Jon Cartu Announces 2020-21 Scarsdale Village Approved After Considerable... - Jonathan Cartu Residential & Industrial Construction Services
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Jon Cartu Announces 2020-21 Scarsdale Village Approved After Considerable…

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Jon Cartu Announces 2020-21 Scarsdale Village Approved After Considerable…

2020-21 Scarsdale Village Approved After Considerable Debate

Photo Credit: Emily GilmanUnder pressure from a rival political party that is seeking to unseat candidates for the Village Board selected by Scarsdale’s Citizens Non-Partisan Party, members of the Scarsdale Village Board provided a lengthy defense of the proposed 2020-21 Village Budget. At a virtual meeting held on April 28 attended by 68 viewers, the Board of Trustees ultimately voted to pass the budget by a vote of 6-1. The $59 million budget is a 1.46% increase over 2019-20 which would result in an annual increase of $95 for the average homeowner in Scarsdale. In order to minimize the increase, 49 non-union Village employees will forgo their raises in 2020-21 and $210,000 was taken from the library budget which will open two months later than anticipated.

The Village budget became a political issue in the upcoming election where a slate of three candidates for Village Trustee from the Voters Choice Party are challenging non-partisan slate. The Voters Choice Party circulated and submitted a petition with 455 signatures calling for $2 million in cuts to the budget. They claim that “These cuts can be undertaken without cutting back on services, furloughing staff, or negatively impacting our Village.”

However, in an April 23 letter to the Village from Mayor Marc Samwick on April 23 Samwick writes, “Unfortunately, some view the current situation as an opportunity to create a political divide. They advocate that the solution to reducing Village property taxes is to penalize our first responders and to ask our Village Justice to forgo his salary. This is unacceptable, especially at the time when we need our first responders more than ever. We cannot penalize first responders working hard in extraordinary circumstances, or public servants who continue to perform the job they were elected to do. Degrading our professional police, fire department, or criminal justice services is not only unconscionable but also unwise.”

The Mayor and two trustees made extensive comments defending the budget. Here are excerpts from their comments:

Mayor Marc Samwick:

The Village Board has repeatedly affirmed our commitment to review Village finances regularly and make as many budget revisions as needed as the pandemic and its aftermath continue to unfold. Our actions to date and into the future will be from an informed position, with the latest data and best visibility possible. We have taken quick, decisive action. We do not believe it to be prudent to take actions out of panic or fear. And, we will certainly not make decisions based on any political interest. That is not who we are as a community. On the contrary, we have a very long history of responsible, long-term financial stewardship that we will not abandon. This long-term focus on financial stability and strength is widely recognized, including the recognition received by our long-standing AAA credit rating, and has provided the Village with the financial flexibility to manage the economic impact of the pandemic.

The Village also benefits structurally from the ability to revise its budget continually throughout the year. As we work through the pandemic and gain better visibility, services and projects will be reevaluated. If we need to cut services in the future, we will do so carefully, thoughtfully, and with community input. Budget decisions may have unintended consequences and it is our job to consider those to the extent possible, and not to act in haste.

…The Village Board will continue to be proactive and work to make, in its judgment, the best fiscal decisions for all of Scarsdale. And, we will do it together with the community to balance, as optimally as possible, the tradeoff between costs and services delivered

Trustee Justin Arest:

Oversight of a community’s finances is one of the most important roles of a trustee. And in this capacity, and everything we do, we are governed by New York State Law and of course the constitutions of both NY State and the United States of America. ….

Understanding that we are living through a health crisis that has created an economic crisis and therefore the restraints that we have on resources- our staff is working around the clock and many are putting their own health at risk- I believe we have acted sensibly and with great care.

