dam in April 1900 were as one-dimensional as today’s Croton politicians would have us believe. That does not change the fact that Robert Douglass was a human being, killed because he was a law enforcement officer doing his job here in Croton.

Why are our politicians so fond of cop-killers? This past week we saw the disturbing attitude expressed in Albany and here in Croton.

Mr. Pugh’s choice of the FDR quote from 1938 is offensive on several levels. April 19 is the anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord. Back in 1938 it was common to commemorate that event, which is why President Roosevelt was speaking to the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and why he referred to “immigrants and revolutionists.”

There is a big difference between the shot heard round the world in April 1775 and the cowardly shooting of Sergeant Douglass at New Croton Dam in April 1900.

FDR’s speech did not commemorate cop killers. His Patriot’s Day speech to the DAR in April 1938 commemorated “immigrants and revolutionists” at Lexington and Concord who established what is now the United States of America.

Today the commemoration of April 19, 1775 known as “Patriot’s Day” is primarily celebrated in Massachusetts on the third Monday in April. It is the reason the Boston Marathon is run on that day. Many of us only know of Patriot’s Day because of the eponymous movie documenting the 2013 attack by the Tsarnaev brothers. For Mr. Pugh to take portions of any Patriot’s Day speech to celebrate people who killed a cop is more than historically tone-deaf; it has painful resonance in our own time.

The Tsarnaevs regarded themselves as immigrant revolutionists, but I don’t think that we would apply the FDR quote to them, despite the fact that the Tsarnaevs assassinated Officer Sean Collier after blowing up bombs at the Boston Marathon.

A century from now, will a future Mayor of Croton use the FDR quote about “immigrants and revolutionists” to apply to the Tsarnaevs? Will a future Governor of New York speak of the Tsarnaevs’ “sense of soul?” I don’t know.

I do know that just because you call yourself a revolutionary does not justify killing a cop.

Let Croton political leaders celebrate “immigrants and revolutionists” who killed a Westchester police officer at New Croton Dam. Croton residents should celebrate the man the revolutionists murdered in the night: Sergeant Robert Douglass.

Paul Steinberg

Take Responsibility for What You’ve Done

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the Editor:
Last week in these pages, Trustee Richard Olver blamed the Croton-Harmon School District for residents’ high rate of property taxes. Two weeks ago, local Democratic party boss Richard Masur tried to blame Croton United for his party’s failure to get the Croton Point Avenue project done during any time since 2009 that his party has had sole control of the village.

As Joel Gingold might say: C’mon guys. Take responsibility for what you’ve done.

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Is there fat in the school district budget and are there areas where reasonable school district residents could disagree as to spending priorities? No doubt. And it is certainly true that school taxes make up the largest single portion of real property taxes. However, the notable lack of anger or contention concerning school district budgeting and leadership is also without doubt a result of the fact that Croton-Harmon schools are delivering—to their students, to the taxpayers and for those homeowners whose home values are positively impacted by the excellence with which the school district conducts its business.

By contrast, what is the value being imparted by the conduct of village business as reflected in the village budget?

Just scanning recent events, Croton’s Board of Trustees has committed to spending the remainder of the “perpetual” Gouveia endowment (over $700K) on paving the park in order to prepare this property to become the Recreation Department office (another $500K) and a truck/vehicle parking lot. How far we’ve come since the days when “Gouveia Park” was going to remain a unique open space that enhanced the value of our homes.

Our village board’s primary responsibility to the residents and taxpayers is to govern in such a manner as to maintain and enhance the value of our investments in this village. When the board truly takes responsibility for this, blame shifting will not be necessary.

Residents should be prepared over the next three years to see the village board undertaking a renovation of the Municipal Building and expansion of the Police Department, budgeted for just over four and a quarter million dollars.

If Mr. Masur gets his way, residents should also be prepared to borrow millions (yet to be determined—increased from an original projection of $300,000) for the installation of several new stoplights and two dead-end bike lanes on Croton Point Avenue.

More immediately, now that the new construction on South Riverside and Benedict Boulevard is finding tenants, we see that resident concerns about commercial encroachment in residential neighborhoods which were wholly ignored by prior Democratic boards are now becoming a reality. With only ONE new building opening so far, commercial parking on Young Avenue is being discussed by the Planning Board. Heads-up for those in the new rezoning corridor.

Our village board’s primary responsibility to the residents and taxpayers is to govern in such a manner as to maintain and enhance the value of our investments in this village. When the board truly takes responsibility for this, blame shifting will not be necessary.

Roseann Schuyler

As We Look Forward, What We See is Distressing

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the Editor,
Among Democratic Chair Richard Masur’s many accomplishments, he is an historian, reaching back in time to pluck tidbits from the past in an attempt to demonstrate that Croton’s Democratic Village Boards are fierce defenders of the public purse. We should not criticize Mr. Masur for such actions; after all, that’s his job. So let’s take a page from his book and stroll down memory lane to see how those Boards performed.

Under Croton’s previous Democratic Mayor Leo Wiegman, whose administration included Trustee Ann Gallelli and, towards the end of his term, now-Mayor Brian Pugh, Croton’s debt rose from about $17.3M in May 2008 to $32.6 M in May 2015, an increase of nearly 90%.

Not satisfied with that, for FY 2015/2016, the Dem Board’s adopted budget included new borrowing of $11.6M, more than a third of the already existing total. Their forecast anticipated more than $20M in additional borrowing over the subsequent three years.

