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

Let’s Stop Throwing Good Money After Bad

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

To the editor,
As someone who has driven my wife daily to and from the Croton-Harmon station for nearly 30 years, I feel compelled to give my observations of the commute and the proposed Croton Point Avenue (CPA) “improvement” project.

The narrowing of the four CPA travel lanes to a minimum NYSDOT standard (12 ft. to 11 ft.), and the lack of fluidity with the bike lanes will improve neither movement nor safety.

Drivers already need to pay very close attention when making that right turn out onto CPA. I can only imagine the side-swiping that will occur if we lose two total feet of lane width exiting the Croton-Harmon station. Fragmented bike lanes that abruptly vanish at either end of CPA will create a false sense of security for anyone but the most seasoned rider. Interestingly enough, there will never be any bike lanes on the stretch of South Riverside between Benedict Boulevard and CPA, at least not without massive, and costly, land acquisitions. They simply do not fit.

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As for any ‘congestion,’ especially as it pertains to the southbound Route 9 exit ramp; well, Croton created that around 10 years ago by removing the left-turn arrow from the right CPA travel lane, effectively rendering the lane useless. Today, cars back up the exit ramp, waiting for the moment they can jam their way into the left lane. Returning to a two-lane entry into Croton-Harmon Station can be remediated right now, today; with a simple restriping.

There are other common-sense, less disruptive, fixes that can be done to bring improvements to the street.

Of course, there are other common-sense, less disruptive, fixes that can be done to bring improvements to the street. Let’s change the signal at the corner of South Riverside and CPA to reflect a “no right on red” to allow for a smoother traffic flow from the northbound Route 9 exit towards the Croton-Harmon station. (And when was the last time anyone has ever seen the pedestrian crosswalk light on that corner turn green? Never.) Let’s not tear up, or cover up, the concrete roadway surface, which is actually in good condition and lasts significantly longer than asphalt. (One entire lane was redone by Con Edison contractors just in the past year, so it's in excellent shape.) Finally, let’s return reasonable, off-peak, on street parking (10 a.m.-3 p.m.?) to the north side of CPA, for the benefit of its businesses and their customers.

As for this project, it’s high time to kill it once and for all, and stop throwing good money after bad.

Robert Armanini

A Chance to Serve Our Community

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

To the editor:
I am writing to express my gratitude to former Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt for appointing me to the Village Planning Board in July 2016 to fill the vacancy created by the departure of Mr. Rocco Mastronardi. I also wish to thank former Village Trustee Robert Anderson for his assistance with my appointment.

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A political outsider and self-avowed independent voter, my selection was not a campaign reward, nor was it a slam dunk. I did not know Mayor Schmidt then and, in fact, have only met him a few times over the past three years. Same with Trustee Anderson, although we have since become friends during the time he served as the Village Trustee liaison to the Planning Board. When I learned of a vacancy on the Planning Board, I expressed my interest to a mutual friend who suggested to the mayor that I be considered. A former practicing landscape architect and former practicing attorney (currently stay-at-home dad), skilled in site planning, land planning and development, civil engineering, construction and land use law seemed like a pretty good fit. Mayor Schmidt agreed and asked me to fill the open seat.

My brief time on the Planning Board was one of my favorite professional accomplishments. . . . The chance to serve our community and give back with my particular blend of qualifications meant sacrificing several hours of family time, but it was an opportunity to serve that I felt was important to do. . . . Our backgrounds in architecture, law, business, and planning worked well together. . . . We did not always agree, but we always demonstrated respect for opinions and viewpoints other than our own individual positions.

My brief time on the Planning Board was one of my favorite professional accomplishments. Despite the sound of it, in my situation stay-at-home dad does not entail a lot of spare time to volunteer. The chance to serve our community and give back with my particular blend of qualifications meant sacrificing several hours of family time, but it was an opportunity to serve that I felt was important to do. I am glad to have made that choice because I enjoyed greatly getting to know the other members of the board and found that we were an excellent team. Our backgrounds in architecture, law, business, and planning worked well together. As a board, each member expressed valuable points of view. We did not always agree, but we always demonstrated respect for opinions and viewpoints other than our own individual positions. I have the utmost professional and personal respect for each of them. Many times over the past two years I have been approached by residents who have had business before the Planning Board and have been told that we worked well together and made the experience productive and helpful. There can be no better reward.

