Community Choice Aggravation

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

To the editor:
I understand the frustration of Jon Mckeon (The Gazette, week of Nov. 8/14) but his criticism of the Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program is not entirely accurate.

Many Croton residents are under the impression that CCA promised rates lower than Con Ed rates, but this is not true. As Brian Pugh artfully phrased it (The Gazette, week of Nov. 22/28), the promise is that Croton residents will receive pricing “lower than the 2015 Con Edison” pricing.

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Of course Mr. Pugh’s statement is misleading, as is often the case with his comments about CCA. Mr. Pugh won’t tell you this, but he is comparing the non-ESCO price to the ESCO price and touting the savings. That would be a fair point, if Mr. Pugh was honest and acknowledged that a large part of the CCA savings comes by reason of CCA being an ESCO.

In addition, pricing for both Con Ed non-ESCO pricing as well as the ESCO now known as Constellation has dropped since 2015, and so everybody’s pricing is lower than in 2015. The main input to NYS electric generation is natural gas, and gas hit a 20-year low in the first half of 2016, which resulted in lower electricity prices. It is rather like someone waiting till Black Friday and “guaranteeing” that the flat-screen TV is priced less than it was the week before.

We have heard for years about how much we would save thru the supposed power of bulk buying. The common number was in the hundreds of dollars per year. But if you look at the source of those numbers, you will find that Sustainable Westchester never said those numbers directly. They only promised that the pricing would be lower than the higher pricing of years gone by, which was self-evident since the market price was lower than it had been previously. That is a math tautology, not rational argument.

If you want to see how savvy CCA is in negotiating pricing when they are backed by the power of laws pushing hundreds of thousands of people into their bulk buying pool, the data is available. The CCA uses Constellation and is charging $0.0771 per kWh on a 24 month fixed plan. An individual can use Constellation and the current rate is $0.0789 per kWh on a 36 month fixed plan.

The difference is $0.0018 per kWh. If you use 300 kWh per month, that is 54 cents per month or less than 2 cents per day.

For some people, 2 cents is a lot of money and those people will appreciate the bulk buying power that gives them those savings. But if you don’t like CCA for whatever reason, you can sign-up online for a fixed-price contract on your own with Constellation or several other alternative providers known as energy service companies (ESCO).

Many Croton residents are under the impression that CCA promised rates lower than Con Ed rates, but this is not true. As Brian Pugh artfully phrased it, the promise is that Croton residents will receive pricing “lower than the 2015 Con Edison” pricing. Of course Mr. Pugh’s statement is misleading, as is often the case with his comments about CCA.

We like to think that the power companies are taking advantage of us and rolling in excessive profits. In reality today’s electricity supply marketplace is intensely competitive and margins are tight, which is why Con Edison sold its ESCO subsidiary to Constellation in the first place. And the longer you lock in a price, the more volatility risk is assumed by the ESCO. In fact my rate is less than rate CCA customers will be paying in 2019 because I signed up with my ESCO when prices were lower and I signed up for the longest term.

The CCA price is almost always lower than the Con Ed price, but this is primarily due to the savings that can come from using an ESCO. There are a lot of people in Croton who are too lazy or don’t think it worth the effort to spend 10 minutes to sign up for an ESCO, and for those people the government forcing them into CCA will save a few dollars.

CCA and its promoters such as Mr. Pugh do make a lot of misleading and even false statements, and that has always troubled me since there are positive aspects to CCA which can be publicized without having to resort to deceptive practices. But CCA is not a bad program for Croton residents, and if Mr. Mckeon is unhappy with being forced into CCA, my suggestion is to simply sign up with Constellation or another ESCO directly.

Paul Steinberg

Croton-on-Hudson

We Have Set a Dangerous Precedent in Croton

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

To the editor:
Recent questions by Joel Gingold (The Gazette, Oct. 25/31) and Brian Powers (The Gazette, Nov 8/14) remain unanswered by our Croton Board of Trustees and Village Manager. That is unfortunate, because they both raise an issue which is at the heart of what makes us a community.

Human institutions are governed by human beings, and that necessarily introduces human flaws into our institutions. But we should aspire to create laws that are an expression of our better nature.

A fundamental tenet of our civic community is that all are equal before the law. When I was growing up, the eighth grade social studies curriculum in New York State included discussion of bills of attainder and why these were prohibited in the Constitution. Apart from the narrow issue, there was a broad principle being taught: the right of every citizen to be treated the same as every other citizen.

 The front of the Supreme Court Building (photo by UpstateNYer/Wikimedia)

The front of the Supreme Court Building (photo by UpstateNYer/Wikimedia)

When we discriminate against our neighbors, that is wrong. When our government passes laws that discriminate, that is an affront to our core values as a community.

Reasonable people in Croton can (and do) differ on the substantive issue of how to reduce plastic use in our community. But I have yet to see anyone explain why a law should be drafted so as to only apply to 2 businesses out of more than a hundred.

At the outset, I was supportive of the efforts to reduce bag usage because I did not realize that the movement was discriminatory. It is one thing for the Croton Climate Initiative to now support passing a law that singles out 2 specific businesses to the exclusion of all others. The CCI is not an instrument of the municipality, and it is free to petition our elected officials to go after 2 specific businesses. I disagree with the CCI on this, but I respect their right to express their view.

I also understand that CCI may be taking the “half a loaf is better than none” course of action. Normally this would be a reasonable path, and one which we all take in our daily lives. But in this particular instance, the outcome is discriminatory. We have been assured that the scope of the law may be expanded in the future, but that does not change the fact that we are today passing a law designed to affect only 2 Croton businesses.

Our municipal employees and elected officials are not acting in their private capacity, and as such they should be conscious of more than mere political concerns. No matter what law is passed, there is going to be a segment of the Croton electorate which is unhappy. I don’t minimize the desire by politicians for adulation, but there are times when even a politician must take a firm stand. Telling your constituents that everyone must live by the same law is one of those times.

Throughout the process of passing this bag ordinance, we have been told that it is a law to eliminate plastic bag use in Croton. That is not true. It is a law to eliminate plastic bag use at 2 particular locations, and nowhere else. At no time has the Board of Trustees considered a bag law which would apply equally to every resident and business owner in Croton.

I regret that our Board of Trustees chose not to do outreach and education, and I find much in Mr. Gingold’s list of suggestions that would have made sense from both a pragmatic and communitarian perspective. I hope in the future that our village officials work on building consensus before drafting major legislation.

Regrettably, I think that Mr. Powers may be correct in speculating that this is another feelgood initiative by our Board of Trustees. As a political strategy, creating an “us-against-them” framework is a well-worn (and usually successful) path. Having just 2 targets is a smart tactical move; proof of which is the elevation of Shoprite’s attorney Jay Peltz into the position of Croton Scrooge.

The downside to the bete-noire approach is a lack of logical coherence: if all plastic bags are bad, why is a plastic bag from Shoprite or CVS so uniquely bad that it alone must be the target of the full force of the municipal power?

Croton’s Board of Trustees has chosen to use its legislative power in a discriminatory fashion. Regardless of what your position is on the underlying issue, we all should be troubled by the actions of our village lawmakers.

I understand that achieving tangible improvement in the environment is not nearly as satisfactory as a raw demonstration of power. And what is more raw than ramming down a law which proves that some are more equal than others in Croton, with the Board of Trustees picking which are favored and which are disfavored?

Engaging in a lengthy public process which has been discriminatory throughout, culminating in a law which is specifically written to target 2 businesses not in favor with the Board of Trustees, we have set a dangerous precedent in Croton.

Croton’s Board of Trustees has chosen to use its legislative power in a discriminatory fashion. Regardless of what your position is on the underlying issue, we all should be troubled by the actions of our village lawmakers.

Paul Steinberg

Croton-on-Hudson

Are There Monsters on Maple Street?

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

To the editor:
This week in Croton began with a candidate handing out campaign literature at a shopping center. Although this particular candidate is a former Croton-Harmon High School student, the likelihood of winning MegaMillions is greater than winning election. Given the Croton connection and lack of viability, a bit of polite small talk would be expected. Instead some folks took the opportunity to launch their shopping carts into the candidate’s parked car.

Seriously? You don’t have to support somebody’s political views in order to refrain from banging up their car—especially when there is virtually no chance of the person getting into office.

The week in Croton continued with public calls to shoot another resident with a shotgun. This involved a person on the sex offender registry who lives in Croton. There is a legitimate argument for not releasing high-risk offenders back into the community, but to call for murder on Furnace Dock Road is not the way to handle this.

Croton residents are getting more comfortable with violence and more accepting of neighbors who call for violence.

 Scene from the Twilight Zone episode “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.”

Scene from the Twilight Zone episode “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.”

A year ago, this climate was initiated by one of our leading citizens inviting people to Private Message her to get the name and address of a Croton resident displaying an offensive flag. We all knew exactly what was being sought by the person soliciting the PMs and by those who would contact her. Since that incident, there have been others.

Calling for violence—however subtly done—is a slippery slope. It creates a civic climate that takes on a life of its own. What was once implied and winked at becomes explicit and applauded; there is an increase in the scope of acceptable reasons to initiate action.

On Friday and Saturday, local students will perform Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery and also The Monsters are Due on Maple Street. A fitting coda to this week in Croton-on-Hudson.

Paul Steinberg
Croton-on-Hudson

Questions for Trustee Candidate Simmons

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

To the Editor:
In the September 20-26 edition of this paper, the public heard for the first time from unopposed Croton Dems Trustee candidate Andy Simmons. Mr. Simmons chose to write to the community he will soon represent to extoll the virtues of his political organization for allegedly initiating much of what he loves about Croton. He also wrote that he would be addressing other issues in future letters to the members of the public.

With only two more editions of the paper before Election Day, after which Mr. Simmons will join the other members of the Village Board in the Cone of Silence that has descended over it due to the new “answer no questions from the public” policy which is vigorously enforced by the Mayor, Mr. Simmons has added only that he will join the rest of the board in pursuing an aggressive pro-environment agenda. For many reasons, this is not exactly a surprise.

 The Cone of Silence from the 1960s television show  Get Smart.

The Cone of Silence from the 1960s television show Get Smart.

I’d like to know his answers to a few questions about a more mundane local matter: village finances.

Do you support your party’s plans to abrogate the debt policy and increase village debt next year by borrowing more than $4 million? And if so, how do you justify this borrowing in light of the predicted likelihood that village expenditures will exceed total village revenues within just a few years of today?