Mercifully, the voters turned the Dems out of office in November 2015. But by the time Croton United took control in December 2015, much the money from the proposed borrowing had already been committed by the Wiegman Board. Nonetheless, Croton United was able to cut about $3M from the total. It was this sequence of events that resulted in the debt numbers that Mr. Masur ballyhooed in his letter last week.

Appreciating that no one on the board was a fiscal expert, one of Croton United’s first actions was the appointment of the Financial Sustainability Committee (FSC), a group of fiscal professionals who volunteered to assist the board in navigating the rocks and shoals of municipal finance. Among the FSC’s first tasks was the creation of a Debt Policy to bring the village’s massive debt under control. That policy was adopted by Mayor Greg Schmidt and his colleagues and is still listed on our village website.

Working with the FSC, the Schmidt Board was able, for the first time in many years, to actually reduce the debt significantly in FY2016/2017. In the following year, a further reduction in outstanding debt was achieved despite the fact that the village purchased the building that is now our new village garage. Again, the FSC was invaluable in this effort. Are you following all of this, Mr. Masur?

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When the Dems won back control of the board in 2017, Mayor Pugh and his colleagues continued with the FSC’s recommended Debt Policy, and in their first year, the debt once more declined. We were encouraged. Perhaps the Dems had got religion and we could rely on a steadily declining debt load as the years went by, as envisioned by Croton United and the FSC.

But ominous signs first began to appear during the mayoral debate in 2017, when Mr. Pugh publicly stated that he would not be bound by the Debt Policy. Mayor Schmidt firmly avowed that he would.

But that, as they say, was then and this is now, and as we look forward, rather than back, what we see is distressing. The Dems’ recently adopted FY2019/2020 budget includes over $4M of new capital projects of which $3.1 million represents new borrowing. And this is after deleting $1.5M for the ill-advised Croton Point Avenue Project. The FSC was intentionally excluded from the Board’s deliberations and our debt is projected to rise for the first time since the adoption of the Debt Policy. And that increase would have been greater had they not increased the amount taken from the Fund Balance from $441K in the preliminary budget to $711K.

The Pugh Board’s projections for the next two years call for additional capital expenditures of about $8.3M. Considering that these days we typically pay off about $2.5 M in existing debt each year, the amount we will owe is sure to increase . . .

And if that wasn’t bad enough, the Pugh Board’s projections for the next two years call for additional capital expenditures of about $8.3M. Considering that these days we typically pay off about $2.5 M in existing debt each year, the amount we will owe is sure to increase again and again.

The Board projects the debt on May 31, 2020 to be $34.9M. That’s over $4,200 for every man, woman, and child in our village. Debt service will be about $3.3 million (~17% of the total budget). Interest represents more than one-third of the total. By contrast, in 2010, total debt service was $2.1M.

The real danger in all of this is what will happen if there is a need for millions of dollars in unanticipated emergency funding. We will be forced to borrow it, regardless of the impact it wreaks on our municipal finances, and ultimately, on our taxes.

I am told that, since the Dem Board has declined to consult with the FSC, several key members have resigned. On behalf of all of us in the village, except perhaps, for the Board and Mr. Masur, I’d like to offer our sincere thanks for the countless hours you have all devoted to putting our village on a sustainable fiscal course. The value of your input is incalculable and there is no way the village could have afforded it if we were to retain you at your normal commercial rates. It is profoundly disturbing that what seemed so promising a few years ago has ended like this.

Sincerely,
Joel E. Gingold

Can Croton Afford High Density Housing?

The following letter was published in last week’s issue of the Gazette.

Croton-on-Hudson is a village that has been built on a tax base of individual home ownership.

The historic economic advantage of this lifestyle has been eroded by negative growth in middle class income over the past 20 years and outrageous growth in property taxes. Adding to this dynamic we now have a federal tax structure designed to punish us.

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Our individual home property taxes  are a function of the sales value of our house. For those of us who live in condominiums our taxes are based on the  the rental value of the unit. These differences in valuation methodology have condominium owners  paying a fraction of the taxes individual home owners pay. 

For example, in the 1950s a pool was built on my property which Increased its  property tax. There are condominiums in Half Moon Bay that pay property taxes that are equal the property taxes I pay just for my pool.

I’m not complaining about my taxes, I understand that my combined property taxes fundamentally pay for the administration of our municipal government and local schools. The per pupil cost of our excellent local school system exceeds $29,000 per year.

My gravest concern is that my local municipal government leadership has a myopic view of their role in sustaining the value of individual home ownerships in our village. They are desperate in their attempt to close their municipal spending gap on the highest taxed properties in the United States of America. They think the Gateway initiative . . . is the solution. The reality is it would increase the school tax burden on the vast majority of individual homeowners and not resolve the issues inherent in our municipal government’s out-of-control spending.

My gravest  concern is that my local municipal government leadership has a myopic view of their role in sustaining the value of individual home ownerships in our village. They are desperate in their attempt to close their municipal spending gap on the highest taxed properties in the United States of America.

They think the Gateway initiative (a study examining the possibility of amending village zoning to encourage new multi-family development along commercially zoned sections of Maple Street and North and South Riverside avenues) is the solution. The reality is it would increase the school tax burden on the vast majority of individual homeowners and not resolve the issues inherent in our municipal government’s out-of-control spending.