Mr. Mastronardi’s full term expired in December 2018 and by Village Code I was expected to carryover the term on the board until re-appointment or replacement by the current Board of Trustees. I was notified in an email last Monday evening by Mayor Pugh that I would not be re-appointed. I served at the pleasure of the Mayor and the Board of Trustees and it was a privilege to do so. While I have not been informed of my replacement, I wish her/him the best of luck. I know the members of the Planning Board will welcome you as they did me.

Edward Doherty

Redevelopment Planned for Croton

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

To the Editor:
At last week’s “Zoning Update Workshop” residents were given a first look at a vision of development of the Municipal Place Gateway and the North Riverside neighborhood presented by a consultant hired by, and working with, the Board of Trustees.

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Residents were told that the presentation, which suggested among other things, development of a veritable wall of two- to three-story apartment buildings along the highway on North Riverside was “neither a proposal nor a recommendation.” Yet the members of the public present seemed to feel . . . that real plans were in the works that had the potential to change the character of the village, and not for the better.

Residents were told that the presentation, which suggested among other things, development of a veritable wall of two- to three-story apartment buildings along the highway on North Riverside was “neither a proposal nor a recommendation.”

Yet the members of the public present seemed to feel, in my opinion correctly, that this was not simply a back-of-the-napkin idea session, but that real plans were in the works that had the potential to change the character of the village, and not for the better.

While most of the attention was being paid to the potential redevelopment of the North Riverside corridor, it's worth noting that the properties along that street are private properties, and that even if the area was rezoned as was suggested, the redevelopment of any particular parcel in the area is not necessarily inevitable.

This is not the case in regard to the Katz Property, which is within the Municipal Place Gateway area. For those who do not know, the village took ownership of the wooded property across Maple Street from the CVS plaza approximately 15 years ago as part of the settlement of a lawsuit brought by the owner of the property who claimed that zoning code changes enacted at the time had devalued his property. The village paid $900,000 in settlement of the suit and took ownership of the property as part of the deal.

It is also worth noting that the Village Board has recently had two executive sessions to discuss “real property.” Under New York’s Open Meetings Law, the board can only enter executive session to discuss matters related to real property in private if it is considering purchasing, selling or leasing such property, and only if public discussion of the purchase, sale or lease would significantly affect the value of the property. It is true that when our Village Board is controlled by one party (as it is now), it has been known to bend this rule, or to quickly change the purpose of such private meetings to “advice of legal counsel” when questioned about the legal basis for executive sessions related to “real property.”

It is also worth noting that the board has recently learned that it must complete its proposed Croton Point Avenue project this year or pay back $600,000 in grant money the village has already spent on the project. Residents were told when this project was proposed that the village’s share of the cost would be $300,000, but were recently advised by the Village Engineer that the projected cost to the village has increased to at least $1.5 million. Our DPW Superintendent warned the board that bids for this project, which is apparently going to be done no matter what the price, could come back “astronomically high.” A land sale could be what the board is counting on to offset the village’s potentially “astronomical” price tag for this project.

The Katz property is a wooded oasis in between two strip malls. It gives a visual and emotional calming space that preserves the character of Croton. The rush to develop in order to fund the multi-million dollar CPA construction is unwise, and making decisions about Katz in a series of secret meetings is neither democratic nor legal.

Roseann Schuyler

NOTE: To see the Municipal Place Gateway and North Riverside Neighborhood Zoning Study click here.

The Urbanization of Croton

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

To the editor:
The new vision for Croton unveiled last week by Mayor Brian Pugh and Village Manager Janine King is a bold step forward for our village. For some time the North Riverside Neighborhood Zoning Working Group has been hard at work developing plans for an urban city of the future, with input from Village Manager King and Village Engineer O’Connor.

Trustee Ann Gallelli led resident appointees Paul Doyle, Ted Brumleve, and Bruce Kauderer in this major revision to carry Croton forward into the next century. The plan calls for development of 2-3 story buildings from the Croton Colonial Diner, looping up to include the area now occupied by the Post Office, across to the Katz property, and all the way north on Riverside past the firehouse.

The goal of the plan is to bring hundreds of apartments to Croton, starting with construction on the village-owned Katz property. . . . When ultimately complete, the plan will allow Croton to welcome well over a thousand new residents and remake the image of Croton into a medium density suburban town.

The goal of the plan is to bring hundreds of apartments to Croton, starting with construction on the village-owned Katz property. It is not known how many new residents this will bring: the current plan calls for a retail mall strip running on the ground floor with either one or two floors of apartments above. When ultimately complete, the plan will allow Croton to welcome well over a thousand new residents and remake the image of Croton into a medium density suburban town.