Mr. Simmons, when your political party had one-party control of the village between 2009 and 2015, village debt increased by 90%, making Croton one of the most heavily indebted villages of its size in all of New York State. During the two years your party was out of power, the village adopted a debt policy developed by financial professionals to reduce the amount of village debt by limiting general fund debt payments to 16% or less of total appropriations and requiring the village to issue less debt than was retired each fiscal year. The Pugh administration has proposed a capital budget which, according to the Village Manager, will require the village to abrogate this policy in order to borrow more than $4 million dollars next year, increasing total village debt to almost $40 million.

Do you support your party’s plans to abrogate the debt policy and increase village debt next year by borrowing more than $4 million? And if so, how do you justify this borrowing in light of the predicted likelihood that village expenditures will exceed total village revenues within just a few years of today?

Roseann Schuyler

Support the Preservation of Journalism for Future Generations

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

To the editor:
For some years we have heard that print journalism is dead, but fortunately it still keeps hanging on. Here in Croton every morning we see people reading newspapers, and that is a good thing. The problem is that a lot of people don’t want to pay for the product.

This is not a new problem. Years ago the German deli carried a selection of newspapers, and was the only place in Croton to buy Newsday. But it dropped the papers after people complained about buying papers only to find they were in poor shape. That remains true today: sometimes you can even buy a paper and find food particles dribbled by previous readers, which is gross enough without paying for the privilege.

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People argue that you can read online for free. Well in that case, go online. Or go to the library, which pays to support print via the annual subscriptions. Supporting print media is particularly important in the case of local papers such as The Gazette or the Journal-New, which give us local information and a voice that we would not otherwise have, and the New York Post is at the forefront of exposing political corruption in our state.

Much as media companies have tried to monetize online journalism, the reality is that the economics are much different. Allowing our local print newspapers to fade away is going to result in a loss not only of information, but of oversight.

Our local businesses which supply newspapers are doing a service, but they are also running a business. Just last year, one Croton business stopped carrying one of our local papers. The manager explained that some people were reading and putting it back, some people were reading it and walked off “forgetting” to pay for it. He said that some weeks he lost more papers than he sold.

If you think that newspapers are important enough to take from the kiosk and read over coffee, then they are important enough to pay the 75 cents or the dollar or two. Not paying for your papers is bad enough, but making a mess of them results in nobody wanting to pay for the paper after you are done with it.

The next time you take a paper from the stack, remember that by paying for the newspaper you are not simply supporting the local business which sells the paper, you are also paying for a system which shines a spotlight on the good things going on in our community, exposes corruption, and perhaps most importantly, you are supporting the preservation of journalism for future generations.

Paul Steinberg

Croton-on-Hudson

We Need to Stop Making Everything Political

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

To the editor:
A day in Croton last week began with a street dispute that led one shopper to question whether she should find a different salon and avoid patronizing Croton businesses so as to avoid having to deal with Croton anger. The day ended with an online dispute about leaf blowers that led one resident to say to a resident who disagreed with her: “[Y]ou are friends with my friends and you challenge me? Nice! Good night!”

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The morning dispute got much less attention than the evening dispute, and there is a lesson there. The petty bickering that used to pass quickly between a handful of people is now a community-wide affair memorialized forever online.

In both cases, the type of disagreement which would in a prior time have remained at a level of polite discourse instead became escalated. Most troubling is the belief that you cannot have a difference of viewpoint between 2 neighbors of good will.

There have always been such disputes, and sometimes quite passionate. Just a few generations ago, the war in Vietnam and civil rights issues divided families. It is true that many people find Donald Trump and leafblowers to fall into the same sphere as teenagers drafted and sent off to get killed in a foreign jungle or peaceful citizens getting brutally beaten in Selma, but I don’t agree.

We need to stop making everything political. In 2013, Pajama Boy told us to grab a cup of Christmas cocoa and lecture our family about health insurance as they gathered around the tree to unwrap presents. We progressed in 2016 to de-friending online friends and cutting off contact with neighbors of differing political views. In 2018 siblings are not merely disagreeing over politics, they are doing political commercials for the candidate running against their own brother.

I don’t like leafblowers. . . . But some of my neighbors disagree, and so long as they don’t blow their leaves into the street or use their leafblower before the birds are even awake, I am willing to “leaf” well enough alone.

I don’t like leafblowers. I have never understood the point of blowing leaves rather than letting them decompose, and I especially don’t understand why people such as the Village of Croton landscapers blow leaves from the sidewalk alongside the Municipal Building into the middle of Old Post Road.

But some of my neighbors disagree, and so long as they don’t blow their leaves into the street or use their leafblower before the birds are even awake, I am willing to “leaf” well enough alone. I believe those neighbors to be wrong, but we get along well and I don’t regard their use of a leafblower as a moral failing. More importantly, I don’t demand that my friends shun the leafblowing neighbors.

Communities get reputations, and damaged reputations can take decades to repair. Croton is already the subject of ribbing by our surrounding communities. We have had a high-profile meltdown over a few flyers put up in the dark of night by some social misfit. We are in the middle of a series of public shaming sessions of our largest private employer because Croton chose to ram legislation down the throats of residents rather than try to build consensus and find a compromise. We anger neighboring communities with illegal “No Thru Traffic” signs. We pass meaningless resolutions in support of legislation in Albany and Washington, including anti-police legislation.

Everyone says that Croton is a small village. We should start acting like neighbors. There is nothing wrong with disagreement on issues. There is a lot wrong with driving shoppers out of our village, telling people that they are no longer our friend unless they shun people who use leafblowers, and being nasty at Village Board of Trustee meetings (both from the dais and from the audience) when people express a minority viewpoint.

Paul Steinberg

Croton-on-Hudson

Don’t Keep a Loaded Stapler in the Home

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

To the editor:

Use of desk staplers will remain illegal in Croton, along with tennis ball machines, nail guns, and Nerf Blasters.

There has been much confusion about the pending changes to Croton Village Code chapter 123. The changes will not affect possession, only the discharge of firearms. Because the definition of “firearm” will not change, only police officers will be legally permitted to staple 2 pieces of paper together within the Croton village limits. Residents should stock up on paper clips, or see the desk sergeant at police headquarters.

The current definition of “firearm” under Croton law is: “any implement which impels with force a bullet, pellet, or projectile of any kind.” Quaint as the definition may seem, this language is what needs to be changed.

Obviously the Croton Police Department is not going around arresting people for use of a Swingline, but they could do so. Laws should not be phrased so as to make everyone in violation of Penal Law, with arrest and prosecution at the discretion of the government. Most states do not have as detailed a definition as the federal law, but neither do they go to the all-encompassing extreme of Croton law. If you want to see the federal definition, google “18 USC 921.”

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The changes in Croton affect 3 items, none of which will impact the life of most residents.

The first change is to remove the exemption for supervised instruction and training. Few people in Croton own firearms and those who need training go to facilities such as Blueline in Elmsford: as a practical matter this will only affect a group wanting to learn archery or teens seeking to establish a Nerf Blaster League team (yes, they really exist). Archery has not been a hot topic in Croton since the short-lived campaign a few years ago to murder Bambi’s family. No Croton parent would risk public shaming by allowing their child to be seen with a Nerf Blaster; though if you are willing to risk community opprobrium Super Soakers are still legal.

The second change is to eliminate the exemption for membership groups who want to set up a range. Nobody is proposing a rifle range on Cleveland Drive, so as a practical matter this is not going to affect anybody. Croton couldn’t support a hardware store, so it is unlikely that anyone could write a viable business plan for a pistol range here.

The Board of Trustees has initiated a meaningless change to a statute as a pretext to hold a public hearing on matters which will not be affected by the change to the statute.

The third change is to eliminate the exemption for discharge of a firearm in defense of property. Few Croton residents have firearms and there are virtually no burglaries in Croton, but victims may no longer use firearms (including staplers) if the robber is only snatching your flat screen or kicking Fido to stop him from barking while the TV is hauled away. If you want to protect Fido or the flat screen, boxing and martial arts are still legal methods of defending your home in Croton.

So if the single problematic part of the law regarding the scope of “firearm” is not being revised, why make an issue of this law after 76 years? We are being trolled by our own Board of Trustees.

In what has become the new normal, periodically the Croton Board of Trustees throws some chum in the water and lets the outrage and anger bubble to the surface. Indeed this was the instant result on Croton social media: lots of talk about gun control, Parkland, and the evils of Trump.

Regulation of firearms is a legitimate public concern, as is the proper balance between public safety and individual rights granted under the Constitution. I am sympathetic to those arguments and although I never understood what an absolutive clausal adjunct is, anyone who can read the Second Amendment knows that Heller was wrong.

That being said, fixing that wrong is a matter dealt with at the national level (and to a lesser extent in Albany). Not every matter is a local matter, and this constant quest to maintain anger and outrage between Croton residents is not good for the long-term health of our community.

The Board of Trustees has initiated a meaningless change to a statute as a pretext to hold a public hearing on matters which will not be affected by the change to the statute.

Because our Croton municipal government is now an inferior adjunct of a national political party, this won’t be the last we see of trustee trolling. Outrage is always in need of fresh red meat.

These changes to Village Code chapter 123 are much ado about nothing, and we should not be snapping at each other about something that makes no difference. Just don’t keep a loaded stapler in the home.

Paul Steinberg

Croton-on-Hudson

Thoughts on the Proposed Croton Plastic Bag Ban

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

To the Editor,
While shopping in ShopRite on Sunday, September 9, 2018 at approximately 10:00 a.m., I did a quick observation of those who were bagging their groceries at the registers. By a clear 10-1 margin, the majority of people were using the plastic ShopRite grocery bags and had not brought their own washable totes or dirty non-washable bags. Clearly the majority of people are speaking loudly and clearly with their choices. Unfortunately, a vocal and militant minority of residents and non-residents are demanding (their word) that the rest of us acquiesce, by the force of law, to do what they feel is best for all of us. Plastic grocery bags must be banned, and paper bags must be heavily taxed beyond reason. The current “bad” behavior of the majority is unacceptable to the minority, and nothing less than a complete surrender to the minority’s feelings is allowed.

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I reuse my grocery bags for my garbage. If, or should I say when, the new plastic bag ban goes into effect, I will need to buy an equal number of plastic garbage bags and also purchase enough reusable grocery bags for each family car. In essence, more than doubling the number of bags I now require to grocery shop and throw garbage out. These additional bags will be an added financial burden for my family and create further harm, not less harm to the environment. If I use the non-washable bags, they will need to be replaced on a regular basis, as recommended by many health professionals, to prevent illness. If I buy expensive washable totes, I will need to use additional electricity, water, and soap to keep them clean and bacteria free. All of these additional bags will need to be manufactured and then transported by truck. The environment will not “be saved” but in reality, will be harmed by the need for the additional bags.