… I believe that should the economic crisis not recede, certain, possibly many line items included in the budget will not be feasible. But not because there was never a will to complete them or that they were frivolous in nature. It is because we will be in a position where we must choose not to proceed in order to protect our community’s finances and that is why the budget for FY 20-21 must be flexible and adapt to our needs. Do I know how bad things will get and exactly which items will need to be sacrificed to solve the deficit we face? No. At this point no one can.

There are two changes included in this resolution: one to reduce the Library’s operating budget and use those savings to directly reduce the tax levy, and therefore the taxes our residents pay. The second is a reallocation of a planned salary increase for non-union employees to the COVID Contingent Account. Both changes are necessary now because without action, the monies would be allocated and at least partially distributed and unavailable for tax relief and additional protection from the crisis later.

…I want to conclude speaking directly to the tax increase. On a resident’s tax bill, our Village tax portion will increase by 1.46%. Village taxes cover all of our municipal services such as public safety, sanitation, water department, building department and all of other everyday services and account for roughly 18% of our total property taxes. The balance, of course, is separate from our Village government and is comprised of County taxes at roughly 17% and the remaining 65% is School taxes.

None of us are immune to the impacts of COVID-19 and I am in favor of doing everything I can in my role as your trustee to help. And that is why my message to anyone in the community who genuinely does not understand how we can increase taxes in the current environment is that all of us take this role extremely seriously, we are deftly aware that our decisions have implications and that we would not, in fact could not, advocate for any increase if we did not believe it is necessary at this point. I understand that many in our community are out of work, have seen their businesses severely impacted, and their savings diminished; there are residents who are rightfully worried, and those worries have nothing to do with political opportunism. I pray for better times for all of us financially, but my main concern currently is for all of our health and safety as well as the financial health of our village….

Our village has de facto term limits on its elected leaders. If we had chosen the politically expedient path, you would see seven trustees insisting on a tax reduction or at least a freeze. We might become more popular today and might not even be in these seats or facing reelection when the detriment of unwise choices comes back to haunt us. However, we, as individuals and as a collective board, look at our job as doing what is best for our community, not what might be in our own political interests.

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Trustee Jane Veron:

“In pre-COVID days, what feels like another lifetime, we finalized the tentative Village budget. After months of rigorous analysis, discussion and debate, we struck just the right balance – providing services our residents valued, investing in our future, and being responsible fiduciaries to our taxpayers.

Then COVID hit, and my knee jerk reaction was to cut taxes to the bone – no matter what. I knew that people would be hurting, and I wanted to do whatever I could to help. But when I moved past my emotional response, I realized that what felt good now would likely have perilous results later.

While I want to give taxpayer relief, how much is responsible to cut? Is it worth risking not having the wherewithal to pay our emergency workers overtime if COVID thinned their ranks? Could I justify not being able to regularly pick-up virus-infected trash? And what about the unanticipated costs that will likely arise? Just tonight, we have a resolution to buy more police uniforms with a note that we disposed of some because of COVID contamination. Could I have foreseen that?

The Village Board has discretion over 18% of your total tax bill. School and County taxes account for approximately 65% and 17%, respectively. Of the approximately $59MM Village budget, over 75% is non-negotiable – contractually obligated personnel-related or state-mandated expenses. The Village budget pays for services you rely upon – police, fire, sanitation, sewers, water, roads, recreation.

While none of us knows how the future will unfold, from this vantage point at this moment in time, non-property tax revenue will likely be in a precipitous decline, and we anticipate a revenue shortfall. In the ensuing months, Scarsdale will likely need to do more with less….

Tonight, we will vote on the revised budget that includes a property tax decrease and a proposed cut to salary increases for nonunion Village employees. It seems incongruous to defer hard earned increases to those who are working without break during this unprecedented time, but in preparing for the worst, we are choosing to allocate those funds to the COVID emergency account….Respected civic groups including the League of Women Voters and the Scarsdale Forum endorse our budget….

…This budget journey is just beginning. It is impossible to know right now how deep and far reaching the wrath of COVID19. There will be tough…

Ofer Eitan