Town & Village Make Progress On Taxes, Tunnel & Parking
Flooding, Garbage, & Parking Permits Also on Joint Agenda
by Judy Silberstein
(February 6, 2008) All ten members of Larchmont Village and Mamaroneck Town's muncipal boards gatherered at Village Hall on Monday, February 4 for a far-ranging, 3 ½-hour discussion on topics of mutual concern. "The meeting arose out of mutual interest in exploring ways to save money and make government more efficient in both municipalities," said Town Supervisor Valerie O'Keeffe.
On the agenda were items already handled jointly (garbage); potential new collaborations (on taxes and flooding) and issues squarely in the other municipality’s domain (the train tunnel and parking permits). A separate executive session, closed to the public, covered "nursery property/joint leaf depot/fields."
Hommocks Pipe & Pine Brook Flooding?
“Cut to the chase,” said Mayor Liz Feld, “what you want is some dough.”
The “dough” was not forthcoming.
“I don’t think Larchmont residents would applaud us for writing a check for this [Mamaroneck pipe] without also having a broader agreement on Pine Brook [flooding],” where 15% of the water originates in Mamaroneck Town, said Larchmont Trustee Jim Millstein.
Projects to ameliorate the flooding could cost $14M or more, leading Supervisor O’Keeffe to question how many homes are actually harmed (beyond wet basements, a common and historic condition). Town Councilwoman Phyllis Wittner asked if Larchmont is “really entertaining” any of the proposed solutions. (See: Pine Brook Flooding: $14M in Potential Fixes To Be Discussed Feb 11.)
“Absolutely,” responded Mayor Feld, though “not at any cost.” Larchmont has already applied for $8M in federal funds, and will be pursuing other county, state and federal sources.Showing evidence of intermunicipal cooperation is critical in obtaining these grants, stressed Mayor Feld. She invited the Town Board to attend the February 11 Village Board meeting, where Larchmont's engineering consultant will present the newest research and recommendations.
Next Steps - Short Term: 1. Mamaroneck Town will continue, on its own, with fixing the Hommocks pipe, hopefully by mid-March with completion by early April. Starting the pipe work at the outfall will minimize construction delays elsewhere in Flint Park. Also, to inform future conversations on cost sharing, Mr. Altieri will put together maps of the entire watershed and locate interconnections between the two municipalities’ drain systems.
Mid-Term: Sharing money is hard; an easier task may be to adopt land use regulations that reflect best practices and are standard in Larchmont and Mamaroneck. Councilwoman Nancy Seligson (active with multiple environmental initiatives) and Village Trustee Richard Ward (assigned to the Pine Brook issue) will research recommendations from prior county-level studies.
Conceptual: If implemented, the regional stormwater district proposed by the Long Island Sound Watershed Intermunicipal Council (LISWIC) might help plan and finance future pipe and flood projects in 12 adjoining municipalities. (See: TOM Joins Storm Water District.) Meanwhile, Trustee Jim Millstein suggested formation of a mini-district with just Larchmont and Mamaroneck.
Larchmont’s Tunnel – Mamaroneck’s Woe
Long an eye-sore, the underground passage from the Larchmont train station to a Mamaroneck Town parking lot is also a perennial source of complaints that Supervisor O’Keeffe would like Larchmont to address. (Residents Petition to Improve Railroad Tunnel.) “I’ve been in office 14 years, I’ve had it,” she said. Because of repairs to the stairs at the far end of the inbound platform, more people – almost all of them residents of Mamaroneck Town - are using the tunnel and noticing broken lights, peeling paint, graffiti, litter and puddles – something Larchmont is responsible for fixing.
Mayor Feld admitted, “It’s being totally neglected – that’s unacceptable.” But costs are high, perhaps as much as $275K for a complete renovation. The tunnel is hard for police to supervise, so vandalism is a perennial problem. And Larchmont Village has been arguing, so far unsuccessfully, that the New York Thruway Authority should first pay for structural repairs to control water seepage. Structure is the Thruway’s job; maintenance is Larchmont’s, according to the 1957 agreement under which the parking deck and tunnel were constructed. Trustee Marlene Kolbert called $50K for paint and power washing “a ridiculous amount” and said “without addressing the leaking, it won’t help.”
Mutual Promise: “We’ll do the short term work immediately – clean, paint, fix the pump and you’ll join us in lobbying Albany,” Mayor Feld offered to Supervisor O’Keeffe, who has connections at the Thruway Authority.