Has the Village or the vocal minority done any studies to determine why Croton residents are choosing to not purchase and bring their own reusable grocery bags? Do people throw out their ShopRite plastic grocery bags or recycle them or reuse them? What will be the added costs to all residents if they need to spend their hard earned and their limited money on garbage bags and dirty and bacteria laden reusable grocery bags? Exactly how many and what percentage of Croton ShopRite plastic grocery bags are floating in our rivers and littering our Croton streets?

While I applaud all who are concerned about our environment and I don’t doubt their sincerity, we all have differing needs and solutions. I too care about the environment and the health of our shared earth. I may choose to use a plastic bag for my groceries and reuse it for garbage, but I may not drive or fly as many miles per year as some others may choose to. Perhaps my home is smaller. Perhaps I have fewer children. Perhaps I have fewer tv’s, computers, and electronic gadgets. Perhaps my yard is a natural/low maintenance landscape and not a grass landscape that needs constant maintenance with carbon spewing lawn mowers and carbon spewing leaf blowers. We could all compare each other’s life style choices and each demand the other do exactly as we choose to do. That would be a truly scary world, and it appears we are heading ever closer.

Sadly, I have no doubt that my thoughts and concerns will fall on deaf ears. It appears the Village Board is determined to enact a plastic bag ban without doing reasonable and necessary studies. The Board appears to be listening to and in agreement with an extremely vocal minority without attempting to understand the legitimate and reasonable concerns of the majority.

Sincerely, 

Carolyn Whiting

Why is a Raised Fist the Icon of Croton Environmentalists?

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

To the editor:
My parents and teachers were somewhat dim-witted and lived in an age of darkness; to them, being “woke” was what Mom did to you 45 minutes before the school bus was due to arrive. But occasionally they had nuggets of wisdom, as I was reminded this week.

There is an environmentalist strain in America which can be traced back to eighteenth century writers such as Thoreau and painters of the Hudson River School. Environmentalism was no match for commerce, so by the 1950s and 60s environmental destruction was impossible to ignore.

In Croton this was the time of Theodore Cornu. In homes across America people were reading Silent Spring. There was a growing consensus that we needed to take action. That impulse was both spurred by, and an impetus to, the creation of powerful iconography.

Earthrise (1968) was named by Life magazine as one of the 100 most influential photographs of all time. It has been called “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.” Published on Christmas Eve, the image had religious, political, and social resonance. The San Francisco psychedelic art movement incorporated the perspective into environmental movement posters; both Earthrise and the psychedelic interpretations became common college dorm wall art well into the late 1970s.

Earth Day was first held in 1970. Robert Rauschenberg’s Earth Day featured a majestic bald eagle set against a backdrop of monochrome photos of environmental destruction. It was not a subtle message, nor was it meant to be. The bald eagle was a common icon of the environmental movement, and played a key role in the banning of pesticide DDT in 1972. 

Anyone over a certain age remembers the “Crying Indian” on television. First aired on Earth Day 1971, the public service announcement (PSA) was seen by literally everybody: this was a time when there were 3 national networks plus a few local channels if you lived in a big city. The voiceover tagline was: “People start pollution. People can stop it.” In 2018 watching the PSA on YouTube has impact; in 1971 it hit the conscience of a nation.

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By 1974 students across America were sitting through MEecology, a movie which showed kids each doing different things to affect the environment in a positive way, both individually and in groups. Classroom movies were a big thing in the 1970s: the teacher had to do reel-to-reel spooling, splice the film with scotch tape when it (inevitably) broke, replace the hot projector lightbulb without burning her fingers, and hope that the film did not get hopelessly mangled which would result in the school having to pay the vendor when they sent it back. Showing a film meant that the topic was important.

Critics say that the early environmental movement placed too much stress on individual action due to heavy funding from corporate interests. It is true that “Crying Indian” was designed by a Madison Avenue powerhouse and funded by Fortune 100 companies, and MEecology was funded by McDonald’s.

Regardless of funding or motivation, no one can argue with the results. There was an upsurge of individual action to save the environment: the “Crying Indian” campaign alone resulted in 2,000 letters per month (letter-writing is a thing they did back in olden times, and it took some effort) from people wanting to know what community organizations were in their local area, and sparked over 300 cleanup campaigns in 38 states.

Development of a national consensus provided popular support for the Environmental Protection Agency—itself established by Executive Order of Richard Nixon in December 1970. This was followed by other legislation such as the Endangered Species Act (1973) and banning DDT (1972). Technology was not as advanced as today, but the 1970s saw the beginning of energy efficiency research spurred by public pressure and by the October 1973 oil embargo.
The belief that “People start pollution. People can stop it” is outdated, as is the appeal to national pride and patriotism. 

In 2018 would never allow someone of Italian heritage to play a Native American (cultural appropriation!). Governor Cuomo tells us that America “was never that great” so appeals involving national iconography are not going to resonate with millennials. 

The concept of individual responsibility as a consequence of individual freedom is regarded today as retrograde if not incomprehensible. The 1970s saw significant government involvement, but the environmental movement was firmly rooted in the idea that each of us is individually responsible for our planet.

The new iconography of the environmental movement in Croton is the raised clenched fist. I will leave it to others to discuss the political history of the fist; I will simply observe that we all intuitively know what a clenched fist means.

The clenched fist is not the outstretched hand. The clenched fist is the will to power; the subordination of the individual to the demands of the collective. The clenched fist is the perfect icon for Croton’s environmental movement, chosen with care by people who know the history of the environmental movement and the political history of the chosen icon.

The demands of the “Rise for Climate” march on September 8 are detailed on the “Rise for Climate” website as being: “every local government and institution to commit to building 100% renewable energy and stopping new dirty energy projects in their community.” The demand for “actionable commitments” does not apply to individual commitment. It is rather a demand to have the government impose by force the will of the fist.

The demands of the “Rise for Climate” march on September 8 are detailed on the “Rise for Climate” website as being: “every local government and institution to commit to building 100% renewable energy and stopping new dirty energy projects in their community.” The demand for “actionable commitments” does not apply to individual commitment. It is rather a demand to have the government impose by force the will of the fist.

So on September 8, the raised fist will be the icon of the Croton environmentalists. 

Buffeted by forces of evil (fossil fuel companies), the helpless will raise their fists and beseech the intervention of a higher power (the government). The concept that the marchers have any influence over their environment will not even enter their thoughts.

The march concluded, everyone will get into their gas-guzzling SUVs with individual entertainment suites. They will drive back to their 2500 sq. ft. home with separate bedrooms for each child and 2½ baths. They will crank up the central air conditioning, and settle down to consume the balance of their 2,031 daily calories. Being the end of summer, maybe they will discuss that Hawaii vacation and the 747 airliner that brought them there and back burning 1 gallon of fuel per second. Then everyone will go to their respective computers, PlayStations, and big screen televisions—all manufactured using toxic chemicals, made with rare earths mined in an environmentally-destructive manner, and sucking up electricity.

They will go to sleep satisfied, having done their part for the environment by raising clenched fists and demanding “actionable commitments” from other people.

MEecology had flaws, not least of which was the cloying song refrain which sticks in my mind 40 years later. The message of individual responsibility and mindfulness of the dozens of daily choices we make that can positively affect our planet are lessons which are relics of a non-“woke” age. The view that we should get off our high horse and lead by our own example is a lot tougher to implement than simply clenching our fist and demanding that government do something.

Iconography matters. The Crying Indian is no match for Croton’s clenched fist.

Paul Steinberg
Croton-on-Hudson

A Sign of the Times

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette, with an editor’s note stating “this letter was submitted prior to the signs being taken down. There has been no announcement from the village as to whether the signs will be reinstated.”

To the editor:
Jacoby got juice! 

Within hours of the special “No Thru Traffic” signs going up on Jacoby Street, lots of other Croton residents wanted to know when their street is going to get the same treatment. One resident quipped that the village should just put up a big “No Thru Traffic” sign next to each “Welcome to Croton” sign.

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In accord with the new Municipal Building custom of non-transparency and keeping Croton residents in the dark, there was scant outreach or even explanation. 

Rumor passed along from the in-crowd has it that this is an attempt by Croton to block commuters from Cortlandt and Yorktown avoiding lights by taking a shortcut to the GW Bridge….oops, I mean a shortcut to the Metro-North station. And while Croton is not going to face the organized opposition our counterparts around Ft Lee faced, there is both a legal and a moral aspect to closing a public roadway.

There are alternative methods for dealing with traffic volume and speed. 

Converting public roads to private drives is not a first-line defense, partially because of the dubious legality: some police departments around the country quietly avoid giving tickets to violators due to the illegal nature of the signs. There are exceedingly rare cases in New York (such as Forest Hills Gardens) where there are roadways having attributes of both private and public use.  Jacoby Street is not Forest Hills Gardens.

In accord with the new Municipal Building custom of non-transparency and keeping Croton residents in the dark, there was scant outreach or even explanation.

Municipalities defend unenforceable signs by saying that they are effective because most drivers do not know that the signs are not enforceable. Another justification is that even if the signs are not enforced that the car GPS companies will avoid such roads in computing directions. But justifications don’t address the legality of the Village of Croton converting a public road into a private drive.

Presumably, the Croton Police Department intends to start issuing violations under NY Vehicle and Traffic Law (VTL) 1110(a) for failure to obey a traffic control device (TCD). The problem is that VTL 1680 directs the NYS Dept of Transportation to regulate TCDs: the Village of Croton cannot make its own rules.

The starting point is to determine if Jacoby Street’s TCDs are recognized in the National Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). If it is not, then the only other option is if the sign is in the NY Supplement promulgated by Albany. Signs are assigned a numeric designation in both the federal manual and the NY supplement, such as R-123 or NYR-123.

From what I can see, the Jacoby Street signs are not in the MUTCD, although in June 2017 the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices submitted a formal request to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA is the part of the US Dept of Transportation responsible for MUTCD) seeking to change the regulations in section 2B.39, specifically including “No Thru Traffic” signs.

But until the FHWA allows signs such as the ones on Jacoby Street, the only other option is to rely on the NY Supplement. From what I can see, there are six allowable selective exclusion signs under NY supplement to 2B.39 including signs prohibiting riding a horse or snowmobile down the street, but “No Thru Traffic” is not one of the signs allowed.

