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!”

37519916062_688a0a0be1_o (1).jpg

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

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.

King Salary.png

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.”


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

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.


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

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.”


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

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

Image courtesy of

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

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.

The School Board Election Fiasco

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

To the editor:
This week’s Croton-Harmon school board election fiasco raises questions about the competence of an organization which controls a $47 million annual budget but cannot perform basic personnel vetting. To that extent, valid criticism can be made. But some of the discussion and criticism within the Village and on social media is misplaced.

The actions of Jordan Humphrey have drawn welcome public attention to an election customarily ignored by Croton residents. However inadvertently, Mr. Humphrey has sparked discussion—some enlightening, and some nonsensical.

School Board Vote IMG_0962.JPG

The claim that the write-in format means that only a handful of people decided the election is true, but this is no change from what was planned. As of 24 hours before the election, the race was poised to be decided by a single vote: in an uncontested election, every vote cast after the first ballot is superfluous. Even a write-in election with 2 ballots determining the winner is more democratic.

The flurry of online shadow campaigns on Monday night and Tuesday morning was a positive sign. Much like old-style political campaigns, people put forth the name of their choice and most draftees maintained a stoic public silence. Perhaps next year some of those shadow campaigners will consider running and detailing their vision at some point prior to election eve; an uncontested election is no election at all.

Mr. Humphrey deserves some credit. There was an open slot and he—a new arrival to Croton—was the only person willing to step forward. The position is a demanding one focused on nuts-and-bolts local issues.

School board positions are inherently local, and therefore lack the glamour of some other Village elected offices which can serve (and unfortunately, now do serve) as a soapbox for those who want to #Resist. If you have ever watched a school board meeting online, you probably fell asleep long before it concluded. Serving on the school board is a lot of work, with no pay and little recognition by our community: how many readers can name even one school board member?

The Croton-Harmon school board oversees spending which is more than twice the Village budget. The quality of our public school system has a huge impact on our local quality of life and Croton’s property values. Serving as a school board trustee is a job which is thankless but vital, and it deserves better than being treated as a farce.

Personally I doubt that someone who has just moved in to a school district is the best candidate for a position overseeing and guiding the activities of the school system. But at least Mr. Humphrey was willing to serve, and hopefully the spotlight placed on this office will inspire other people to consider service in future years.

Paul Steinberg

Help Stop Robocalls

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

To the Editor:
We all get robocalls, and our seniors have been especially targeted by scammers. Although many people reported the calls to the Federal Trade Commission database, most of us did not. Even when the numbers were reported, little was done and the scammers just spoofed a different number. Putting your number on the Do Not Call list made no difference since scammers ignore the list.

But there is hope. This year has seen major changes including cooperation between the government and industry. There is now real-time data transmitted from the FTC to telecom providers, and so today it makes a difference if you report robocalls.


The major phone carriers are using the complaint database to not only block scammers, but also to improve their robocall detection algorithms.

Another problem is that caller ID has become useless since the scammers spoof the phone number they are using; this is why calls from overseas come up on your screen as a 914 number. The Federal Communications Commission is testing an anti-scammer technology solution (named Shaken & Stir, in a nod to James Bond), which would result in ensuring that the number that displays on your call ID is the real number.

As a result of a government competition a few years back awarding a cash prize for the company which came up with a robocall blocking solution, one of the competition winners called NoMoRobo is offering a robocall blocking program (free for VoIP, $1.99/mo for cellphones).

The new rules adopted by the FCC last November allow telecom carriers to proactively block numbers used to originate robocalls. The initial results this year have been positive, but seniors should be aware that many doctor’s offices and pharmacies use robocalls to remind patients about appointments and prescription refills. There have been instances where such calls are blocked by the new anti-robocall technology, and the FCC is working with telecom carriers to fix that problem.

The new efforts are making a positive impact in reducing robocalls and blocking scammers targeting seniors. So if you get a robocall, it now makes sense to take action. And if you know of a senior who is getting such calls, let them know to call 877-FTC-HELP or visit the site.