Please study and return the public survey that has been mailed to Croton residents. It doesn’t ask for your vision of our village but directs you to affirm their intention to give us high density housing. Please speak up.

John McKeon

Advice for the Village Board

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the Editor,
I have some simple and proven-to-work advice that might be helpful to the Village Board.

When deciding whether to borrow money for a project, consider “want vs need.” Would the proposed project be a lovely addition or change or is it absolutely imperative? Are there less expensive alternatives? What terrible danger will befall the residents of the Village if you don’t proceed with a project? If it is indeed an imperative need, what are you willing to ask someone on a tight budget to give up in order to pay for it?

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It’s similar to the thought process my husband and I go through when making a large purchase or borrowing money to purchase something for our family. We often find we don’t need the purchase after all or that we can put it off until we can better afford it.

Sincerely,
Carolyn Whiting

Another Scheme Dreamed Up by Mayor Pugh

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:

Municipal finance is a dull subject. Or at least, it should be a dull subject. In Croton, municipal finance has gotten exciting. Croton taxpayers should be concerned.

The Croton Board of Trustees has bought in to another scheme dreamed up by Mayor Brian Pugh. At best the results are likely to be costly. At worst, we risk a disaster and potential litigation.

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Mr. Pugh has long thought himself to be more clever than the rest of us when it comes to financial matters. As a trustee he proposed a sketchy interest rate arbitrage scheme involving issuance of tax-free bonds against the Gouveia endowment (that was back when he was telling us the endowment would last forever). Then there was the plan to rent Gouveia as a private residence; that this was prohibited as a matter of New York State law by the public trust doctrine did not bother him. More recently we had the scheme to set up a “charity” so that our property and school taxes would be deemed as “charitable donations” to the village and school district.

Watching the Croton Board of Trustees in operation is like watching the board of directors at Kramerica Industries on Seinfeld: you never know what crazy scheme they will come up with next, and there is a good chance it is illegal.

Watching the Croton Board of Trustees in operation is like watching the board of directors at Kramerica Industries on Seinfeld: you never know what crazy scheme they will come up with next, and there is a good chance it is illegal.

About a year ago Mr. Pugh discovered that short-term loan rates are usually lower than long-term rates. This is a concept familiar to anyone who has ever shopped for a home mortgage or a high school student taking AP Economics, but Mr. Pugh finds it a continuing source of fascination. That fascination may get Croton taxpayers in deep trouble down the road.

There are 3 ways to fund Croton government: taxes, savings set aside in previous years, or issuance of debt.

If you issue debt, you have to choose the term. At the end of the term (maturity), you need to pay off the principal balance. For most practical purposes, there is no difference between a “note” and a “bond” except that debt with a maturity of a year or less is customarily called a “note” and debt with maturity of more than a few years is called a “bond.” In the case of Croton, the December 2016 report of the Fiscal Sustainability Committee noted that most notes were for 1-2 years and bonds for 20 or 30 years.

In a well-run organization and under optimal circumstances, the maturity on debt issued for capital improvements should match the projected lifespan of the improvement. In addition, as a general rule, you don’t want to issue short-term debt unless you intend to pay it off and have a plan to do so.

Short-term debt must be paid off soon after issuance. This is fine if you can get the money either from your liquid assets, or by getting someone else to loan you the money you need to pay off the debt (a/k/a “rollover” the debt).

There is also the matter of ongoing costs to Croton taxpayers. Constantly rolling over short-term debt results in underwriting, legal, and other fees. A University of California Berkeley study of 812 issues from 2012-15 showed average cost of issuance to be 1.02% of principal amount. Reportedly Croton runs less than this, but even a 0.8% cost quickly adds up.

The BAN strategy is also a bet that interest rates won’t rise over time as Croton rolls over the debt. There are ways of hedging interest rate risk, but why are we even at the point where our little village needs to have that discussion?

Mr. Pugh believes that financing short-term and rolling over will result in less accumulation of interest. This assumes that interest rates will not rise. Currently interest rates are near lows not seen in decades. If Mr. Pugh wants to bet that rates will not rise in future years, he can do that with his own money.

Placing the taxpayers of Croton at risk because you think you are a sharp financier is not an appropriate role for a village Mayor.

It is true that the sooner debt is paid off, the less money you will pay in interest. But if Croton is going into debt that it intends to pay off over 20 years, it is expensive and risky to pursue the BAN strategy advocated by Mr. Pugh. And if we are really going into debt for items that are going to be paid off in a year or two, we should be funding those items without issuing bonds or notes.

At very least, the Croton Board of Trustees and Croton Village Treasurer should be transparent about this BAN strategy: why are they BANning items versus bonding, and when are they rolling over BANs instead of redeeming them with proceeds of bond issuance.

Issuing short-term debt with no intention of actually paying it off in the short term is a risky strategy. While Mr. Pugh is correct that an individual short-term note is less risky, substantial dependence on short-term debt is a factor known to exacerbate rollover risk for the issuing entity—in this instance, the Village of Croton-on-Hudson.

Funding long-term debt with notes that you rollover every year or two is a sign of an issuer comfortable with taking risk. Buyers of municipal debt are not known for loving risk-taking issuers. If Croton pursues this strategy while carrying an increasing debt load, one day the market will price our debt accordingly…. Or Croton could be unable to rollover its debt at all.

If the market refuses to rollover your debt, it can be disastrous. Think 2007.