Croton’s Board of Trustees has been working on development of infrastructure to handle urbanization for some time. The DPW now has a large new building, the Recreation Department will be soon taking over Gouveia Park, and the Police Department will be taking over the entire first floor of the Municipal Building.

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There is also significant transportation infrastructure being developed in Croton. There will be new stoplights along Croton Point Avenue, and the dummy light intersection is currently the subject of a consultant study which will likely result in the installation of new pedestrian lights and possibly a reconfiguration of the intersection itself to handle vehicular and pedestrian volume increases.

There are some concerns about the effect on home values, but the consulting firm retained by the Board of Trustees assured attendees at last week’s presentation that if they like their Hudson River views, they will be allowed to keep them.

The concern for home values expressed by residents may be unwarranted. In places like Nassau County, there are mixed-use strips similar to what the Croton Board of Trustees envisions. Along Jericho Turnpike and Hillside Avenue, such development exists and although the homes adjacent to the thoroughfare are at lower price points, the impact on value lessens as distance increases.

The consultants did have some hesitation about the demand for retail, which suggests one significant change to the vision presented. For various reasons, physical retail presence is on a sharp decline throughout the United States. It is questionable whether development of a strip mall stretching along the western length of Croton will stimulate demand for retail space.

Given the forecast for retail demand, the likelihood is that much of the ground floor space will ultimately be devoted to residential occupancy or ancillary uses. In fact the consultants discussed using ground floor space for parking cars, and this would also address concerns about the substantial increase in vehicle use.

“New Croton” is on the way. The starting point is the Katz property development. Since this is owned by the village, the Croton Board of Trustees will determine how it is developed.

One concern about Katz is the price which Croton will get from the buyer. Although there has been talk in the past about a reduced sale price in exchange for the developer committing to income-restricted apartments, the presentation did not mention this. On the plus side, the Katz property will generate well in excess of a million dollars which can be used to partially offset the cost of the streetlights and sidewalks being put in down by the train station.

There was mention of “economic incentives” for several purposes. The Board of Trustees has not specified what form the incentives would take. At the public presentation, the consultants were wary of an increase in the floor area ratio (FAR) so it is unlikely that incentives would take the form of increased building height. Even the current allowable FAR may be too high at some locations.

The alternative would be for Croton to incentivize with tax breaks. That is a bit problematic because the substantial population increase is going to put significant demands on village and school district services. Particularly with income-restricted apartments, this creates a triple whammy: increased demand, increased property taxes, and burden-shifting away from the new apartment units.

This burden-shifting effect is due to the reduction in assessed value for property that has significant restrictions which impair market value. This is not a reason to shy away from development of income-regulated apartments, but by definition this means that there will be slightly increased property taxes for those Croton residents who own homes. In turn, the increase in property taxes may lead to reduced interest from prospective new homebuyers and thereby reduce home values in Croton.

For many years, new residents have complained about the lack of certain retail amenities in Croton such as organic restaurants and food markets, artisanal toy stores, and the like. The lack of these is due in large part to Croton’s low population density.

Some residents have looked to a Brooklyn-style zoning plan to increase density, but for various reasons this is not practical in Croton. The vision which has emerged from the Working Group and the Croton Board of Trustees uses instead the Long Island-style model of medium density mixed-use buildings along a municipal roadway.

As Croton prepares to sell the Katz property to a developer and install new stoplights, sidewalks, and bicycle lanes along Croton Point Avenue, our village trustees are setting Croton on a new path toward a bright urban future.

Paul Steinberg

Move Croton’s Village Election Day Back to March

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

To the Editor:
Last week’s front page story in this newspaper focused on the village elections that occurred this week in our nearby neighboring communities, Briarcliff Manor and Buchanan. In New York State, it is not required that village elections be conducted in November and until 2011, Croton's village elections were held in March, as Briarcliff, Buchanan, and many other villages in New York do.

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When the ballot initiative that changed the village Election Day was pending, village residents were told that there were two basic reasons to change: November elections would be democratizing, since more residents would likely come out to vote, and November elections would save money, since residents would be paying for only one election, and not two. At the time, village elections cost taxpayers approximately $5,000 per year.

Seven November elections have happened since village Election Day changed in Croton. During that time there have been three village elections which were wholly uncontested, wherein the nominees of the controlling party simply took office with little public scrutiny or debate, winning the election for all intents and purposes at the moment the very first village voter cast their vote for village offices. As of now, there is no indication that this year will include a contested village election in November.