The number of robocall victims continues to rise, as does the amount lost to scams. Seniors are particularly vulnerable due to several factors. Surprisingly, the fastest-growing group of victims is the 35-54 age bracket; that group has a lot of personal information available on the internet which can be used to increase the likelihood of a scammer being successful.

By taking action ourselves, and by helping our elderly relatives and neighbors to report robocalls, we can make a difference and prevent people in our community from becoming victims.

Paul Steinberg

Positive Forces in Croton

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

To the editor:
Paul Rolnick says (The Gazette, week of April 26-May 2) that he is sick of “rants” and that “many residents . . . wish Mr. Gingold and others would spare us from more of the same in our local paper.” 

My guess is that Mr. Rolnick’s definition of “rants” that should not appear in the Gazette is different from my definition, but in any event I think the result of Mr. Gingold’s letter illustrates why our both our local paper and Mr. Gingold are positive forces in Croton. 

I don’t agree with Mr. Gingold’s reasoning nor his conclusion about the Silver Lake fee. At the risk of shocking Mr. Rolnick, not only do I wholeheartedly agree with the decision of the Board of Trustees on this matter but I also thank Ms. Gallelli for providing a reply which suggests a path forward beneficial to our financially-stressed seniors.

Silver Lake CO P1000780.jpg

Although Mr. Gingold is partially wrong on the merits, he is also partially correct. His letter provided a valuable public service quite apart from bringing the Board of Trustees policy change to the attention of readers of this newspaper.

Mr. Gingold was upset (see his letter here) that the fee waiver for seniors had been eliminated. He stated that he discovered this when he went to the Municipal Building to get his 2018 pass. Mr. Gingold’s letter made two arguments for the fee waiver.

Mr. Gingold’s first argument was that a fee waiver is warranted “in recognition of our status and in compensation for the substantial contributions we have made to the village during our younger years (and continue to make).”

I disagree with Mr. Gingold on this point. Simply attaining a specific age does not confer any superior social status. For example, we respect the wisdom of our elders, but that has nothing to do with age per se but rather because they bring a wealth of life experience and knowledge which warrants their opinions and advice being taken seriously.  

And if the basis of a municipal fee waiver is “substantial contributions” made by a waiver applicant, then this has nothing to do with age but rather would require an evaluation of what each resident has contributed to Croton. As such, a blanket waiver on seniors would be both over and under-inclusive with the only solution an impractical and cumbersome one.

The second argument made by Mr. Gingold is that many seniors have financial constraints greater than the general Croton population. This is a legitimate concern that should be taken seriously.

I have said for years that the Village policy was too restrictive on ID card issuance and also that it was unduly burdensome on lower-income residents and particularly families. Last year there was a policy change loosening the proof requirements for getting an ID card and an expansion of hours to accommodate parents who work during the daytime. That was a welcome change.

But it did not address my other concern as to the exclusionary impact of Village policies on lower-income residents of our community. It is here that Mr. Gingold’s letter had a positive impact.

In response to Mr. Gingold’s letter, trustee Ann Gallelli replied (The Gazette, week of April 26-May 2) with a letter making two points. At the risk of once more shocking Mr. Rolnick, I think that Ms. Gallelli was correct on both of her points. Ms. Gallelli’s first point was that this modest fee is to partially offset the cost of improvements which will benefit a narrow group of people and that the Village is undertaking these improvements at the specific request of the group of people now being asked to bear a $1 fee.

I often disagree with Ms. Gallelli on Village budget matters, but I don’t see how anyone could disagree with her on her position on asking that Silver Lake patrons make at least a token contribution for these particular upgrades. 

While I find Croton Point Avenue to be a boondoggle and Gouveia to be an eternal money pit, the distinction Ms. Gallelli makes with the Silver Lake fees is a valid and important one. I disagree with Ms. Gallelli on CPA and Gouveia, but those projects are ones which are arguably intended to benefit the municipal populace as a whole. That is not the case with these specific Silver Lake improvements.

Mr. Rolnick and Mr. Gingold disagree on substance but both feel that the Silver Lake fee is part of a larger debate. If you accept as reasonable Ms. Gallelli’s explanation (which I do), then this is an entirely sensible and non-political action and not part of any larger issue.