Short-term municipal debt is generally low-risk. There are several types of such debt, which can be paid off by tax revenues (Tax Anticipation Notes), non-tax revenues such as fees (Revenue Anticipation Notes), or the subsequent issuance of a standard municipal bond (Bond Anticipation Notes). It is this last type which Mr. Pugh is fascinated with.

BANs are pitched to investors as short-term bridge financing pending replacement by long-term financing. That is why BAN stands for “Bond Anticipation Note”—the very name imposes at least a good faith obligation to attempt issuance of a bond.

Mr. Pugh stated (The Gazette, week of May 31/June 6, 2018): “Future debt service is reduced by substituting short term Bond Anticipation Notes (BANs), which have a lower interest rate, for longer-term bonds, which have higher interest rates and because of their longer terms, more accumulate [sic] interest.” The Croton Board of Trustees is once again approving the annual budget, and Mr. Pugh’s position remains the same.

BANs are emphatically not a substitute for longer-term bonds. The very name indicates that they are a temporary measure whose issuance assumes the imminent issuance of longer-term bonds. It is true that there are rare circumstances where you might delay issuance, but Mr. Pugh’s scheme involves use of short-term debt for the indefinite future and misrepresenting the true nature of the debt to investors.

No doubt there are some other municipalities that pull this off quietly, but I don’t know of any place other than Croton where the Mayor brags about this at televised meetings of the Board of Trustees and in letters to the Gazette.

The Croton Village Treasurer tells Moody’s and Wall Street that she is issuing short-term debt in anticipation of said debt being refunded by future bond issuance while the Croton Village Mayor tells residents that BANs are being “substituted” for bonds. The municipal corporation of Croton-on-Hudson is issuing Bond Anticipation Notes with no anticipation of issuing bonds. How is this not securities fraud?

To be clear: Croton’s Board of Trustees may legally choose to fund some or all of our massive debt with short-term notes rolled over in perpetuity, however unwise that may be. You just can’t say something that isn’t true. Lying during the course of debt issuance may be held to be securities fraud under federal and state law, and calling something a BAN when you don’t intend to honor the “BA” part of “BAN” is a problem.

I sympathize with our Village Treasurer as she deals with Mr. Pugh. But ultimately she is the one who is going to have to deal with the fallout if either Mr. Pugh’s funding scheme or Mr. Pugh’s statements cause problems for Croton.

I hope that our Village Attorney has signed off on the legality of this latest scheme. The Village Treasurer needs to explain what Croton is doing with BANs and bonding. This needs to include a frank discussion of what is being done to mitigate the risks of Mr. Pugh’s strategy, particularly rollover risk.

Croton taxpayers would be better off if our Board of Trustees was less enthusiastic about taking on more and more debt. But since that is not going to happen, at least Croton should not embark on a risky bet that interest rates won’t rise over the coming years and decades.

Paul Steinberg

Congratulations to Apple Farm Market

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the Editor,
Congratulations to Apple Farm Market for opening in Croton-on-Hudson and having confidence in our community. 

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They have fresh organic produce and seafood from the U.S. and South America, specialty ethnic foods and condiments. 

The renovation of the long-time vacant space in the Van Wyck shopping center has been nicely done and is inviting to the customer. They have hired many local employees and it would be great to keep our shopping dollars here in our Village by supporting them. Stop by to see the store—and give them a warm welcome from our quaint little village.

Bob Anderson
The writer is a former Deputy Mayor of Croton-on-Hudson and is currently the Chair of Croton United.

A Feeble Attempt at Shifting Blame

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the Editor,

Why am I not surprised?

The Croton Village Board has totally bollixed up the ill-advised Croton Point Avenue (CPA) project. Now comes Democratic Chair Richard Masur desperately pointing fingers at others for the mess they have created. It could not possibly be the ineptitude of the Dem board that got us here. No! No! They are infallible! It’s got to be someone else!

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Now Mr. Masur is an intelligent guy, but his feeble attempt at shifting blame is totally transparent. What he and his fellow Dems are doing is setting us up for the inevitable eventuality that the CPA project will either be cancelled, forcing us to effectively throw away the $600K already spent, or to proceed with the project at a cost far above what the board promised us it would be. And that the Dems, who have controlled the board for more than a decade, with the exception of two short years, are totally blameless. It’s all due to the other guys. If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you.

What [Masur] and his fellow Dems are doing is setting us up for the inevitable eventuality that the CPA project will either be cancelled, forcing us to effectively throw away the $600K already spent, or to proceed with the project at a cost far above what the board promised us it would be. And that the Dems, who have controlled the board for more than a decade, with the exception of two short years, are totally blameless. It’s all due to the other guys. If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you.

And Mr. Masur can’t even get his facts straight. He notes the “$1.7M in federal and county funds” for the project. True, there is a federal grant of $1.2M. But the $500K from the county was not designated for this project. It was awarded to the village when Croton took responsibility for CPA maintenance, to cover such maintenance in perpetuity. Realizing that the costs for CPA had been underestimated, a previous Dem board decided to use the entire amount for the current CPA debacle, a choice that, last time I checked, may not even be allowable under the terms set by the county for spending these funds.

CPA currently consists of a concrete roadway, requiring relatively little maintenance. But if the board opts to ram this project through, regardless of its cost, CPA will be paved with asphalt. As has been made very clear this past winter, asphalt roads are highly susceptible to potholes and CPA will require far more maintenance in the future. But the county funds, if the Dems have their way, will have been completely dissipated, and all maintenance costs will come right out of the pockets of Croton taxpayers.