I don’t think many Cortlandt or Yorktown residents are getting to the train station by horse or snowmobile, but those who are doing so may be kept off Jacoby Street by lawful signage. Drivers in passenger cars are another matter. I assume that parents traveling to/from CET are not going to be ticketed, although the positioning of the “No Thru Traffic” signs would indicate that parents coming from the north would fall afoul of the TCD.

This is not a new issue for municipal governments. Florida has many wealthy people and retirees who want privacy, so many municipalities put up “No Thru Traffic” signs and started issuing tickets. The matter got so contentious that in 2004 the Florida Attorney General issued an Opinion stating that not only were the signs impermissible due to non-compliance with the MUTCD but she also noted that municipalities could not limit the use of public roadways to residents and their invitees.

I understand that I am missing something here, because obviously for the Village of Croton to order TCDs the village would use a reputable vendor and would specify a TCD numeric designation as found in the MUTCD or the NY Supplement. 

Given the well-known dispute over the legality of municipalities restricting traffic on public roads and reluctance of some police chiefs to enforce the TCDs, no doubt this was discussed and cleared with the Croton Police Chief and Croton Village Attorney long before the signs were purchased. But those discussions did not take place in a transparent setting; something that should have been done given the nature of the issue.

It would help if there were a wee bit more transparency in our Croton village government so that residents are not reduced to speculating on Facebook or in the pages of The Gazette. Moreover, NY differs from Florida in that NY VTL 1680(c) prohibits the Village of Croton from even purchasing a non-compliant sign, let alone erecting it on public roadway. Since the Board of Trustees doesn’t involve the public in decision-making, the discussion as to whether the Jacoby Street signs are compliant was done in secret.

We are where we are, but I believe that before the Village of Croton spends even more taxpayer money putting up “No Thru Traffic” signs, we should wait for the drivers who get ticketed coming down from Cortlandt and Yorktown to have their tickets adjudicated by Justice Watkins.

There are two distinct bases for fighting a Jacoby Street ticket: the NY VTL and also the larger question of restricting access to a public roadway. If the Croton Village Court finds that the tickets are invalid as a matter of law on either basis, then the Village of Croton should take down the signs. 

Either the signs are enforceable or they are not, and Croton should not play clever games like they do in Florida. When the Croton Police Department enforces the signs, it should do so at all times and regardless of the driver’s residence—not just when Cortlandt and Yorktown commuters are driving on Jacoby Street.

Paul Steinberg
Croton-on-Hudson

Does Hate Have a Home in Croton?

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

To the editor:
Hate has no home in Croton, but it has offers out on a few properties and should be in contract shortly. 

In the Gazette (week of August 2-8) we have one Croton resident upset about ShopRite’s speaking before the Board of Trustees; the resident says “You have to use a club with these people.”

Two other Croton residents were angry that someone spoke out against racist flyers. Normally this would not be controversial, but the speaker against racism was Terrence Murphy and hence this was an outrage to our community. 

My favorite Gazette quote of the year was from the Croton resident who objected to Mr. Murphy’s statement against hatred and online posting of a “Hate Has No Home” sign: the resident concluded without irony: “Croton has no room for hate is right, and therefore, Croton has no room for Murphy.”

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Another Croton resident, who is the leading exponent of the idea that the Village is festering with hatred, recently praised the masses who put up “Hate Has No Home” lawn signs. The resident expressed “thanks to those who have taken their own private action to fight hatred.”

This very same Croton beacon of love authored an infamous tirade in April of last year. While the contents are not printable in this newspaper, part of the statement reads: “I ****ing HATE THEM… I ****ing hate their ****ing guts.” 

Not only was there no outrage in Croton over this expression of hatred, there was considerable support for the resident and that person is now a Trustee of the Village of Croton-on-Hudson.

Hate has no home in Croton, but it is a welcome guest in the Municipal Building.

Tom Lehrer once said: “I know there are people in the world that do not love their fellow human beings, and I hate people like that.” If Mr. Lehrer were alive today, his comedy would be received as common sense truth in Croton.

And of course we have the Croton hobby of taking photos of our neighbors’ homes and posting snarky comments about our neighbors online. This began a few years ago with posting photos of Croton homes which had lawn signs for non-Democrat candidates—a very serious offense in Croton. It progressed on to photos of residents front walkways. At Earth Day a few years ago, someone was smoking a cigarette at the edge of Vassallo Park and was pursued by someone wielding a camera phone to get a photo of the smoker.

I don’t smoke and in 2008 I put up an Obama lawn sign, but I support the right of people to express views contrary to my own and to put whatever they want into their lungs, carcinogenic though it may be.

Full disclosure: in 2017 I was the target of a politically-prominent Croton resident. The village created a condition on my sidewalk while plowing, and I did my best to reduce the hazard to pedestrians. Not only was the photo put online, but there was discussion that the village should do code enforcement against me and a statement that I was friends with a specific Croton resident who was a political opponent of the person who posted the photo of my house. In fairness I should mention that after this matter came to the Village Manager, the plowing procedure was changed.

A more recent example of the Croton mob in action was the photo of red Prius guy. His photo and license plate were posted online with the claim that he had cussed out a female driver at the dummy light and a demand that he be identified—names must be named! Everyone piled on, including one of Croton’s leading businessmen. I stopped by the Croton PD and it turns out that they were aware of the situation because red Prius guy had come in right after the incident claiming that he had been the victim of harassment and felt threatened.

Who was right? I don’t know, and that is precisely the point. Nobody who was not there knows what happened, but almost every Croton resident online was willing to join the mob. Ostensibly this was simply for doxxing, and that doxxing is also a growing hobby here in Croton. Of course nobody wants to see anything bad happen (wink, wink) but if something does we will all tsk and say we oppose all forms of violence, "but…"  And then we will note that the victim brought this on himself because of his expression of a repugnant viewpoint or repugnant battle standard.

This idea that violence is OK because of the offensive nature of the victim’s speech did not originate with Chris Cuomo’s CNN piece last week. In the wake of the Identity Evropa flyer incident, many in Croton were gleefully fanning the flames and passing along tips about which news trucks were interviewing at which locations. No doubt there was much joy in Croton as social media posts were shared and forwarded to Antifa and anarchist groups. 

A few Croton residents were only troubled when on the morning of Friday the 27th a post appeared on Facebook discussing weekend plans for “scoping out CoH”, followed by one bluntly asking: “who wants to go Nazi hunting in CoH?”

It is not difficult to whip up a mob online, the difficulty is controlling the members of the mob. Just ask the Southern Poverty Law Center how they feel about Floyd Corkins. Croton residents and political leaders who think this is just typical online trolling are playing a dangerous game.

The newest Croton fad is standing in the checkout line at ShopRite and loudly commenting on the customer in front of you who is using plastic bags. You then whip out your phone and start snapping photos of them. ShopRite should consider a policy prohibiting photography inside the store (many department stores have such policies), but it is a sad commentary on Croton today that we are literally hounding people out of the supermarket.

Much like Donald Trump’s need to constantly talk about how he has a high IQ, our need in Croton to constantly talk about how “Hate Has No Home in Croton” raises the question of whether we doth protest too much.

Croton has a problem with hatred and intolerance, and we can put up sanctimonious signs on every remaining un-signed patch of grass in Croton without changing that fact. 

Parking a taco truck next to the halal shawarma vendor while a cover band bangs out No Woman, No Cry on the steel drums is not a demonstration of diversity, it is a modern minstrel show. Like the minstrel shows of old, the purpose is as much reinforcing the power of the dominant tribal group as it is entertainment.

There are things Croton can do to increase diversity, but those will take a serious commitment and time. The first step is simple tolerance: you can have tolerance without diversity, but you can’t have diversity in the absence of tolerance.

Houses of worship used to be a source of such values, but no longer. In Croton you will have no problem getting religious leaders to denounce ICE, and if you want to screen a film blaming the Syrian civil war on climate change you will find plenty of venues. But if you expect to hear Proverbs 25:21 or Matthew 5:44, you are in for disappointment.

Croton is full of love for abstract causes and people in distant lands. If we can love them, maybe we can at least tolerate Terrence Murphy setting foot within the Croton village limits. You might even say “Good morning.”

Paul Steinberg
Croton-on-Hudson

Bashing Croton Businesses is a Popular Pastime

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

To the editor:
Fifteen years ago, Michael Crichton gave a famous speech outlining why environmentalism is “the religion of choice for urban atheists.” Many people have taken issue with aspects of Crichton’s viewpoint, but his distinction between faith and science is one which many theologians and scientists find valid.

The environmental movement is ill-served by those who turn it into a system of faith and emotion untethered from empirical data and common sense. Facts matter, and if we are to make a positive impact on our environment it helps to rely on science rather than emotion.

Evan Brodie (The Gazette, week of August 9/15) says that DeCicco in the hamlet of Millwood “has already banned plastic bags” and adds that ShopRite should be concerned about losing customers, concluding: “DeCicco, here I come!”

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Mr. Brodie’s statement about the Millwood store is correct, but he neglects to mention that the store has no choice in the matter: it is the law in New Castle. In fact DeCicco has nothing against plastic bags and at their large Brewster location almost all customers use the DeCicco-logoed plastic bags.

ShopRite is at the southern edge of Croton, so most Croton residents will have to drive past ShopRite to get to DeCicco’s location in Millwood.

For a hypothetical Harmon resident, driving the additional distance to DeCicco is 6.42 miles each way. If that person shops once per week, that means an additional 667.68 miles per year. Many families shop more than once a week, so the true mileage is over 700 miles per year.

The most popular non-truck vehicle in the US last year was the Toyota RAV4, with a relatively fuel-efficient EPA mileage rating of 26 combined; the EPA ratings are a bit on the generous side. If we use the Univ. of Washington data of 130.82 megajoules per gallon of gasoline, each mile traveled uses 5.03MJ.

The environmental movement is ill-served by those who turn it into a system of faith and emotion untethered from empirical data and common sense. Facts matter, and if we are to make a positive impact on our environment it helps to rely on science rather than emotion.

It is difficult to get a precise estimate of the amount of energy used to make a single plastic bag, due to multiple variables. However, the “1 Bag at a Time” company estimates that the energy used in the finished bag plus the production process is equivalent to 0.48MJ and since they sell reusable bags, if anything they have a bias to overestimate the energy used to make a “single use” bag.

The result is that each mile driven equals 10.479 ShopRite bags. The “1 Bag” folks use an estimate of 6.7MJ per mile, and thus around 14 bags per mile.

That means someone following Mr. Brodie’s advice would burn the equivalent of 6,997 bags per year. If you went to the supermarket more than once each week or if your car gets less than 26mpg you would burn the equivalent of even more bags.