Ms. Gallelli’s second point is actually the most important data which has come out of this whole exchange, and if not for Mr. Gingold’s letter it would not have come to light.

Ms. Gallelli tells us that Croton “has a financial aid program to ensure that all residents have full access to village parks and programs regardless of their financial situations. Applications are available in the Recreation Office through June 1.”

This not only goes to the heart of objections raised by many residents (not just Mr. Gingold) regarding Silver Lake, this is a program which benefits financially-stressed families who wish to be a part of all of the municipal activities in our community—not just Silver Lake.

I would urge Ms. Gallelli to speak with the Village Manager about ensuring that affected residents are aware of this program. This can be done by putting a notice on Recreation & Parks application forms that require fee payment. Something along the lines of “If you are experiencing financial hardship, fee waivers are available. Contact 271-xxxx” would let people know that they shouldn’t just throw away the flyer before the kids see it and the parents don’t want to tell their kids the family can’t afford to let them attend a Village event.

Another avenue for outreach is the Croton Seniors who meet at the Muni Building: remind them to spread the word to fellow seniors who are in need. Many of our churches have programs assisting our low-income neighbors, and also assist residents who may customarily consume information in Spanish or other languages and therefore not know about the Village fee waiver policy. Organizations such as Croton Caring Committee and the Lions already work with some of our neighbors who will be glad to find out that the Village wants them involved in our recreation programs.

I also think that fee waivers should be accepted by Recreation & Parks at any time that someone has need to apply, not just during a limited time window. At least this should be tested for a year, particularly since the 2018 deadline is just a few days away.

This past month has been a bit of a bummer for anyone who relies on Croton social media to shape their perception of Croton or get news about Croton. That is a discussion for another time. The Gazette has been a refreshing counterpoint to online negativity.

I thank Mr. Gingold and Ms. Gallelli for putting their views forward in the pages of this newspaper. I often disagree with both of them, but I pay attention to their views and find their writing to be well-reasoned. At the end of the day, their dialogue on Silver Lake has been enlightening and beneficial for our community and they have provided a path forward for the rest of us in Croton.

Paul Steinberg

Croton Needs to Prepare for Marijuana Legalization

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

To the Editor:
Last year, many members of our community were upset over the opening of a vape shop in Croton. Marijuana retail stores in Croton are not likely to be as controversial as e-cigarette merchants, but the pending legalization of marijuana in Croton is coming at a rapid pace and some legislation and education outreach needs to be done now.

It is time for us to have a conversation and make some decisions about Village laws and policy.

Last week, Senator Schumer not only announced his support for legalization, he autographed a reporter’s personal bong brought to Schumer’s Senate office and said he would sponsor legislation to give federal money for the promotion of marijuana sales as a means of reparations, saying that it is time to “inject real dollars into minority and women-owned businesses to insure those disproportionately affected by marijuana criminalization can benefit from the new economy.”

Senator Schumer signing a bong.

Senator Schumer signing a bong.

I personally don’t think that marijuana sellers need government handouts to prosper, but the fact that this is being proposed by the senior elected official of the national Democratic Party indicates how quickly the pot industry is becoming a major political lobby.

In an interview with Vice News broadcast on HBO, Minority Leader Schumer acknowledged that the current Republican majority in the U.S. Senate would block his program. But with the latest national polls giving the Democrats a strong chance of regaining the Senate, Mr. Schumer is a strong candidate for Majority Leader. We may be looking at traveling all the way across the spectrum from federal criminalization to federal government subsidy of marijuana by the end of 2019.

Locally, legalization is even closer. With the defeat of Republicans in New Jersey, incoming Governor Phil Murphy told the Legislature that he wanted to see legalized pot in Jersey by the end of 2018 and he is using a working projection of $60 million in state marijuana tax revenue as part of his upcoming budget.
Regardless of your personal position on marijuana, legalization is inevitable if only because of the huge amounts of money involved. Last week, banking behemoth TD Bank approved their Canada-based investment counselors recommending three marijuana companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, and USA Today said that marijuana sales in California alone will be $3.8 billion this year.