Lest anyone claim that this is just another partisan attack, I would point out that I have been a registered Democrat since Mr. Masur was in middle school and continue to support Democrats at almost every level. I played a role in Pete Harckham’s successful campaign for the NY Senate last year and, back in the mists of time, ran as a Democratic candidate for the Croton Village Board. I also supported Croton Dems until, several years ago, I came to believe that the then-Dem board in Croton was corrupt, disingenuous, arrogant, and incompetent, and I concluded I could no longer back them. Their subsequent actions have yet to win back my support.

So, c’mon, Mr. Masur. Take responsibility for what your folks have done. Don’t try to pass the buck. You’re not convincing anyone. After all, having moved the village elections to November, and basking in the blue waves generated by Donald Trump, there is little chance that the Dems, however inept, won’t continue to rule the board, squander our hard earned tax money, and otherwise do whatever they choose without fear of electoral retribution.

Perhaps you can now spend your time trying to figure out how to shift blame for the pending fiscal fiasco at Gouveia Park to someone else. That, too, can’t conceivably be the responsibility of several Dem village boards. They are simply too all-seeing and all–knowing to do anything that departs from perfection.

Sincerely,
Joel E. Gingold

Will Croton’s Massive Indebtedness Continue to Grow?

The following letter was published in last week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the Editor,
When it comes to large capital projects and the millions of taxpayer dollars required to fund them, the performance of our Village Board has been—well, less than inspiring. Perhaps it’s the absence of fiscal acumen among Board members. Or maybe it’s their abject refusal to consult with the Financial Sustainability Committee (FSC) (a group of financial professionals established to assist the board in fiscal matters), possibly due to fear that the FSC will take exception to what the Board wants to do. Or, perchance, it’s something more nefarious. Who knows?

A case in point is the ill-advised Croton Point Avenue (CPA) Project, a program that should have been terminated years ago. We have already spent about $600K on design studies and the like, and when the bids arrived a couple of weeks ago, they were well above the amount anticipated by the Board and its consultant—much to the surprise of the Board and said consultant, but not to anyone else—and the Board voted to reject both of those bids.

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Our Board will now try to figure out why so few bids were submitted and why the price tag wasn’t lower, and rebid the project later this year for completion in 2020. Why the Board believes that new bids will be lower than those already received is unclear.

At a recent Work Session, Mayor Pugh informed us that New York State had decreed that the project must be undertaken this year and that no changes to the specifications will be tolerated. Now the mayor must go to the state, hat in hand, and plead for an extension and maybe even permission to cut back the scope of the project to bring the cost within reason. If he is unsuccessful, the state grant of $250K is in jeopardy; that cost to be made up by you and me.

Should the subsequent bids also exceed expectations, the Board will be faced with a Hobson’s choice. Either proceed with the project and place a much higher debt burden on Croton’s besieged taxpayers or terminate the whole thing. In the latter case, as I understand it, we will have to refund about $350K in money taken from the grants and, in addition, pay off some $300K in bonds already issued, including interest, all with nothing to show for it.

Clearly, despite all evidence to the contrary, our Board believes that, in fiscal matters, it is all-seeing and all-knowing, has all of the answers, and need not debase itself by consulting with anyone else, especially those with expertise in these issues. It is going to ram through all of its pet projects regardless of their costs and their impact on the benighted taxpayers of our village.

But not to worry. It seems clear from their public statements that our Board members have committed themselves to proceed with CPA regardless of its cost. While the $1.5M included in next year’s draft capital budget for the project has been removed, it will be back with a vengeance in 2020-2021 to cover whatever the cost may be, based on the bids received next fall, whether it be $1.5M or $2.0M or $3.0M or more. And we will pay whatever that cost may be, less what remains in the federal and state grants.

Even more disturbing is the cavalier attitude taken by the Board towards the village’s Debt Policy, devised by the FSC and adopted by the Board. Croton is among the most highly indebted communities in all of New York State and the FSC developed this policy to reduce our indebtedness to a sustainable level over the next several years.

But during last week’s Work Session on the Capital Budget, when the Board was informed that, even without CPA, we would blast through the limits of the Debt Policy, the response was, “Well, so what!” “The policy is only a guideline and not a requirement.” “Previous Boards have borrowed even more.” Exactly. And that’s why we’re wallowing in the enormous debt that will hang over us for decades. And the Board’s longer-term capital projections suggest that the Debt Policy will be further violated every year on into the future and our already massive indebtedness will continue to grow.

Clearly, despite all evidence to the contrary, our Board believes that, in fiscal matters, it is all-seeing and all-knowing, has all of the answers, and need not debase itself by consulting with anyone else, especially those with expertise in these issues. It is going to ram through all of its pet projects regardless of their costs and their impact on the benighted taxpayers of our village.

And watch out for what they’re going to do next at Gouveia Park.

Sincerely,
Joel E. Gingold

Give Us a Break, Trustee Olver

The following letter was published in last week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the Editor:

Give us a break, Trustee Olver. 


I am certainly willing to believe that the vision of “affordable private housing for Croton people” such as teachers, young graduates and seniors that you offer in your letter is what you wish will happen when the Municipal Place Gateway and North Riverside corridor are rezoned. However, your letter suggests a much greater chance of that happening, and much more control of that issue on the part of the village, than is realistic and thereby does a disservice to the community.