For more than five of the eight years (and running) since village Election Day changed, Croton’s village board has been constituted either entirely by members of one political party, or has contained a supermajority of members of one party. Given this record, the promise of a “democratizing” November election appears not to have been kept.

Moreover, for more than five of the eight years (and running) since village Election Day changed, Croton’s village board has been constituted either entirely by members of one political party, or has contained a supermajority of members of one party. Given this record, the promise of a “democratizing” November election appears not to have been kept.

Proponents of the change may argue that larger voter turnout in village elections is a democratizing result of the switch, and may point out that in the last election—which was uncontested—Trustee Ann Gallelli received more votes than any other candidate for village office in history. While that may be true, why would large voter turnout even matter when the only vote that counts is the first one cast?

There is certainly a price to be paid for democracy, and in 2011, that price was approximately $5,000 for village elections. Proponents of changing Croton village elections from March to November touted the cost savings as a primary reason to approve the switch. Whether or not the switch actually resulted in a cost savings to taxpayers—a claim that was publicly disputed by the former chair of both the Croton and Cortlandt Democratic party as well as by Croton’s Village Manager at the time—such savings for the taxpayers have been more than wiped out by the almost 90% increase in village debt and by double-digit increases in village fees, water rates, sewer rates and parking rates that have been instituted by the controlling party since then with scant opportunity for meaningful public participation in the process.

Other New York villages take the time at this time of year to discuss and consider issues that are distinctly local and specific to their communities; issues that may not have the intense emotional charge of state or national issues but which are nonetheless directly impactful on our daily lives in ways that larger issues cannot be. Other New York villages conduct elections which are focused on hometown concerns and are not dominated by national partisan politics because they do not involve questions that give rise to such considerations.

Conducting village elections in March would permit Croton residents this same luxury: an opportunity to discuss and examine village issues outside of the noise and intrusion of national and state politics. A contested, local issues-oriented election seems like it would be an improvement over the situation we have now.

And, at only 60 cents per village resident, it would hardly be the kind of break-the-bank expense that should require our village to remain mired in a system that virtually ensures undemocratic and unaccountable one-party control of our local government for years to come.

Roseann Schuyler

Show Us the Money!

Editors Note: This letter was written before the Board released its cost estimate (see spreadsheet below). The $752,000 estimate will consume the remainder of the trust fund and does not include funds for renovation of the house or for upgraded water and sewerage, if that proves to be necessary. Renovation of the house will certainly be well up in six figures. Where does the board propose to get those funds?

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

To the editor:

Our Village Board seems hell-bent to sweep the Recreation Department out of the Municipal Building as quickly as possible and deposit it in the wilds of Gouveia Park. The very cogent arguments against such a move have been stated in these pages and elsewhere, and need not be repeated. But what about the cost?

At present, we have absolutely no idea what it will cost to make this move. In what has become standard procedure for this board, the process has been to make a commitment now and worry about the costs later. After all, it will be done with other peoples’ money.

As the board was warned by Village Manager Janine King, the relocation will be more complicated and more costly than it appears. Most importantly, because the facility will have to be made compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act. And there is a serious question regarding whether the water and sewerage facilities on the property will be adequate for the large number of people the board tells us will be using the renovated property. In addition, the operating costs will soar since the house will have to be heated and cooled twelve months a year.

So I am issuing a challenge to the board. Before you make a commitment, tell us what it will cost. Tell us what it will cost to renovate the house, upstairs and down, and make it ADA compliant. Tell us what it will cost to extend the driveway and parking area. Tell us whether the water and sanitary facilities are adequate and, if not, what it will cost to upgrade them. Tell us what it will cost each year to heat, cool, and otherwise maintain the renovated facility. Tell us whatever other capital and operating costs are associated with the move.

Board members publish letters in these pages every week. So instead of announcing essay contests for eighth graders, tell us what you plan to spend on our behalf. And this time, give us accurate information. Not the fake news that was included in the 2015 economic analysis prepared by Mayor Pugh, Trustee Gallelli, and their colleagues on the then-village board when they voted to accept the property.

I am issuing a challenge to the board. Before you make a commitment, tell us what it will cost. Tell us what it will cost to renovate the house, upstairs and down, and make it ADA compliant. Tell us what it will cost to extend the driveway and parking area. Tell us whether the water and sanitary facilities are adequate and, if not, what it will cost to upgrade them. Tell us what it will cost each year to heat, cool, and otherwise maintain the renovated facility. Tell us whatever other capital and operating costs are associated with the move. . . . Tell us what you plan to spend on our behalf. And this time, give us accurate information. Not the fake news that was included in the 2015 economic analysis prepared by Mayor Pugh, Trustee Gallelli, and their colleagues on the then-village board when they voted to accept the property.