For those who want to signal their virtue and gain status in the eyes of their Croton neighbors, Mr. Brodie’s boycott of ShopRite makes sense. Bashing Croton businesses is a popular pastime, and the target du jour is ShopRite.

The fact that ShopRite is our largest employer, a major philanthropic supporter, and has the lowest price groceries is not going to overcome the zealous passion of those unpersuaded by basic math.

In Croton, the person schlepping home each week with 10 plastic bags is the object of public scorn and Mr. Brodie is worthy of emulation. In reality the person using plastic bags at ShopRite will use less hydrocarbons in 13 years than the self-satisfied DeCicco shopper will use in 1 year.

Environmental activism is not the same as concern for the environment. The former is a matter of passion and faith, the latter is a matter of tradeoffs and hard decisions. No fact is going to sway a Croton resident more concerned about their social status than science, but the facts are there for those who are serious about our environment.

There is nothing to prevent any of us from taking a reusable bag to ShopRite. There is nothing to prevent us from driving to ShopRite in a fuel-efficient car rather than a gas-guzzling SUV. There is nothing to prevent us from cutting back on red meat, eliminating ice cream, or using tap water instead of having our water shipped in from a spring in Maine or Fiji.

We all make daily decisions that affect our environment, and some of our choices are wasteful and damage the environment. Virtue-signaling is a respected art form here in Croton, but a little more focus on logic might be better for our environment.

Paul Steinberg
Croton-on-Hudson

Can We Afford To Keep Doing This?

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

To the Editor:
Trustee Ann Gallelli’s letter to the editor in last week’s Gazette, announcing the board’s approval of a three-year employment agreement with the Village Manager demonstrates on its face that she doesn’t understand the criticisms directed at this agreement by members of the public at the last two public meetings.

Although the bulk of Ms. Gallelli’s letter is devoted to reciting the qualifications of the current Village Manager, it should be noted that none of the residents who spoke to the Board on this issue (myself included) offered an opinion as to whether the current Village Manager should be reappointed, and no one criticized the current Village Manager’s performance. 

Ms. Gallelli defended the board’s approval of the terms of the employment agreement by reporting that it was “virtually identical to that of previous village managers,” a statement that encapsulates her misunderstanding–or intentional ignoring–of the criticisms made of the board’s action in approving this agreement. 

The Village Manager’s contract is worth almost 2% of village tax levy in each of the three years it will be in effect. The Village Manager’s base salary exceeds that of 37 U.S. governors, and it exceeds that of the Cortlandt Town Supervisor, Linda Puglisi, by approximately $27,000. It contains terms that could cost village taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in continuing benefits over the next several decades.  

In September 2017, the Village’s Financial Sustainability Committee issued a report projecting that within just a small number of years from now, village expenditures will exceed revenues. The report indicated that almost two-thirds of the village’s expenditures come in the form of salary and fringe benefits. Given these circumstances, and given current financial constraints and realities that go beyond the village (i.e., the impact of the new federal tax law) the question must be considered: is it appropriate for our village to continue to offer these plum employment agreements that put taxpayers on the hook for decades just because it is a practice that has been done in the past? This question appears to be lost on Ms. Gallelli and the members of the current board.

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It is also disturbing to note that through the Freedom of Information process, I learned that at no time since the current Village Manager was appointed in 2015 by the board (which included then-Trustee Pugh and Trustee Gallelli) has any written performance goals or benchmarks been provided to the Village Manager, although both the 2015 and 2018 employment agreements require that such goals be developed by the board, reduced to writing and given to the Village Manager. No written goals exist for the contract that was just approved either. 

The opportunity exists now: when the current board in the near future (hopefully) creates the required performance benchmarks, the Village Manager should be tasked with the responsibility for addressing and attacking village cost structure, growing reserves and stabilizing tax and fee rates. Paying some much-needed attention to the mundane yet vital issue of the village’s financial sustainability should be required of the Village Manager if, like Ms. Gallelli, the board itself cannot even see the issue.

Roseann Schuyler

Should Croton Ban Plastic Cups, Straws, and Lids?

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

To the editor:
As Croton moves to ban most plastic bags and charge a fee for Croton merchants using paper bags, it is time to start considering the next steps. Many people already take reusable bags to the grocery store, but we have yet to address a bigger problem: cups, utensils, and packaging.

As we go thru the hottest part of the year, many of us are drinking cold drinks served in single-use plastic cups. There remain many businesses in Croton which do not even provide dedicated plastic recycling containers, but a better question is why we continue to use single-use plastic at all. 

Just because a see-thru plastic cup makes your smoothie or iced coffee look better is no reason to allow unnecessary destruction of our environment.

It would be great if Croton businesses stopped using single-use plastic cups this summer. But that is unlikely to happen. The same reasons to ban plastic bags apply to plastic cups as well. Banning single-use plastic cups as part of the plastic bag ban law would be a powerful statement and a big step forward for our environment.

Paper cups are currently only better than plastic on a relative scale. Activist group Action Utah notes that: “here’s what it really takes to make one 16oz paper cup: 33g of wood, 4.1g of petroleum (plus extra for the liner), 1.8g of chemicals, 650 BTU’s of energy and almost a gallon of water. Plus, each cup made creates half a pound of greenhouse gas emissions. And we’re not factoring in those convenient paper sleeves, plastic lids, straws or stirring sticks.”

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Most paper cups are lined with a petroleum-based resin that breaks down over many years into tiny plastic particles that enter our soil. Due to the thin plastic lining, they can only be recycled at special facilities, with the result that most paper coffee cups are not recycled. And even the vaunted “waste to energy” incineration method does not do anything to reduce the damage during the manufacture and use of the product. In addition, there can be damage from toxic emissions and residue.

Cups with that nice triangular recycling logo deceive you into believing you are saving the planet. In reality even an environmentally-friendly coffee cup in the U.S. only has at most about 25% recycled material. There are limits to how much recycled material is used in coffee cups due to technological and sanitary reasons.

One partial solution would be to require Croton businesses to use coffee cups and lids with plant-based linings such as polylactic acid (PLA). In theory, such cups would compost if the facility was managed in a way that maintained proper procedures. Composting avoids the traditional problem of plastics which degrade into microplastics. 

PLA is being tested by corporations such as Coca-Cola and by the makers of “green” plastic utensils. It is also a favorite of trendy “woke” establishments which tell customers that this new material is environmentally friendly. 

Even the “green” PLA cups and utensils require large inputs of energy and chemicals to grow the corn. In addition, most commercially-grown US corn is genetically modified and involves application of toxic pesticides and emission of greenhouse gases. 

Before anyone gets excited over plant-based products such as PLA, it should be noted that under current recycling practices PLA might actually reduce recycling. That is because if PLA becomes common, it will get into the recycling stream and get mixed with traditional plastic. When this happens, the resulting recycled plastic can become too weak and the entire recycling batch is useless. 

It is worth considering a Croton law to require the use of plant-based utensils and cup linings, but that would require working with Cortlandt to ensure that the recycling facility can process the new plastics. At the present time, even “green” plastics made from plants are not a solution. And there are 2 components to a coffee cup: the plastic lining and the paper exterior of the cup.

Paper manufacture is damaging to the environment, emitting about a quarter-pound of CO2 for a single cup, plus other greenhouse gases. Manufacturing your coffee cup also entails the use of chlorine, sulfuric acid, sodium hydroxide, and sulfur. When the coffee cup degrades, it emits more greenhouse gases including methane. The trees were brought to the factory normally by truck, then the rolls of paper are transported, then the finished cup is transported to a restaurant supply company, and then it is transported to your local deli or coffee shop.

When you get your coffee tomorrow, think about the damage you are doing to the environment by using a single-use paper cup. 

The British government has done that, and a parliamentary commission is proposing a 25 pence (about 33 cents) fee for each paper cup with an outright ban on single-use coffee cups after 5 years.

Even the most eco-friendly coffee cup is damaging to our environment and can remain so for decades if not centuries. Banning petroleum-based cup linings altogether and imposing a 25 cent fee on each coffee cup used in Croton would push people into using re-usable coffee cups, just as the plastic bag ban and fee for paper bags will push people into using re-usable bags.

Restaurant packaging is another area where Croton can quickly improve our environment. Styrofoam should be banned. Although Dunkin’ Donuts has said that it is phasing out Styrofoam, there are still some delis and diners that are using this uniquely destructive material. Polystyrene (to use the technical name) is made using harmful chemicals, including benzene and its derivative styrene. Those are both known carcinogens and if you microwave the container it can release toxic chemicals. 

It is true that much of the Styrofoam used in restaurants and delis is manufactured overseas, but that just means that someone in a foreign country is getting Parkinson’s or leukemia so that you can have cheap take-out containers.

Environmental damage is a multi-faceted problem which requires a multi-faceted solution. This will be an ongoing process, but Croton needs to start somewhere. 

Banning single-use plastic bags, cups, cutlery, straws, and lids is a start. Banning Styrofoam is long overdue in Croton. 

Charging a fee for all paper bags, cups, and plates will encourage people to bring re-usable cups and encourage Croton businesses to stop using single-use paper products.

Paul Steinberg
Croton-on-Hudson

A Very Troubling Policy

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

 Freedom of Speech by Norman Rockwell. A print of this famous painting hangs in the room where Board of Trustees meetings are held.

Freedom of Speech by Norman Rockwell. A print of this famous painting hangs in the room where Board of Trustees meetings are held.

To the Editor:
Last night I spoke at a Village Board meeting regarding the wisdom, legality and necessity of a proposed contract. The Mayor accepted my comments and pledged to consider the issues I raised.  OK. Although I am grateful the momentum to repeat past contract fiascos (plural) was averted (temporarily at least), the incident was troubling. During my 5 minute “citizen/ taxpayer” moment, I was informed that the Board would not answer any questions and, indeed has adopted a formal policy of not answering questions from citizens. Wow; really?  I am truly shocked . . . and saddened. Our Village Board has a formal, written policy of not responding to citizen/ taxpayers. The “stonewall” that some citizens have endured in response to citizen/ taxpayer inquiries has been institutionalized.  

Admittedly, officials cannot be expected to answer every question “on the spot,” but personally, I find adopting an official policy of not responding to taxpayers very, very troubling. There is a lot of attention and energy focused on national politics, but I think good citizenship begins at home.

I ask our Village Board to please re-consider the current policy of not responding to your residents and instead adopt a policy of always trying to respond to your taxpayers as best you can.     

Very truly yours,
Rick Turner 

Plastic Bag Hypocrisy

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

To the editor:
The growing use of plastic worldwide creates multiple problems, and plastic bags are one component of that problem. For that reason, reduction in plastic bag use is a legitimate issue of public policy. But legislation should not be necessitated by the hypocrisy of the members of our community, and that is what we have today in Croton. 