New York has been a rare outpost of Democrat opposition to pot. Governor Cuomo has been opposed because he is concerned with the social consequences and possible “gateway drug” issues.

But with our state Assembly being pro-legalization, and with both Senators Schumer and Gillibrand and primary opponent Cynthia Nixon coming out in favor of pot, Mr. Cuomo has become isolated on this issue. While Mr. Cuomo’s reelection remains probable, the N.Y. Senate is likely to flip to Democrat control; hence the Governor’s face-saving decision to set up a “task force” to “study” the issue.

While most Croton residents are likely to agree with the pot-legalization advocacy of our Democratic Party elected officials and support the opening of marijuana stores in Croton, there is still a question of Village zoning and the degree of law enforcement monitoring of the stores.

During a recent stay in Denver, I was surprised at the social impact of pot. The public buses reeked of marijuana. On a bus ride back to our hotel from the Denver Zoo, there was a disturbance when one obviously high passenger missed the stop for the “dispensary” and demanded the bus driver pull over to let him out. 

A Colorado tourist official told me that “they came for the pot and stayed for the heroin” and she added that there was concern about the sense of decline and lawlessness in downtown Denver having an effect on tourism. A resident in suburban Highlands Ranch told me that she and her husband don’t go downtown anymore because of the conditions since legalization.

Croton is not Denver, and the impact here is likely to be much less. But one Denver lesson may be applicable to Croton, and that is the ramifications of product mix sold in marijuana retail stores.

Aging hippies in Croton can look back fondly on the days when they would toke a doobie during the Summer of Love. But millennials and teens in 2018 Denver have made “edibles” a majority of sales at some “dispensaries.” In addition, concentration of THC in marijuana products is much greater than it was back in olden times. Overdoses are not a great concern with adults (passage of time will usually cure any symptoms), but children are a different matter.

Children’s Hospital Colorado reports a small but disturbing surge in infants and pre-teens ingesting “edibles” and being treated for respiratory problems, including intubation of a 3 year-old, “continuous positive pressure for respiratory insufficiency” for an 8 month-old infant, and the death of an 11 month-old. Cause of death in the 11 month-old is disputed, but the doctors state that the infant arrived at the ER in an unresponsive state with rapid heartbeat, and a urine drug screen came back positive for high levels of THC. 

Although mainstream media and an increasing number of national politicians dismiss the Denver experience as an anomaly, Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper (D) signed the “Gummy Bear” law banning edibles in the shape of animals and fruits. If New York State does not enact such limitations, then the Village of Croton should consider passage of a local law.

In a family town such as Croton, the Colorado experience with “edibles” should be a cause for concern among our parents and teachers. In addition to immediate physiological impacts on infants, there are concerns both due to the effects of THC on teenage brain development, and also due to the use of pot by teens to self-medicate; thereby masking underlying emotional issues that would normally be spotted by parents and teachers.

Our Croton school district leadership needs to decide how to educate students about pot. Many of their students are going to be coming from homes where parents will smoke pot and consume “edibles.” It is going to be difficult if not impossible for schools to convince students that consumption of marijuana is harmful when the students see pot used in their own home or when they visit the homes of classmates.

The DARE curriculum (Drug Abuse Resistance Education, a national drug prevention program used in Croton schools) advises against initiation of marijuana discussion below around sixth grade: “Most students in this age group have no basis of reference to the substance. Research has found that teaching children about drugs with which they have no orientation or real life awareness may negatively stimulate their interest or curiosity about the substance.”

DARE focuses on alcohol and tobacco: “the two most common and dangerous drugs with which elementary aged students have knowledge or familiarities are alcohol and tobacco. Also, these are the substances, across all segments of the population, with the highest use levels within this age group.”

DARE’s curriculum at the high school level stresses resistance to peer pressure, providing data to show that it is socially acceptable to decide not to ingest drugs. Unfortunately, while it is true that consumption of alcohol or tobacco is not actively promoted by parents or politicians, this is no longer the case about marijuana.