It is my understanding that the upcoming budget will include a return to the massive borrowing that was routine in past years and that the borrowing guidelines established some years ago will be violated. So we can expect that the Gouveia renovations will be funded by what’s left in the trust fund, assuming it will be adequate.

The aforementioned economic analysis stated that it would require $110,000 to bring the house up to ADA standards. But every estimate made in that analysis has been off by a factor of at least three or four. So it is likely that the renovations will significantly deplete the remaining funds or even clean them out completely.

When the property was accepted, we were promised that the trust fund would not be spent, but would be used to generate interest to offset the expenses of the property. According to the analysis, we should be receiving $40,000 per year at this time. What ever happened to that?

Mayor Greg Schmidt established a Financial Sustainability Committee, comprised of financial professionals, to provide guidance to the board and keep village finances on an even keel. Has the FSC been consulted on whether this move makes financial sense and what its future implications will be? Has the FSC been consulted on anything by this board? I think not. Despite the fact that no one currently on the board has a financial background, and this incredibly valuable resource is readily available, the board, as always, is convinced it knows better than everyone else.

So, c’mon folks. Accept my challenge. Tell us what you’re planning to spend. Remember, you work for us. The taxpayers and citizens of the Village of Croton. And as our employees, we demand that you keep us informed—with truthful data.

Sincerely,
Joel E. Gingold

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Croton Taxpayers Should Not be Paying for Personal Use of Vehicles

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

To the editor:

The change of control in the state Senate has resulted in many new policies. One change we should all applaud is the new attitude regarding taxpayer-funded cars for politicians. Although given an automatic allocation of nine cars for Democrat Senators, only Ms. Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) took her Ford Explorer SUV—a vehicle weighing almost 5,000 pounds and having a city mileage of 19 mpg (that assumes she has a base model; other configurations only get 16 mpg).

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The other eligible Democrats declined to take taxpayer-funded cars, but unfortunately the Republicans took all three cars they were allocated (Ford Taurus cars). The Senate also has five cars purchased but currently unallocated; hopefully the new attitude of the Senate Democrats will lead to a reduction in the taxpayer-provided fleet.

The village has never publicly provided a list of municipally-owned vehicles; a few years ago the estimate was that there are over a hundred vehicles in the fleet. Both for fiscal and environmental reasons, Croton should do a comprehensive review of the current fleet and requirements going forward.

Our Croton Board of Trustees should follow the example set by the Democrats in Albany. Taxpayers should not be paying for personal use of vehicles. The next time the Board of Trustees negotiates an employment contract for a Village Manager, the provision allowing for personal use of a village vehicle should be deleted.

Taxpayers should not be paying for daily commuting expenses, particularly not in a carbon-spewing gasoline-powered car. The environmental impact may not be great, but there is a principle involved and our municipal leaders and politicians should lead by example.

The village has never publicly provided a list of municipally-owned vehicles; a few years ago the estimate was that there are over a hundred vehicles in the fleet. Both for fiscal and environmental reasons, Croton should do a comprehensive review of the current fleet and requirements going forward.

The example set by the new Democrat leadership in Albany with regard to taxpayer-provided vehicles is one which should be emulated by politicians and municipalities across New York State.

Paul Steinberg

A Cavalier Disregard of State Law and Procurement Best Practices

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

To the editor:
The televised mess at the February 4 Board of Trustees meeting should prompt a review and overhaul of procurement policies in Croton. As a municipal corporation, Croton has more flexibility than other state entities. But this does not mean that the current status is acceptable, let alone protective of the public fisc.

Comments by the Board, the Village Attorney, and the Bicycle-Pedestrian Committee (BPC) indicate at least a cavalier disregard if not outright ignorance of both state law and procurement best practices. In addition, the lack of transparency makes a mockery of the public deliberations since the public is deliberately kept in the dark.

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At minimum, the village should post the RFP in the online Board of Trustees agenda supporting documents, and should post the certified bid tabulation form (known as “certified bid tab”). The RFP shows the scope of work and weighting of the criteria, and the certified bid tab shows the scoring and computation.

The televised mess at the February 4 Board of Trustees meeting should prompt a review and overhaul of procurement policies in Croton. . . . Comments by the Board, the Village Attorney, and the Bicycle-Pedestrian Committee (BPC) indicate at least a cavalier disregard if not outright ignorance of both state law and procurement best practices. In addition, the lack of transparency makes a mockery of the public deliberations since the public is deliberately kept in the dark.