In the June 14/20 issue of The Gazette, 57 local businesses put their names on an ad in support of a law banning plastic bags in Croton. Yet many of those same businesses are continuing to use those same plastic bags. Croton businesses know what needs to be done to save our planet, they just refuse to stop using plastic bags till they are forced to do so under penalty of law.

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Is it possible to be more of a hypocrite? Incredibly, the answer is “Yes.” Some of the Croton businesses who put their names in the advertisement not only continue to use plastic today, they would be exempt from the proposed law in whole or part.

Hudson View Dry Cleaner and Pircio’s Dry Cleaning would be exempt from the law—they will continue to use plastic and not have to charge a fee. Why? Dry cleaning plastic bags are the worst form of the plastic blight: they cannot be reused for trash liners or anything else. Dry cleaning itself is highly damaging to the environment, necessary though it may be. 

At very least, dry cleaners should be required to take back old bags for recycling, and a fee would be charged if the customer failed to bring in one old bag for each new bag. This is what we do for batteries, and given the damage which dry cleaners do to the environment it is reasonable to expect that Hudson View and Pircio do more than just sign petitions for legislation that will not apply to them.

Robbins Pharmacy and SavMor Pharmacy also signed the petition. Yet according to Jennifer Pauly of the Croton Climate Initiative (which ran the ad and collected the petition signatures) the law being proposed would only apply a fee requirement to “chain drugstores.” In other words, Robbins and SavMor are asking for legislation that would put a competitor (CVS) at a disadvantage. 

On what possible legal or moral basis should such hypocrites be given an exemption from the law? The reality is that this legislation is aimed at CVS and Shoprite, and none of us like “chain” stores. If the CCI is seriously concerned with the environmental crisis and not just seeking to codify an animus against big business, then why is CCI saying it is OK for SavMor to give out a free bag but across the street competitor CVS must charge for a bag?

And why are we exempting liquor stores? A pint of vodka is not an essential requirement for human existence. Why are booze and wine on CCI’s exemption list? Deprez, Old Post Liquors, and Van Wyck Liquors signed the CCI petition, but that is hardly a reason to exempt them. I was actually at Deprez recently and their staffer was telling me how great it was that Croton was going to ban plastic bags . . . at the very same time he and the other cashier were putting customer purchases into plastic bags

If people are going to spend $30 on a chardonnay, they can afford 10 cents for a bag. CCI does not want an exemption for poor people, but they want to exempt liquor purchases??? Ms. Pauly, if you are reading this perhaps you can explain CCI’s reasoning.

Chase Bank signed the petition. Nobody is going to take home a mortgage in a plastic bag, so Chase is pushing for a law that won’t affect it. However, Chase supported the Keystone pipeline—hardly a model of sustainable energy. In addition, between 2014 and 2016 the bank loaned $3.1 billion to producers of oil from tar sands. So the next time you stop in to our Croton Chase bank branch, thank them for their virtue signaling on plastic bags at Shoprite but then ask them when JPMorgan Chase is going to stop funding companies that destroy our environment.

I am pleased to see that Mark Franzoso and Nancy Kennedy put their names in the advertisement. They are leading members of our Croton community and their concern for the environment is admirable. But I doubt many people are carrying away roofing tiles or a charming Tudor in a plastic bag. What Mr. Franzoso and Ms. Kennedy could do is to convert their fleet of vehicles to an environmentally-friendly alternative. They do short local driving, which is the ideal use for an electric vehicle. And their businesses are in highly visible locations—imagine the positive image of Croton if people driving past saw their parking lot full of EVs.

J&S Taxi also put its name in the advertisement. I appreciate J&S’s concern for the environment, but I also know that it has a fleet of old gas guzzlers. More to the point, both J&S and other taxi companies have reserved spots at the Croton train station. Almost every time I am at the train station, I see taxis idling with their windows up to keep a comfortable temperature inside a vacant vehicle. The Board of Trustees can deal with this problem, although I would hope that J&S will take the lead without need for government action.

To be fair to J&S, it is customary for both taxis and Croton residents to keep their vehicles idling while waiting at the train station in the evening. It is also—umm—illegal under Westchester law, and has been since February 2009. 

The Village of Croton can and should amend Chapter 215: pass a better idling law than the weak county law. At very least the Village can start enforcing the county law. Today. 

The existing idling law on the books provides that it may be enforced by law enforcement officers and also “parking enforcement agents if authorized by the municipality to issue appearance tickets.”

Idling vehicles not only increase carbon footprint, they spew pollutants into our Croton air. Idling vehicles create elevated levels of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, and carbon monoxide. Those pollutants increase risk of asthma, heart disease, and cancer. And yet, our environmentally-aware Croton community still drives down to the train station each day and lets our thirsty SUVs burn gasoline and pollute our air as we wait to pick up our spouse or child.

Spend some time down at the train station with your windows open and I think you will agree that it is time for Croton to take action. Croton should pass a strong law such as the one NYC has, but in the meantime it can enforce the existing county law at no cost since the Croton parking enforcement agent is normally at the train station in the evening anyway.

The CCI also seeks to exempt “gift shops” and “specialty stores.” So a business like Sunshine and Clover or the Black Cow (which both signed the petition) would be exempt. Why is a tchotchke that I buy from one of those businesses worthy of an exemption from the bag law?

Newspapers are also on the “exceptions” list of CCI. But newspaper bags are useless except possibly for people who need to pick up after their dog. In Croton, the New York Times print subscription is $16.26 per week. Why can’t that person pay 70 cents per week for their bags? 

A baby dolphin choked to death on a yellow Shoprite bag is every bit as dead as a baby dolphin choked to death on a blue Times bag. We all love the Times and hate Shoprite, but the dolphin is less discerning.

CCI does grant some concessions for meat and produce. The New Castle legislation which the Croton Board of Trustees wishes to copy also has exemptions for ice cream and bakery goods. So both Baked by Susan and the Blue Pig (which signed the CCI petition) would be exempted. Why? Meat and dairy are huge contributors to global warming, and destructive of the natural environment to boot.

Environmental damage from cow farts has become something of a running joke over the past decade. Actually cow belches and manure seem to be more of an issue than farting, but whatever the orifice, cows produce a lot of methane. While methane is much less prevalent in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, it is the methane which is far more damaging per unit emitted. Meat must be kept refrigerated on that long truck ride from the slaughterhouse to your table. Ice cream must be kept frozen—it is about as environmentally-destructive a food as exists.

I have nothing against a good porterhouse or a pint of rocky road, but if we are serious about environmental damage it is hard to justify why these luxury items are exempted from the bag law.

The biggest loophole in the proposed law is exemption of plastic garbage bags. The CCI lectures us that “Lining your wastebasket with a plastic bag is not ‘recycling’ it.”

Let us assume that CCI is correct, and that re-using our Shoprite bag for garbage does not purge it of its unacceptable birth as a chain-store plastic bag. Why should we exempt the thick Hefty bags? If the problem is with both production and use of plastic bags, then using a bigger and thicker plastic bag for one-time use cannot be less environmentally-damaging than using a thin Shoprite bag twice.

Talk is cheap, as evidenced by the number of Croton businesses who advertise their opposition to plastic bags while continuing to use plastic bags every day, or who want to impose a law on other people so long as their business gets an exemption.

I tried looking for alternative garbage bags, and the best I could do was a box of bags that Mrs. Green’s in Briarcliff had for sale. The outside of the box looked like it would bring a smile to the face of Rachel Carson. But when I read the fine print, it said the bags were composed of a layer of recycled plastic sandwiched between 2 layers of “virgin plastic.” Much as I respect the virginity of Briarcliff Manor garbage bags, it sounds to me as though the expensive Mrs. Green’s product is actually more damaging to the environment.

I would appreciate hearing from Ms. Pauly as to what alternative she has found. Croton should not exempt Hefty-type plastic bags from the law, however virginal they may be.

There are 2 laws common in other communities which Croton does not have. The first is a law against idling vehicles, as discussed above. The second is a law mandating recycling of commercial and residential waste.

Many Croton residents have lived in NYC, and are familiar with mandatory recycling. NYC has more strict requirements (and enforcement, with monetary penalties) for business recycling and for multi-family housing. In Croton, we don’t even have a requirement for businesses to recycle. The next time you walk into a business, ask them where they put their trash. If they don’t have separate bins, ask them why.

I think it is terrific that 57 businesses in Croton agree with CCI that we need to pass laws to promote environmentally-conscious behavior. That level of public support from our business community means that they will also step up and support Croton enforcing a mandatory business recycling program.

Talk is cheap, as evidenced by the number of Croton businesses who advertise their opposition to plastic bags while continuing to use plastic bags every day, or who want to impose a law on other people so long as their business gets an exemption.

CCI notes that over 1,000 residents have signed the petition. Since there are only about 2,300 households in Croton, that means that a significant percentage of Croton households want plastic bags banned. The next time you walk in to a Croton business, ask if they have signed the bag ban petition. If they have, ask them if they have stopped using plastic bags. And ask if that business has separate bins for recycling, and if they are using electric or hybrid vehicles for their business.

Croton should pass the ban, with zero exemptions. It is illogical to hold that plastic bags are an existential threat to our oceans and that paper bags are environmentally damaging, while at the same time granting exemptions for liquor, dry cleaning, and moo shu pork takeout.

Paul Steinberg
Croton-on-Hudson

Improving Parking in Harmon

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

To the editor:
I recently attended the Village-sponsored affordable housing workshop. There were approximately 25 residents in attendance, a rather small turn-out.

One of my takeaways from the meeting was the lack of parking for visitors to any new apartments, especially in the Harmon area. There are two very slow-moving projects underway and I would like the mayor and the board to consider the following proposal. I believe it would be a win for the Village, the Fire Department and the residents and business owners. My experience has shown that many problems have simple solutions and with a little cooperation great results can be achieved.

 The current location of the Croton Emergency Medical Services.

The current location of the Croton Emergency Medical Services.

I propose the following: The current EMS building on Wayne Street should be razed. The EMS staff can be moved back into the Harmon firehouse—it was their former headquarters and it's where their vehicles are already located. The reclaimed land should be converted to parking to support the commercial businesses in the area. I recall this being the original plan from years ago, when the village purchased the building where EMS is currently located.

 From the Harmon Zoning Change Recommendations, August 26, 2008.

From the Harmon Zoning Change Recommendations, August 26, 2008.