No politician would sign a carton of cigarettes or case of beer, but in this state our politicians will autograph a bong. New York politicians are openly enthusiastic about pot, and—in the case of Mr. Schumer—even want to put tax money toward promoting marijuana businesses.

But there are longitudinal studies suggesting impairment of verbal cognitive functions in children, with a direct relationship between age of first use and impact. A New Zealand study concluded that even when high-consuming pot-smoking teens stopped as adults, there was permanent reduction in IQ test scores. 

For obvious reasons, there has not been much research on human in utero exposure; but animal studies show cognitive impairment in adult rats, likely due to effects of THC on development of the hippocampus (the brain area involved in memory formation).

Most studies on the effects of THC on brain development have been performed on lab rats. In New York, we are about to embark on a massive experiment with our children as lab rats.

My personal libertarian perspective would normally lead me to join Sen. Schumer, Sen. Gillibrand, Ms. Nixon, and other New York politicians in welcoming state-wide consumption of marijuana in all its glorious variants. And I realize that marijuana criminalization no longer has voter support, either nationally or locally. But after observing Denver and speaking with people living there, I am concerned about the impact of the coming legalization here in Croton.

At very least, the Village and the school district should start involving residents and parents in preparing for the coming legalization of marijuana and we should consider whether to pass new zoning laws now, rather than waiting till after the fact.

Paul Steinberg

Seniors of Croton, Unite!

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

To the Editor:
Seniors of Croton, unite! The village board is coming after us with guns blazing.

The other day my wife and I went to the Municipal Building to renew our Rec passes, which expire next month. After our new cards were issued came the shock—and the outrage!

For years, no, for decades, Croton seniors have been issued free passes for Silver Lake. This in recognition of our status and in compensation for the substantial contributions we have made (and continue to make) to the village during our younger years. But when we requested our Silver Lake stickers for this season, we were rebuffed. It seems the board, in its infinite wisdom, has chosen to reverse this venerable policy and, henceforth, seniors will be charged a fee for entry into our favorite swimming hole.

Silver Lake CO.jpg

Yes, the fees are moderate. And yes, many of us can reasonably afford them. But there are also those in our village, many on fixed incomes, who struggle every day to remain in their homes in our high-priced community; and for whom every dollar is important if they are not to be driven from our midst. And how much can the board possibly expect to reap from these folks in comparison to our $19.5 million budget? A pittance at best.

So what is behind this slap in the faces of our oldest residents? Is the board that desperate to glean every nickel from every source to fund its pet projects like Croton Point Avenue and Gouveia Park? Is this how they respond to the Financial Stability Committee’s warning that village expenses will soon exceed its revenues?

It is sad to contemplate that, during a hot, muggy day this August, some of our senior citizens may be forced to forgo the opportunity to cool themselves in the waters of the Croton River, or to just sit in the sun and reminisce with old friends about the good old days when our village board actually cared about all of the residents of Croton, not just themselves and their friends.

Joel E. Gingold

Vandalism Should Be a Wakeup Call

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

To the editor:
The smashing of a vehicle window in Croton is disturbing (The Gazette, week of April 5-11), and that the victim is a hardworking immigrant who actively supports our community makes this an embarrassment for Croton as well.

Occurring in broad daylight just steps from a daycare center, the timing and place of this vandalism should be a wakeup call. When people feel they can do this with impunity, it creates an environment which is damaging to public safety and to property values in our Village. 

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

I hope that somebody comes forward with information to apprehend the vandal. The vandalism comes in the context of other developments. The Upper Village has gotten a shabby look in recent months. In addition to the ugly vacant storefront at the former Three Dog Bite, exterior storefronts have become billboards for advertising flyers. The row from the Chinese restaurant down to the former German deli now sports a variety of flyers, which remain even after they have been exposed to wind and rain.

A word of thanks is due to ASAP Mortgage, which has always kept an attractive storefront since it opened last year. If every business owner and landlord followed their example, the Upper Village would be a better place.

Not only does the Village refrain from doing anything about the growing eyesore, our Village has chosen to add to the visual blight by putting up “Solarize Croton” flyers alongside the other advertisements. Solar energy is a wonderful cause to promote, but I don’t think the Village needs to litter in order to do so.