Properly done, the RFP and certified bid tab constitute application of the “Best Value” standard pursuant to NYS Finance Law 163(1)(j). Posting these documents shows Croton taxpayers (and non-winning vendors) that there has been a “balanced and fair method of award” as required by the NYS Comptroller.

Some of us were puzzled by the remarks from the Village Attorney regarding the lack of requirement to accept the lowest bidder. “Best Value” has never meant lowest price. The RFP should have the technical/cost ratio; indeed in state agency RFPs this ratio is required to be disclosed in the RFP. Even the cost segment is not a mere ranking of lowest to highest price: normally, the low bid is divided by each bid in turn and then multiplied by the maximum allowable points (which is derived from the ratio set out in the RFP).

This sounds complicated but it is actually simple and most state agencies have a spreadsheet template for this purpose. The spreadsheet gives a composite score of the technical and cost factors, and this composite score determines the bid ranking. If Croton does not have an RFP template and certified bid tab template, it should create those now.

Unlike the Board and BPC, members of the public have not seen the RFP nor Superintendent Balbi’s certified bid tab. But even from listening to the public discussion, there is reason to doubt that the dummy light RFP was done in compliance with normal procurement procedure.

Another shock for those familiar with NYS procurement practice was the disclosure by Mr. Pugh that there were additional items (such as charrettes) which will be performed by the winning bidder, and the casual discussion by BPC spokesman Mr. Olsson of expanding the scope of services beyond the RFP. The NYS Comptroller is crystal clear on this: “Costs [sic] components not evaluated must not be in the resulting contract.”

The Feb. 4 meeting came to an awkward stop as Mr. Pugh struggled to respond to Mr. Olsson’s proposal to expand the scope of work to include the Vassallo Parking lot exit. No doubt Mr. Pugh was trying to be polite, but he should have bluntly told Mr. Olsson—on the record—that the Village of Croton-on-Hudson is not going to go against the requirements of the State Comptroller.

Croton loves to do initial awards which understate the work, and then add on work later. This backwards approach is bad practice for three major reasons.

First, it can result in a smaller pool of vendors and hence a higher price to taxpayers. If the village intends to have a true scope of work with a fair market value (FMV) of $150 but issues a stripped-down RFP with a FMV of $100, there may be vendors who would have bid on the $150 contract but who regard the $100 contract as too small.

Second, it is impossible to do a proper technical evaluation. This is particularly true if the expanded scope of work involves skill sets beyond the issued RFP. Oftentimes that additional work is going to be subcontracted, so even if the scoring evaluator (in this instance, Superintendent Balbi) has some idea of the true scope of work it will not be possible to make an accurate technical evaluation.

Third is the potential for corruption. In theory if the RFP’s FMV is $100, most bids should cluster around $100. But if one of the bidders becomes aware that the post-award scope of work is going to be expanded to $150, the bidder can bid $80 secure in the knowledge that the company will ultimately make $150. The RFP value may even exceed the FMV because once the original award is made, the awardee can inflate the additional work to a price above FMV.

Particularly when your winning bidder (in this instance, SIMCO) is under criminal indictment for bribery of public officials, it would seem that the Board of Trustees would be acutely aware of procurement requirements designed in part to reduce the risk of bribery.

I will leave for others to discuss why the Croton Board of Trustees has no procedure in place to detect if a prospective vendor is under criminal indictment. But Croton should institute procedures now, and also review existing contracts to ascertain if the municipality is currently doing business with vendors who are under indictment, convicted, or barred.

I realize that some of this letter has been a bit technical. And most residents would not be aware of the details. But it is troubling that neither the municipal officials conducting procurement nor the Board of Trustees that approves procurement contracts seems to be following common-sense practice.

Our Board of Trustees should stop trying to hide documents. It should not be necessary to FOIL for documents which are being discussed by the BPC spokesman and the Board at a public meeting, and only get those documents long after the decision has been made.

The BPC should stop advocating for changing the scope of work set forth in an RFP after the winning bidder has been announced; this is unwise and possibly exposes the village to legal action by losing bidders.

Croton should consider re-bidding the dummy light RFP if an investigation shows flaws in the RFP process. If Croton does make an award based on the current pool of submissions, it should do so by a means which would be held a “balanced and fair method of award” by someone adjudicating a complaint by a losing bidder.

Paul Steinberg