If we as a community are going to be “starting a conversation” about potential redevelopment . . . let’s have a rational, honest conversation based on the facts.

It is unrealistic to expect that development of apartments that are new construction, with Hudson River views and enclosed, off-street parking (as was suggested in the village’s presentation) is going to do much to increase housing opportunities for entry-level workers and people on fixed incomes.

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Of course, your colleagues on the Village Board recently passed an affordable housing ordinance that would require new developments with ten or more apartments to allocate 10% of those units as “affordable.” But Croton’s affordable housing ordinance does not include a local preference for Croton residents of any kind, as your letter suggests would be the case. Instead, any “affordable” apartments will have to be marketed in accordance with Westchester County’s Fair & Affordable Housing Affirmative Marketing Plan, which also provides no local preference for “Croton people.”


Even if it did (which it does not), would a local preference imposed by an overwhelmingly white community (such as Croton) actually withstand a legal challenge that it violates the Fair Housing Act by perpetuating discriminatory housing patterns? Current jurisprudence suggests it would not.


Of course, Croton’s teachers, seniors and recent grads could throw their names into the hat, along with all other eligible applicants in the required “marketing and outreach area”, hoping to snag one of the new “affordable” apartments developed here. After all, how many potential tenants can there be in the nine counties of New York and Connecticut to which all “affordable” apartments developed in Croton must be marketed, with a total population of over 10 million people? I’m sure all parents looking to reduce unnecessary snow days will be keeping their fingers crossed that Croton’s teachers will get lucky in that lottery.


Even if they did, just about every full-time educator in the Croton Harmon School District earns in excess of the income eligibility ceiling for such “affordable” units. In 2018, that limit was $49,200 for a one-person household ($70,250/four-person household). Could a recent grad or a senior citizen qualify? Perhaps more easily than a local teacher, but without a local preference, or a legal designation of “senior housing” those “Croton people” who want the “affordable middle-class housing” on North Riverside will be left standing in line with thousands of other eligible applicants.


If we as a community are going to be “starting a conversation” about potential redevelopment—or, more honestly, now that the public has been asked to join the conversation—let’s have a rational, honest conversation based on the facts.

Roseann Schuyler

Croton Has the Highest Taxes in Westchester County

The following letter was published in a recent issue of the Gazette.

To the editor,
It is my hope that it is common knowledge that the residents of Westchester County pay the highest  taxes in the United States of America.

A review of tax rates per thousand dollars of assessed property valuation is fascinating. For instance Scarsdale‘s tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value is $4.51 while Croton-on-Hudson’s tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value is $258.40.

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It is our hope that the assessed value of our home relative to others in the village is proportionately correct, but we understand that it not representative of the market value of any of our houses. The relevant question to be asked is how do property taxes paid relate to the market value of our homes relative to other towns and villages in Westchester County. When you do that analysis, of property taxes to home values in Westchester, Croton can proudly proclaim that we pay the highest taxes in Westchester county and therefore the highest taxes in the nation.

It is our hope that the assessed value of our home relative to others in the village is proportionately correct, but we understand that it not representative of the market value of any of our houses. The relevant question to be asked is how do property taxes paid relate to the market value of our homes relative to other towns and villages in Westchester County. When you do that analysis, of property taxes to home values in Westchester, Croton can proudly proclaim that we pay the highest taxes in Westchester county and therefore the highest taxes in the nation.

I find it  comforting when I read the local paper and visit the blogs that the money we pay for village government is being so well-managed. I promise not to get upset about the $40 million dollars in debt the village is approaching because it doesn’t have enough money to pay as we go.

John Mckeon

How Many New Residents is the Board Aiming For?

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:

Richard Olver says (The Gazette, April 4/10) that “people are trying to scare us with fever dreams of ‘1,000-more residents’ near Brook Street.” He provides no support for this, and I have not seen any such statement. What has been raised is the prospect of the re-zoning resulting in 1,000 new residents, and the re-zoning covers an area starting at the Croton Colonial Diner and extending northward far past Brook Street.

Mr. Olver refuses to tell us how many apartment units and how many residents the Board is aiming for. The Board has long spoken of large numbers of new apartments, and in fact the March 21, 2013 letter from Westchester’s former Affordable Housing Monitor to then-Mayor Leo Wiegman spoke of the need for “many hundreds of units” to be built in Croton.

The former hardware store site at 25 South Riverside was recently proposed for a building with 26 units (but only 32 parking spaces). At 2 and a half persons per unit occupancy, that would be 65 residents. Even at 0.5 students per unit, it would be 13 students. And an estimate of 0.5 students per unit is probably low, given that 10 of those units were to be 2-bedroom units.

The Straddles site at 425 South Riverside was recently proposed for a 42 unit development. A reasonable estimate would have a result of 105 residents including 21 students.

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So that was just 2 buildings and we already are at a projection of 170 residents, including 34 students. Extrapolate that to the proposed re-zoning from the diner up past the Washington Engine Co. and make your own guess. A thousand residents is starting to sound conservative.

Ann Gallelli says (The Gazette, March 28/Apr. 8) that “last week Croton’s Village Board began a discussion with residents.” That is true: the public has just now been invited into the discussion.