I do give credit to the Village for last week’s clean-up of the municipal land along Old Post Road opposite the Municipal Building. It had come to the point that the Bud Light cans and potato chip wrappers had been joined by a single white ankle sock which laid in the middle of the sidewalk. Perhaps it is time to consider a small trash can. Yes, people should take their trash away. But they are not doing so, and since this is part of the Village trail system a bit of pragmatic action by the Village is not unreasonable.

The Village of Croton gives a lot of thought to problems such as the proper level of federal funding for the National Railroad Passenger Corporation and where Comptroller DiNapoli should invest the state pension fund. And no doubt the leadership in Washington and Albany eagerly awaits the latest pearls of wisdom from Croton.

Compared to weighty matters of state, a smashed car window or visual pollution are unworthy of great minds who “think globally.” Indeed, in the current environment it is downright reactionary to suggest that the Municipal Building focus on such pedestrian concerns.

But unlike events in Washington or Albany, the Village can have an immediate positive impact on the conditions in the Upper Village. Moreover, if we don’t think locally and act locally nobody in Washington is going to do it for us. There are specific steps which can be taken.

First is to reach out to the landlords of the retail properties. If they have allowed the posting of these flyers, then they should be encouraged to rethink that permission or at very least to have the flyers posted on the inside of the window. If they have not given permission then the Village should consider implementing and enforcing appropriate code provisions.

In addition, the Village should encourage owners of vacant storefronts to maintain the property in a manner which takes into account the impact of aesthetic factors. The value of the landlord’s property is tied to the desire of entrepreneurs to rent, and who wants to open a store on a blighted street?

The local business community also has a stake in having an attractive and safe Upper Village. Working with the Chamber and the Rotary, the Village can leverage the knowledge and enthusiasm of people whose focus is on retail sales development.

Croton’s arts community is another resource: some communities such as East Hampton and Riverhead have worked on bringing together artists and landlords to utilize the vacant frontage as an artistic forum.

Croton should also seek advice from other municipalities. I don’t agree with all of Beacon’s requirements, but at least Beacon’s leadership has given this matter some thought. Larchmont and Bronxville struggle with retail vacancies but you don’t see tacky flyers taped on the outside of store windows or trashed interiors. In both of those communities, there is an explicit commitment to prevent retail blight. In Bronxville, the Mayor’s “shop local” campaign reminds residents that the sales tax revenues keep property taxes down. In Larchmont, the Mayor says that retail vibrancy “is our top priority as the village board.”

I realize that local issues are not the top priority of our village board. But we have some sharp Village employees, and perhaps they could deal with the current state of the Upper Village while our elected officials are busy saving the planet.

All of us as Croton residents can do our part by making an effort to shop local, and support our Croton businesses. Retail is changing permanently, and unless we want decaying streetscapes we need to welcome businesses who are willing to contribute to our economy. In the last 2 years, Croton has seen a number of foodservice and beauty establishments open. Unfortunately some residents went on social media to complain about having too many delis and nail salons.

This negative attitude is short-sighted and based on the idea that Croton can turn back time. When prospective tenants read negative and hostile comments on Facebook “community” pages, they look elsewhere. We don’t have the population density to bring back artisanal toy stores or bookstores, and that is a reality we need to accept in the online era.

Smashed car windows and vacant storefronts are not a good image for Croton. We need to spend some time thinking locally and acting locally.

Paul Steinberg

Hypocrisy from Our Democratic Village Board

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

To the editor:
We are used to hypocrisy from our federal and state politicians, but Washington and Albany have nothing on our own Democratic Village Board. 

During last fall’s campaign, candidates Pugh, Horowitz, and Attias manufactured a huge issue over the Croton United Board’s one-year deferral of the purchase of a replacement for aging fire truck 118. 

OMG, they cried! The existing apparatus is disintegrating before our very eyes! This is a really, really serious public safety concern!! Our very lives will be in danger until the new truck arrives!!! We’re doomed!!!! We’re all going to die!!!!! Somebody save us!!!!!! Please!!!!!!! Quickly!!!!!!!!