My hope would be that the Croton Fire Department would cooperate with the Village and not push back, which can happen in these situations. The department has always resisted sharing the space in the Harmon firehouse. They are, however, part of the municipal government and taxpayers pay the cost of maintaining the firehouses, purchasing equipment, providing insurance and many other expenses.

Now is the time for cooperation and compromise. Moving the EMS and creating a new parking area in the Harmon business district will be a positive change, benefiting everyone in the village.

If you think this is a good idea you need to let the Board know, because if you don’t speak up, they won’t hear you.

Bob Anderson
Bob is the former Deputy Mayor of the Village of Croton-on-Hudson

We Cannot Disobey Federal Law Just Because We Don’t Like Who Is President

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

To the editor:
In the May 24/30 issue of the Gazette, I wrote a letter outlining why the Croton proposed Local Law 5 and proposed Resolution were illegal. None of the Board chose to respond directly, but rather once again Mr. Masur in his capacity as Chairman of the Croton Democratic Village Committee was the one to defend the actions taken by the Croton Board of Trustees (The Gazette, week of May 31/June 6).

Mr. Masur quotes me as saying that the trustees were “pitching a tax avoidance scheme which is both illegal and creates liability for residents and the municipality itself.” Mr. Masur then goes on to object on the basis that “This was the foundational premise of Mr. Steinberg’s lengthy letter to the editor, despite the fact that, as he well knows, no such proposal was ever voted on by the trustees.”

taxes2.jpg

Mr. Masur is blatantly misleading in quoting me because he omits the word preceding the sentence fragment. My actual full quote can be found at paragraph 4 of my letter: “Along with other municipalities in New York, New Jersey, and California, the Village of Croton-on-Hudson is considering pitching a tax avoidance scheme….”

By omitting the first clause of the sentence, and in particular the “considering” language, Mr. Masur alters my statement and then criticizes me for a position which I did not express. I made it clear that there were proposed schemes in 3 states as well as in Croton. My objection is to the underlying scheme, and that applies wherever it is proposed.

The Village of Croton Board of Trustees has now had 3 meetings on this proposed Local Law, and according to statements made by the Village Attorney will be spending more taxpayer time attending a meeting in White Plains on June 8.

Mr. Masur says that we should not be “impugning the motives of others.” I disagree. When a motive is improper, it should be impugned.

Mr. Masur states that New York State legislature “had already chosen to . . . increase the deductibility of New York State homeowners’ taxes.” At least with this false statement, Mr. Masur is more candid than the Village Attorney; she states that the Village is not making any representations as to deductibility. Of course, Albany cannot change the federal tax code (much as Mr. Masur may wish it were possible), which is why the Village Attorney and Board of Trustees act as though Croton will not be making any representations as to deductibility.

Mr. Masur says that we should not be “impugning the motives of others.” I disagree. When a motive is improper, it should be impugned.

The motive in this case is improper. The May 14 work session is online, and I urge residents to view that and make their own decisions. May 14 was the second of the 3 Board meetings to date regarding this scheme, and at you should pay particular attention to the video at 1:42 where the Village Attorney and the Village Manager agree that “the IRS is never going to allow the deduction.” 

There is then discussion from Trustee Gallelli about how there will be a “bureaucratic nightmare” for the village years down the road if the IRS disallows the deduction, and the Village Attorney and Village Manager reassure Ms. Gallelli that all is well because there will be no refunds issued and there is laughter from around the table.

After having a good laugh, the Village Attorney makes the most offensive statement of the night, saying “what the IRS does has nothing to do with this village.” (video at 1:45).

This statement is false, but even assuming that it was true—what does it say about our Board of Trustees and Village Attorney when their primary focus is on how to avoid liability for themselves when the IRS will go after residents who fall for this tax scam?

Village Engineer Dan O’Connor was not laughing, and interjected (video at 1:46) that “you could be hurting the residents” and expressed concern about residents incurring penalties. 

When the Village Engineer is the only participant whose priority is the welfare of Croton residents, I would suggest to Mr. Masur that says something about the motives of those at the conference table whose focus was on state and national priorities and not Croton priorities.

Trustee Murtaugh’s sole contribution to the discussion was to obfuscate on the most important question of whether the charitable foundations set up by the Village of Croton-on-Hudson were going to disclose a quid pro quo (QPQ) on the receipt given to residents. Mr. Murtaugh sought to muddy the waters by saying that “when you give to the Red Cross, not all of it goes to the primary purpose of what you’re giving” (video at 1:48). I am not even sure what that statement means, but I do know that it has nothing to do with whether as a matter of federal law the Red Cross would be obligated to make a QPQ disclosure.

So yes, Mr. Masur: when Mr. Murtaugh refused to answer a simple question from a meeting participant about whether or not a QPQ is going to be disclosed on the receipt issued by the Village’s “charitable” foundation, I do question the motives of Mr. Murtaugh. 

Contrary to what Mr. Murtaugh and the Village Attorney would have you believe, the IRS has specific requirements for donations which involve a QPQ. As I discussed in my original Gazette letter, if your property tax bill is more than $78.94 then 95 percent of that tax bill would be more than $75.

Since $75 in QPQ triggers specific IRS disclosure requirements, this is a valid question. Certainly Mr. Murtaugh can take the position that the QPQ is zero dollars, but Mr. Murtaugh’s attempted deflection at the May 19 meeting suggests that he is acknowledging there is a QPQ.

Apart from the threshold matter of whether failure to disclose the 95% QPQ puts Croton taxpayers in jeopardy of IRS audits and penalties, there is a liability question for the municipality itself. If the village’s “charitable fund” fails to comply with the rules, it is the “charitable fund” that is liable. This is because the IRS regulation regarding QPQ places the onus on the charitable organization to make not only disclosure of the existence of a QPQ but also to assign a specific dollar value to that QPQ.

It is because of the disclosure and valuation burden being placed on the recipient charity that the Village Attorney’s assurances of no municipal liability are misleading if not false. Technically the Village Attorney is correct insofar as any failure to disclose the QPQ would result in liability to the “charitable reserve fund” which presumably would be a legally distinct entity from the municipal corporation. But at the end of the day, this will just result in a roundabout route at the conclusion of which we the taxpayers of Croton will be footing the bill.

Mr. Murtaugh tries to draw attention away from the QPQ. Instead, he changes the subject to the use of monies by the recipient charity. But this is a completely different matter from what is written on the receipt given to the donor by the charity. 

If Mr. Murtaugh wants to challenge the legality of long-standing IRS regulations regarding disclosure of QPQ by the receiving charity, that is fine. But at least give a direct answer to a direct question—especially when that direct question goes to the key threshold issue.

A village employee then asks if the village would be doing something illegal, and the Village Attorney responds (video at 1:48): “No, all we’re doing is giving them a piece of paper that says that they have paid this much money into this charitable fund. We are not saying that yes it’s deductible on your federal taxes.”

Once again, a simple question about QPQ disclosure is deflected by conflating it with a different issue.

I can appreciate that the attorney is looking to protect the interests of her client (the Board of Trustees). But who is looking out for the interests of the people of Croton?

The first clause of the Village Attorney’s statement is hugely significant for Croton taxpayers. She is artfully saying that there will be no QPQ disclosure, despite the fact that we all know a QPQ exists, and that the QPQ amounts to a whopping 95 percent of the “charitable donation.”

Mr. Masur, how is that not fraud?

The second part of the Village Attorney’s statement should be a warning to taxpayers. Everyone around that conference table knew that this scheme is illegal. Even before they could hold a public hearing on the proposed Local Law, the attorney for the Board of Trustees was already putting caveats out. 

I can appreciate that the attorney is looking to protect the interests of her client (the Board of Trustees). But who is looking out for the interests of the people of Croton?

Nobody addressed the matter of QPQ disclosure requirements under IRS rules, although by this point some work session participants expressed that only 5% (the surcharge amount) would be considered as a charitable contribution. My question for Mr. Masur is: if that is true, why does the Board of Trustees and the Village Attorney say that the charitable receipt will merely state the amount given and not disclose the QPQ?

The fact that there is now video evidence of the Board of Trustees discussing that only 5% would be deductible is going to be a serious problem for Croton if they follow the May 14 guidance of the Village Attorney and only state the gross contribution amount.

After the May 14 session, the Board of Trustees held a regular session on May 21, at which there was discussion of a “guidance document” issued by the NY Dept of State and Dept. of Taxation & Finance. The actual document was quoted from at the May 21 session and relied upon by the Village Attorney, although I cannot find it as part of the meeting backup documents online.

That May 21 meeting video is online, and at 5:37 the Village Attorney says that the “guidance document” directs the Village of Croton to “affirmatively state that no goods or services were given in exchange for the donation.” 

With mastery of understatement, the Village Attorney declares: “That’s also a problem.”

At very least, the “guidance document” puts the matter squarely in front of the Croton Board of Trustees. Although they refused to deal with the central issue on May 21, at some point they will have to publicly take a stance if they continue to push this foolish scheme.

On June 8, there will be a pep rally in White Plains, convened by NY State and hosted by George Latimer to rally the troops in support of this scheme. I don’t see what possible use of taxpayer resources can be justified by spending the day at what is an attempt to persuade elected officials to entice their residents to be test subjects in this battle against the Trump-directed IRS.

At the May 14 work session, Trustee Horowitz expressed concern that taxpayers would have difficulty understanding this scheme. The response from Trustee Gallelli was that the residents “don’t need to know all of the complexity of what’s happening” (video at 1:53).

I disagree with Ms. Gallelli on that point. Taxpayers of Croton do need to know the complexity, because if the Board of Trustees adopts proposed Local Law 5, taxpayers who fall for the scheme are the ones who will be audited, not Ms. Gallelli.

Mr. Masur concluded his Gazette letter by saying that we should not make “inaccurate claims.” On that point, Mr. Masur and I are in wholehearted agreement.

I have yet to see any elected official in any NY jurisdiction say that they are willing to personally expose themselves by taking such a “charitable” deduction on their own federal return. It is true that officials such as Pelham Village Mayor Volpe have expressed interest in standing up to the IRS, but if you read his quote in LoHud, Mr. Volpe says he would participate “as the mayor.” That is code for saying that he will fight the IRS by using municipal money.

How about participating as an individual taxpayer: Is Mr. Pugh willing to deduct his 2018 Croton property taxes on his federal return and tell the IRS that his property taxes are a “charitable donation”? 

We cannot disobey federal law just because we don’t like who is President.

There is nothing which the June 8 sales pitch is going to present which will change the facts that existed back in October 2010 when the IRS issued the advice memorandum which I referenced in my original Gazette letter. In 2010, the IRS was under the direction of President Obama. I would remind Mr. Masur that Mr. Obama was and remains a Democrat. 