It is also true that the Board of Trustees has had multiple secret meetings closed to the public, commissioned a $75,000 consulting study, had meetings of a “North Riverside Neighborhood Zoning Working Group” ….and those are only the activity and conversations we know about. That sounds more like the newly-begun discussion with residents has been made irrelevant.

Is there anybody in Croton who seriously believes that this is a beginning of a discussion? If the Board of Trustees really does want a discussion, then stop with the secret “Executive Sessions” and disclose to Croton residents the hard data necessary to evaluate the merits of the re-zoning proposal.

Apart from the Board of Trustees and village employees, the only people in Croton who likely know where this re-zoning is headed are Messrs. Doyle, Brumleve, and Kauderer. And they ain’t talkin’.

All of us in our work lives have done a business plan, strategic plan, or some similar project. The first thing you do is to set goals in accord with where you want to end up. No doubt the Board of Trustees has already made determinations as to how many units and the type breakdown . . . Why won’t they tell us?

All of us in our work lives have done a business plan, strategic plan, or some similar project. The first thing you do is to set goals in accord with where you want to end up. No doubt the Board of Trustees has already made determinations as to how many units and the type breakdown (seniors, municipal/school employees, etc). Why won’t they tell us?

Ms. Gallelli writes a lengthy letter, but nowhere does she tell us how many apartments could be built under the new zoning plan. Nor how many residents and school age children would be added. Nor how many parking spots would be needed. This is basic information which she has but refuses to disclose.

The village has hired a professional consultant which is being paid $75,000 of Croton taxpayer money to do a job. And that consultant went over—lot by lot—the area to be rezoned. Included in that was analysis of floor-area-ratio (FAR) and NYS Department of Transportation setback requirements that would impact building height. Yet still, they refuse to tell us how many new apartments and how many new residents they project.

This is basic math. At the risk of some simplification, look at two scenarios.

The amount of square footage is a function of FAR. So if the property owner is allowed to build 300 square feet and builds a two-story building, Croton would add 150 sq. ft. of apartments and 150 of commercial space. But if due to mandatory setbacks the 300 square feet can only be built with a three-story building, then Croton would add 200 sq. ft. of apartments and 100 of commercial.

Once you have an idea of the square footage, you can make some estimates as to the number of apartments, the number of residential occupants, the number of new students, and the number of parking spaces required. And the square footage data would also give an indication of the ground-floor (retail/office) impact on daytime parking requirements.

This is common sense, and the type of analysis most of us have done in our working careers. I find it hard to believe that our Village Manager and Village Engineer have not demanded the consultant perform work of a sufficient level of professionalism so as to ascertain these basic impact estimates of the proposed re-zoning. I also have enough respect for Ms. Gallelli’s intellect and municipal planning experience to believe that Ms. Gallelli would insist on being provided this data.

In case you are wondering why Ms. Gallelli wrote a lengthy letter which said nothing, it is because the purpose of her letter in the Gazette was not to clarify or inform. According to the statement by our Croton Mayor Brian Pugh, the letter written by Ms. Gallelli was “a useful antidote to some of the demagoguery.”

Mr. Pugh’s attitude toward his fellow Croton residents is a topic for another day. But I would suggest to Ms. Gallelli that resident speech is not a toxin that needs administration of an “antidote” either by Ms. Gallelli or any other member of the Board of Trustees. And I would suggest to Messrs. Doyle, Brumleve, and Kauderer that their neighbors are reasonable people seeking information to which they are entitled.

Mr. Olver is correct on one thing: there are two new buildings in Harmon. And when those buildings were being proposed, people on Young Avenue were concerned because they said their residential street would become a parking lot. And it is also true that the Board of Trustees whispered soothing words of assurance to the residents of Young Avenue, much as Ms. Gallelli and Mr. Olver do so today with regard to the massive proposed re-zoning.

Nobody is living in those two Harmon buildings yet. Not a single apartment tenant has moved in, not a single new commercial tenant. And yet…. Just last week we see that Croton Planning Board agenda item #2 is a discussion of the inadequate parking for the yet-to-be-occupied building, and one of the plans being considered is “street parking on Young (after 10 a.m.).” The concrete has literally not yet been poured to complete the sidewalk, and already there have been village meetings to address the insufficient parking.

Croton needs development of empty lots. Croton needs retail business. Croton has a need for residential apartments. Croton needs to find spaces so those new residents and businesses can park.

Croton also needs a Board of Trustees which speaks the truth. We should not have to wait years to find out that our leaders have fooled us once again.

Paul Steinberg

Croton’s Level of Debt is Not Sustainable

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
Croton’s 2019-20 capital budget shows funding needs of $4,821,300. Of that amount, $275,000 comes from the state. Another $441,300 comes from the Croton fund balance. The remaining $4,105,000 comes from bonds and bond anticipation notes.

I am concerned that our spending is exceeding what we can afford, and we will soon exceed $40 million in debt. This is a village of 2,400 households containing 8,000 people. This level of debt is not sustainable, and this rate of debt increase is not sustainable. Croton’s debt service right now exceeds $1 million per year. It is time to begin setting priorities.

I believe our current debt is in the neighborhood of $36 million. I am concerned that our spending is exceeding what we can afford, and we will soon exceed $40 million in debt. This is a village of 2,400 households containing 8,000 people. This level of debt is not sustainable, and this rate of debt increase is not sustainable.

Croton’s debt service right now exceeds $1 million per year. It is time to begin setting priorities. We also need to think about the consequences of projects that start small and gather momentum.