CHFD Engine 118.jpg

In the 2017-2018 budget adopted by the CU Board, the replacement was to be purchased in the 2018-2019 fiscal year at a cost of $700K. So, due to the extreme urgency of the situation, you would have expected that the very, very first thing the new Dem Board would do was to place an order for the new fire apparatus to save us all from certain extinction.

But is that what happened? Of course not. The first major expenditure made by the Dem Board was to purchase a $250K study and design for the ill-advised Croton Point Avenue Project. Clearly, in their opinion—and they certainly know better than anyone else in the village—the CPA project is far, far more vital than replacing the fire truck they previously insisted would completely collapse as flames were shooting out of our windows and doors. In the Dems budget, the replacement has been deferred yet another year, to F.Y. 2019-2020. And the cost has ballooned to $875K. An additional $1.5 million will be borrowed to be ultimately squandered on Croton Point Avenue.

There are only two possible explanations for this. Either Mr. Pugh, Ms. Horowitz, and Ms. Attias knew that the existing fire engine, while old, was still serviceable and would clearly be reliable for another few years, in which case they were totally disingenuous, and, as is the Dems way, were willing to say anything to get elected. Or, the truck has actually reached the end of its useful life and is no longer reliable, and we really are all in jeopardy, but they just don’t care about that.

Those borrowings next year will blast right through the debt guidelines recommended by the Financial Sustainability Committee and adopted by the prior Croton United board. Further, the FSC, having identified serious financial problems looming in the future, recommended last fall that all future budgets include 5-year forecasts of revenues, expenditures, debt service, and capital expenditures, so that these problems can be identified early and addressed before they do real damage to the village’s fiscal health. However, the Dems’ budget addresses only a single year, except for the capital projection that, as has been the practice for decades, extends for several years into the future.

It must be that, in addition to knowing what’s best for everyone else, the Board also believes that it is far better qualified than the financial professionals who make up the FSC to ensure Croton’s fiscal health. Although, to my knowledge, not one of them has any expertise whatsoever in finance.

This financial wisdom extends to the $44K they propose to spend on cosmetic repairs to the Gouveia house, when, according to the Dems’ financial analysis used to justify the acceptance of the Gouveia property, the total cost of renovation and bringing the house up to ADA standards was just $110K. That’s a lotta work to be done with the remaining $65K. But they obviously must know something that escapes the rest of us.

I don’t pretend to be a fiscal expert. But I do know enough to follow the advice of those who are, whether in my business or personal life. Concern that the Board has no use for the FSC and just wants it to go away, continues to grow. Then they can merrily spend unlimited sums of taxpayers’ money on all of their pet projects without fear of contradiction. 

Unless and until, someone finally stands up and says “ENOUGH!”

Joel E. Gingold

  • For more on the Croton Point Avenue project see here.

Support the Marrakesh Treaty

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

To the editor:
Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand’s support is vital to passage of a bill which will expand opportunity for visually-impaired people here in Croton and worldwide. Passage of S.2559 will enable our libraries in Croton and Ossining to give the visually-impaired members of our community access to the same resources most of us currently take for granted.

Helen Keller

Helen Keller

Senate Bill 2559 is the next step in our nation implementing the Marrakesh Treaty, providing a limited copyright exemption for libraries to make information available to people with disabilities.

Locally, the Marrakesh Treaty will benefit visually-impaired people here in Croton and the surrounding community. In particular, the American Library Association notes that Spanish-speakers in the United States will benefit from increased ability to access native Spanish content from around the world. 

In developing countries, less than 1% of print content is accessible. We live in the information age, and excluding people from access to information means excluding them from participation in our society. By allowing import and export of existing accessible resources, we will avoid wasting money on duplicative transcription efforts and increase the amount of information available worldwide.

For more than a decade, advocates for the disabled have worked alongside academics, librarians, and diplomats to get to where we are now. The bill is currently in the Judiciary Committee.

Please call Sen. Schumer at (914) 734-1532 and Sen. Gillibrand at (845) 875-4585 and ask them to co-sponsor S.2559.

Paul Steinberg