Update: A new leak found this week in the tunnel ceiling will add to Larchmont's case before the Thruway Authority, which promised a new review of the situation, Mayor Feld reported on Thursday.
Parking Permits: Another Town Trauma Under Village Control
“We had a really bad experience last year,” said Mayor Feld. After Mamaroneck residents “made childish allegations” against Larchmont’s clerk, threatened to sue or claimed they never got their renewal notices, everyone was required to apply in person on November 1, 2007 for 2008 permits to Lot 3 (the upper deck at the Larchmont train station). There were unlimited permits at $50 each for Larchmont Village residents;100 permits at $450 for out-of-towners (largely from Larchmont Woods); and 360 permits at $100 for the rest of Mamaroneck Town.
Both boards fielded numerous complaints from Mamaroneck residents left without permits, although additional permits did become available later on.
Proposal: To the surprise of the Larchmont board members, their Mamaroneck colleagues asked that they consider charging the higher non-resident rate to anyone outside Larchmont Village, but to give preference to Mamaroneck residents. Even at $450, the cost would be below what is charged at the Mamaroneck or New Rochelle's train stations. On Mr. Ward’s suggestion, Mamaroneck will also look into installing additional bike racks.
Properties in Larchmont Village appear on two tax rolls – one for Mamaroneck Town and one for Larchmont Village. The two assessments do not differ significantly, but create double work for the assessor, a position shared by the two municipalities. So why not have Larchmont adopt Mamaroneck’s roll?
One sticking point is the tax grievance process: Mr. Millstein argued that Larchmont would be at a disadvantage if Mamaroneck had unilateral control on settling certioraris that would reduce Larchmont’s revenue.
Raising one tax topic motivated Mr. Millstein to take "a small digression" to another - property revaluation, a much thornier issue.
Although Mayor Feld asserted, “It doesn’t make sense to do one (merge tax rolls) without the other,” a lengthy discussion ensued of potential costs (as high as $1M) and potential pitfalls.
Current valuations, used to levy property taxes, are based on valuations last conducted in 1965, creating gross inequities, revenue loss through tax certioraris and higher Westchester County tax rates, noted Mr. Millstein. But a potential revaluation raises homeowners’ fears of tax escalation and politicians’ fears of being dumped. “It would have to be thought out – older people will panic,” said Supervisor O’Keeffe.
The issue was seriously considered in the late 1990s. “Steve [Altieri] and I went through this,” said Trustee Anne McAndrews, who was on a task force whose recommendations were never implemented. “The difference is now we have the political support,” she said.
Support may be more problematic in Mamaroneck Village, with properties in two towns, Mamaroneck and Rye. "They had such a bad experience," said Ms. Seligson, referring to a controversial 2004 revaluation in Rye Town. However, with its relatively homogeneous properties (and by using different methods) Mamaroneck Town might face fewer issues, Supervisor O’Keeffe suggested.
Mr. Millstein applauded the boards for stepping up on an issue “everyone for 45 years has stepped away from.” He recommended a joint committee. Mayor Feld suggested Larchmont be represented by Ms. McAndrews, because of her prior history, but Supervisor O’Keeffe was not ready to proceed “until we talk with Village of Mamaroneck.”
Next Steps: The Town will revisit the issue of keeping Larchmont “in the loop” on certioraris. And Supervisor O’Keeffe will reach out to the Mamaroneck Village on revaluation. She also hopes to initiate a joint meeting between the Mamaroneck Town and Mamaroneck Village boards on their mutual interests.
New Garbage Routes Coming?
Change – from minor to medium – is recommended, based on a soon-to-be-released study by the Larchmont-Mamaroneck Joint Sanitation Commission. Mr. Altieri described draft proposals calling for consolidation of routes at a savings of $380K. Apartments and businesses, which constitute 3% of local pick-ups but generate 46% of the waste, could be served on a separate route and charged new fees to allocate costs more fairly and encourage recycling. One option would charge annual fees of $550 per garbage dumpster but nothing for separate recycling containers.
Next Steps: Public hearings will be scheduled soon before both boards to consider enacting new laws to implement recommendations from the study.
"It was historic," said Mayor Feld later, reflecting on the joint meeting. "It covered a lot of meaty issues and it's clear there is strong common ground to move forward." She was also impressed with the amount of work accomplished and planned. "This is a group of doers," she said.