The police headquarters are to be expanded, and we are told that they will take the ground floor of the Municipal Building since they need to have an additional holding cell and a changing room for female employees. That sounds reasonable and the 2019/20 capital budget allocates $60,000 for the Municipal Building renovation. But then for 2020/21 the budget allocates an additional $200,000 and the 2021/22 budget allocates $4,000,000. Is it really necessary for Croton taxpayers to pay $4,260,000 to renovate the Municipal Building for the police department?

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This is the same problem with Gouveia. We were told that the bequest came with a $1,000,000 endowment which would provide in perpetuity for the upkeep of a village park. Just a few years later, the million dollars is either spent or due to be spent, mostly on paving roads and parking lots. The remainder of the endowment is going to be liquidated, and an additional $500,000 will be spent in 2020/21. The end result is that we in Croton will have spent $1,500,000 to turn a village park into a government office building.

What happened to the space in the new municipal office building we purchased on Route 129? We spent about $3,000,000 on that building with the understanding that it would house the Department of Public Works and there would be additional space for other Croton government offices. Now the DPW is getting the building all to itself, the Recreation Department is getting its own building at Gouveia Park, and the police department is getting half of the Municipal Building.

Does this make sense?

Bob Anderson
The writer is a former Deputy Mayor of Croton-on-Hudson and is currently the Chair of Croton United.

Time to Rethink the CPA Project

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
Even as the projected cost rose from $300,000 to over $1 million, nobody really thought the Croton Point Avenue (CPA) project was going to come in cheap. Outside the walls of the Municipal Building, realistic talk in Croton was that this was going to cost $3 to $5 million.

The $2.9 million low bid indicates that our Croton politicians and municipal officials were snookering us once again. Assuming even a modest 10 percent overage brings us to $3.2 million, and adding in the $600k already spent gives a figure of $3.8 million. That means that with a few “change orders” and an unforeseen obstacle or two, the CPA project is going to be over $4 million.

Even by the standards of our free-spending Board of Trustees, that’s decent money.

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It is time to revisit the necessity of this project. The prime issue that initiated this was a claim that rush hour traffic to the train station was too slow, and that traffic was backing up onto Route 9. The “solution” is supposed to be the installation of 2 more stoplights. While it is true that there is a bunching of commuters catching the 4 express trains between 7:15 and 7:45, that hardly seems reason to spend millions of dollars. In addition, driving through Briarcliff along 9A in the morning demonstrates that that stop lights themselves can create bottlenecks.

Much has been said about the narrowing of vehicle lanes to accommodate two new bicycle lanes. Croton is a hilly village which is cold for much of the year, so there are not a lot of bicycle-riding commuters.

We live in a state with the highest tax burden in the nation, in a county with the highest property tax burden in the nation, and a village which has burdened its residents with one of the highest debt levels in the state. At some point, this is going to become unsustainable. Our Board of Trustees and Village Manager need to stop regarding Croton as a real-life SimCity funded by Monopoly money. They could start by rethinking the CPA project.

We were told by our politicians that CPA was a “gateway” and while I can appreciate that having empty bicycle lanes is going to impress passing motorists with Croton’s commitment to going green, I think they will change their impression once they make a left at the top of CPA and pass by 3 gas stations lined up along Riverside.

The sidewalk along the north side of CPA is more than adequate for the few commuters who walk from Harmon. And the north side is safer for pedestrians than the south side, particularly opposite Giovanni’s. It is true that installing a sidewalk on the south side of CPA makes walking to ShopRite easier, but I doubt that there will be any upsurge in people walking from the train station to ShopRite.

The last significant part of the project is to change CPA from concrete to blacktop. The existing roadway was expensive to install but lasts much longer and hence is economically the best choice. Our Board of Trustees will be paving that over with blacktop, and then we will be paying every spring to fix the potholes and paying every few years to mill and repave CPA.

We have a pattern in Croton. Our politicians get a fixation, deceive us as to the cost, and after the damage is done the Board of Trustees is on to their next harebrained scheme. Croton taxpayers are left holding the bag.

Years ago, CPA was pitched with a claim that this would not cost Croton taxpayers much money. That was false, but the other part of that claim was also troubling. Our politicians told us that Albany and Washington would pick up most of the tab, and so we should race to grab the money. Belief that other people would get stuck paying for Croton’s profligacy resulted in glossing over the question as to whether the CPA project was necessary. We should pause to consider the broader civic consequences of our original greediness that led us to not be concerned about fiscal waste so long as the consequences were borne by taxpayers in other parts of the country.

The CPA debacle is just another repetitive chapter in the same book. Much as we premised CPA on grandiose plans paid for by other people, we are right now cleaning up (at a cost of over $1million) the Gouveia mess which was premised on grand plans and talk of a Gouveia 501(c) getting grant money from Albany and Washington, plus gate revenue from lawn concerts and poetry readings. And of course the massive (and costly) expansion of Croton government office space to accommodate the DPW, Recreation Department, and the police is a story in itself.

We live in a state with the highest tax burden in the nation, in a county with the highest property tax burden in the nation, and a village which has burdened its residents with one of the highest debt levels in the state.

At some point, this is going to become unsustainable. Our Board of Trustees and Village Manager need to stop regarding Croton as a real-life SimCity funded by Monopoly money. They could start by rethinking the CPA project.

Paul Steinberg