The same IRS rules regarding claiming property taxes as a “charitable contribution” in a Democrat administration also apply in a Republican administration. We cannot disobey federal law just because we don’t like who is President.

In an article about the “charitable” property tax plan being pushed by Albany, LoHud explains that Governor Cuomo “has made New York’s fight against the Trump tax plan a centerpiece of his 2018 agenda.” As a party boss, Chairman Masur has a duty to place the interest of Party paramount over other interests, and I can respect that the Chairman is doing his job. 

Although the Board of Trustees is composed of Party members, their motive as trustees should be to do what is best for Croton residents. I hope that after the June 8 political grandstanding is done and the Board of Trustees takes this matter up for the fourth time, the focus of discussion will turn to the question of what is best for the residents of Croton and not what is best for the national Party.

Paul Steinberg
Croton-on-Hudson

Tax Scheme Places Residents at Risk

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

To the Editor:
Political activism is an American tradition as old as the founding of our nation. But there is a big difference between personal activism and a municipal corporation engaging in activism which places its residents at risk.

When our Village trustees pass activist resolutions and send letters of protest to Albany or Washington, such action is harmless, albeit ineffectual. When we participate in a “Hey hey, ho ho, [insert cause] has got to go” march, we are getting some exercise and our neighbors are no worse off.

But when our state and local officials encourage residents to break the law to make a political statement, that is not acceptable.

 Image courtesy of www.401kcalculator.org/

Image courtesy of www.401kcalculator.org/

Along with other municipalities in New York, New Jersey, and California, the Village of Croton-on-Hudson is considering pitching a tax avoidance scheme which is both illegal and creates liability for residents and the municipality itself. 

Trustee Murtaugh tells us this is a “workaround” and Trustee Gallelli says that the “devil is in the details.” The devil is not in the details but rather it is in the fraudulent premise. For that reason, it is not a “workaround” but tax evasion.

The Village proposes to set up “charitable” foundations to accept “donations” in the amount of your property taxes. You would then get a receipt and be able to use that for a 95 percent credit against your Croton property tax bill, and you would tell the IRS that your property taxes are charitable contributions.

If this sounds to you like a harebrained scheme that the IRS will not accept, then you have grasped the essence of the Village proposal. 

Even if it were legal, this scheme has no benefit unless you own your home and itemize your federal tax deductions. It would have little to no benefit to someone with an older mortgage because the interest portion of your mortgage payment declines each month. And if you are wealthy and subject to the AMT, this would not be of use to you. There is a specific group of Croton residents who might want to take the risk of this tax avoidance scheme, but even there the benefit would be far outweighed by the risks.

As an example, imagine a married Croton couple in the 22% marginal bracket. They have $30,000 in itemized deductions of which $14,000 is property tax.

The couple would make a “charitable donation” of $14,000 to the foundation established by the Village. They would then be given a piece of paper (the wording of which shall become important) showing the receipt of $14,000. They would take this to the Village and get a credit of $13,300 against their property taxes, and tender a check for the balance of $700. On their federal tax return, they would claim $14,000 as a “charitable contribution.”

For 2018, the couple’s standard deduction is $24,000. By itemizing, the couple would shield an additional $6,000 from tax and thereby save $1,320. But since they paid an additional $700 in taxes, their actual savings is $620.

Most people would not even itemize for such a small savings, because the additional accounting fees and increased risk of audit are not worth it. The Treasury Secretary has already said that claiming property taxes as a “charitable contribution” is not going to fly with the IRS. 

Back in the 1970s thru the 1990s there were tax avoidance schemes which relied on elevation of form over substance. The IRS aggressively pursued taxpayers who participated in such schemes. They even went after the promoters, CPAs, and attorneys involved. After the collapse of Jenkins & Gilchrist most legal and tax professionals became much more wary of tax schemes which did not pass the smell test.

The Village Attorney says that the Village is not going to be in trouble because it is making no representation that the “charitable contribution” is tax deductible, and that the Village will simply give the “donor” a piece of paper stating the amount “donated” to the “charity.”

By setting up a “charitable” foundation and then taking “donations”, the Village is making a representation. And the Village Attorney is being disingenuous about the receipt which the Village will issue to “donors.”

Albany has not yet issued a sample of the receipt. Let us assume that the receipt does indeed only show the amount “donated.” The problem is that Governor Cuomo cannot defy federal law any more than Gov. Wallace or Gov. Faubus. In recent years we have come to believe that state governments can pick and choose which federal law to follow, and the “charitable gifts reserve fund” law passed in Albany is the most recent episode in the political struggle. The IRS is not going to let New York win this round.

The concern regarding liability which neither the Village Attorney nor the Village trustees will discuss is that the IRS can take legal action against the Village (and any officers of the “charitable foundations” set up by the Village) if they issue such a receipt.

There are actually 2 different types of receipts for charitable donations. If you give $500 to a local food bank, you get a piece of paper saying you gave $500. But if you give $500 to the food bank and attend their Annual Dinner, you will get a piece of paper saying that you gave $500 and that you got a meal valued at $125. The meal is called a “quid pro quo” (QPQ) and you can only deduct $375 as a charitable contribution.

IRS rules on QPQ contributions are explicit, they are federal, and they trump (sorry about that pun) whatever Mr. Cuomo or the Village Attorney wants to write on the receipt. The rules apply any time the QPQ is valued at more than $75, so any Croton property tax bill of more than $78.94 is going to fall under the rules involving QPQ donation receipts.

When our state and local officials encourage residents to break the law to make a political statement, that is not acceptable.

There are 2 requirements: first, the charity must tell the donor that tax deductibility is limited to the amount donated in excess of the QPQ and secondly, the charity must give a “good faith estimate” of the value of the QPQ. Contrary to what the Village Attorney and certain members of the Village Board are implying, “caveat emptor” is not permitted under the IRS rules.

The supporting materials on the Croton Board of Trustees website don’t provide any discussion of what the Board is going to determine as the value of the QPQ, but if the Village really is going to claim that there is no QPQ then the ramifications of this need to be fully disclosed to the taxpayers of Croton who are going to be on the hook for any litigation costs.

In our times, even provisions of the Internal Revenue Code are subjective depending on political viewpoint.
 
The argument for those claiming no QPQ is primarily expounded in left-leaning political circles and relies on IRS guidance relating to charitable tax credit programs established by various states. Those charities involved such things as education foundations, nature preservation groups, and domestic violence shelters. Most of the credits were about 25% (one was 50%). But in every single one of those cases, the charity was for a bona fide charitable purpose and the beneficiary of the donation was not the municipal tax coffers.

The only remotely plausible “no QPQ” support in the context of donations to a government entity comes from an October 27, 2010 advice memorandum (201105010, for those Gazette readers who are tax geeks). It is risky for a taxpayer to rely on such an IRS document, particularly where the facts are not sufficiently detailed to indicate congruence with your situation. 

Yet even in this flimsy support for the “no QPQ” position, the IRS discusses “charitable intent” as a key aspect. Do any Croton officials or the Village Attorney seriously believe that someone giving to the proposed Village “charity” has charitable intent? If you can’t make that case without laughing, then it would be foolish to think that the IRS will buy that argument.

The 2010 memorandum concludes by stating that “there may be unusual circumstances in which it would be appropriate to recharacterize a payment of cash or property that was, in form, a charitable contribution as, in substance, a satisfaction of tax liability.”

In 2018, Croton is proposing to accept “charitable contributions” explicitly for the satisfaction of tax liability. That is the sole purpose of the scheme, and the Village states it right there in black and white in both proposed Local Law 5 and also in the Board Resolution.

All of the “no QPQ” arguments rely on pre-2018 court rulings and IRS guidance. Those determinations were issued when SALT and charitable contributions were both fully deductible. Now that the IRS is going to apply the statutory language of the 2018 tax law, guidance given under the old tax law may be irrelevant.

The Village has not discussed what will happen when this scheme implodes. That may be this year, but if it is resolved through taxpayer audits that could take many years. Croton residents will make their “charitable contribution” in 2018 and file their return in 2019, but any audits may not be finished till 2021 or later. So taxpayer litigation against the Village may not even commence till 2022 or later.

It is important to remember that the 5% tax surcharge cannot not be refunded. Due to timing issues, some people may need to pay twice and apply for a refund. But that is questionable, since the “charity” is not going to give a refund and money paid to the municipality and school district as taxes is a bit dicey to refund and would be a direct QPQ. 

It is not clear as to whether the Village insurance policy will even cover acts taken by the “charitable foundations” nor how officers of the foundations will get D&O coverage since the whole purpose of the foundation is to assist people in an illegal tax avoidance scheme.

I am sympathetic to the need for Croton to make a statement opposing the evil GOP tax plan, but enticing Croton residents to commit tax evasion is not the way to make a statement. 

New Yorkers can be justly proud of our rank as #1 for the heaviest state tax burden. Our property taxes are the envy of lesser states: according to the most recent data from Bloomberg, 9 of the top 10 counties are in New York. 

We in Westchester have the honor of having the highest property taxes of any county in the entire nation. Many of us feared losing our #1 ranking during the years of tax freezes, but George Latimer understands the importance of keeping our property taxes the highest in the nation and Westchester residents can now rest assured.

It is entirely proper—one might even say charitable—to give the rest of the country an opportunity to share in some of that honor by means of subsidizing New Yorkers by fully deductible SALT. Unfortunately the Congress does not appreciate our point of view and changed the federal tax law. 

Quite probably in November the political power in Congress will shift and we will once again be able to share our tax burden. In the meantime, we should embrace our record property taxes as a true badge of wokeness.

Village officials may join Mr. Latimer in celebrating our nationally-renowned property tax burden and seek to keep Westchester’s position intact. But Village officials should not promote a tax avoidance scheme in which residents pay a 5% property tax surcharge and incur IRS penalties simply in order to protest the new federal tax code.

Paul Steinberg
Croton-on-Hudson

After this letter was written, the Board on Monday 5/22 pulled the proposed resolution and proposed Local Law from the agenda. The Village Attorney stated that the State will be holding a meeting in White Plains on June 8 to further explain the program. In addition, Trustee Attias has said that she does not support the proposed resolution.

On Wednesday 5/23, the IRS issued Notice 2018-54 stating that it will be issuing specific rules about programs, and stated “The proposed regulations will make clear that the requirements of the Internal Revenue Code, informed by substance-over-form principles, govern the federal income tax treatment” of programs such as the one proposed here in Croton.