Author Archives: Mary Marvin

Marvin-Mary

Column: New York state villages face added burdens

The New York state comptroller’s office recently announced that beginning with the June 2016 budget cycle, the 2 percent tax cap law will translate into only a 0.12 percent tax ceiling for villages in compliance.

This unrealistic limit was extrapolated from a signature piece of legislation for the governor, which limits spending growth to either 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.

In contrast, state spending is not limited in this way, nor are the projected increases in the more than 200 unfunded mandates annually delivered to villages from Albany.

Clearly, the tax cap operates in a politically expedient vacuum devoid of economic realities.

Although it is rhetorically brilliant, the long-term detriment of the tax cap cannot be overestimated.

As illustrated, if Bronxville were to come in under the cap in this budget cycle, we would have to forfeit $5 million-plus in FEMA flood mitigation monies because our 12.5 percent matching share would exceed the tax cap limit.

Unlike the exception made for school districts, capital improvements and infrastructure repairs undertaken by a municipality are not exempt from the tax cap spending calculation. This prohibition creates the most powerful disincentive for communities to repair one of the nation’s most aging infrastructures.

In an effort to counter the unrealistic 0.12 percent spending increase ceiling, many of our neighboring villages, including Tuckahoe, Irvington, Dobbs Ferry, Ardsley and Hastings, petitioned for a 3 percent hotel tax on each rented room; the logic being that the revenue would be a user tax, rather than a property tax, and the increased funds would at least keep local services flat.

Even though the governor signed an almost identical bill allowing the city of Yonkers to generate this revenue, he vetoed it for local villages after most of Westchester’s elected officials and the bipartisan Westchester Municipal Officials Association objected to it.

Why are there disproportionate burdens on villages, including the unrealistic 0.12 percent tax cap, the lack of an exemption for capital/infrastructure repairs and the continuation of the Metro-North tax for municipalities only, which cost our village a half percent tax point yearly?

As a close follower of the governor’s statements, I have concluded that the tax cap legislation and the recent veto are rooted in the governor’s overarching goal of municipal consolidations.

When he was our attorney general, Andrew Cuomo’s office submitted a bill allowing any citizen of New York state to start the process of the dissolution of a village, regardless of whether they lived in that village, by garnering the support of only 10 percent of the residents who voted in the last mayoral election. To put the governor’s bill into context, a non-resident would need to find only eight Bronxville residents to force a villagewide referendum or vote on dissolution. The incredibly flawed bill was amended several times, but the new bill passed has provisions that require communities to vote on their own dissolution before a consolidation plan and financial impact statement are produced. The village of Seneca Falls went this route and is now mired in years of litigation between cost sharing and financial obligations with its merged town.

On the subject of consolidation, Cuomo states that there are 10,500 government units in New York state, which are far too many in his estimation. Refuting this, the state comptroller’s office sets the number at 4,200. Included in both calculations are all of the Off Track Betting operations and Industrial Development Authorities, which have no taxing authority, so both numbers are misnomers.

In his stump speeches, the governor states, “I support consolidations. I think if you said to the taxpayers of most districts in this state, I know you like to have your name and identity. Is it worth $2,000 a year—the supposed, though undocumented, savings from consolidation—to have your name and identity, they would say, ‘Change my name.’”

The statistics don’t bare this out.

Since the most recent revision of the Consolidation Law was enacted in 2007, thanks to the governor’s efforts as attorney general, one community in the state, Altmar, with a population of 407, has consolidated with its neighbor.

Based on the federal census of local governments per capita, there is also no correlation between the number of governmental layers and a person’s relative tax burden.

Two of the most intensely-governed states are New Hampshire and Oklahoma, yet they are two of the least taxed.

New York and New Jersey are near the bottom in governmental units, but are near the top in tax burden. This is the result of New York’s “trickle down” policy of making local governments shoulder tax burdens shifted from Albany.

In Westchester County alone, $225 million collected annually at the local level is remitted to Albany for the state Medicaid program. Westchester County taxpayers could see this $225 million in local tax relief immediately if the governor and the state legislature would only do what 49 other states have done already and fund Medicaid
at the state level.

The consolidation theme mirrors the tax cap mantra in its political appeal and simplicity of message, but again does not address the true underlying issues. Eliminating a few positions in a police or public works department does not ameliorate the underlying unsustainable pension system. Rather, consolidation puts an added distance between the taxpayer and their government. I would also argue that elected officials closest to the impact of their decisions, and personally sharing the financial consequences thereof, make the more efficient decisions and are directly answerable to their constituents, be it at Village Hall or in the aisles of Value Drugs.

Consolidation decisions should be made on factors unrelated to the vicissitudes of the current Albany agenda, rather on the benefits to the most important special interest group, the New York state taxpayers.

Marvin-Mary

Column: Thanksgiving and practicing gratitude

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, I was able to participate in what are hands down my two favorite annual events in the village: the visit to Village Hall by all of the Bronxville School second graders and my participation in the village Thanksgiving ecumenical service. Seemingly quite incongruous, they dovetail around moments and themes of hope, gratitude and thanksgiving.

The coming together of all of our religious institutions is like no other. My only wish is that more villagers were aware of it and came to share in the service. This year it was held at Village Lutheran Church and their Children’s Choir is one not to miss. Their voices are ethereal.

My role, as tradition, is to read the Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation, a yearly White House message.

Since President Obama’s 2015 statement was not released prior to the event, I chose to read one from President Kennedy. Not only was he a “native son” to Bronxville but his words below, written 54 years ago, were so prescient for our world in 2015.

“This year, as the harvest draws near its close and the year approaches its end, awesome perils again remain to be faced. Yet we have, as in the past, ample reason to be thankful for the abundance of our blessings. We are grateful for the blessings of faith and health and strength and for the imperishable spiritual gifts of love and hope. We give thanks, too, for our freedom as a nation; for the strength of our arms and the faith of our friends; for the beliefs and confidence we share; for our determination to stand firmly for what we believe to be right and to resist mightily what we believe to be base; and for the heritage of liberty bequeathed by our ancestors which we are privileged to preserve for our children and our children’s children.

“It is right that we should be grateful for the plenty amidst which we live: the productivity of our farms, the output of our factories, the skill of our artisans, and the ingenuity of our investors. But in the midst of our thanksgiving, let us not be unmindful of the plight of those in many parts of the world to whom hunger is no stranger and the plight of those millions more who live without the blessings of liberty and freedom. To all we can offer the sustenance of hope that we shall not fail in our unceasing efforts to make this a peaceful and prosperous world for all mankind.”

The evening’s service continued around the themes of gratitude and thanks and it harkened me back to my visit with the second graders in the days prior. The youngsters were delightfully grateful about life in general—thrilled to sit in the mayor’s chair, see the jail cells, hammer the gavel and receive a sheet of stickers from the police chief. Joy and thanks lit up Village Hall, making it a time like no other. I quite honestly envied their unjaded attitude and vowed to be more like a second grader in my life’s outlook.

The children’s visit caused me to re-read my favorite Op-Ed column from The New York Times, “The Structure of Gratitude” by David Brooks, which I keep folded in my wallet as a personal reminder.

To quote some salient passages:

“Gratitude happens when some kindness exceeds expectation, when it is undeserved. Gratitude is a sort of laughter of the heart that comes about after some surprising kindness.

“Most people feel grateful some of the time—after someone saves you from a mistake or brings you food during an illness. But some people seem grateful dispositionally. They seem thankful practically all of the time.

“These people may have big ambitions, but they have preserved small anticipations. As most people get on in life and earn more status, they often get used to more respect and nicer treatment. But people with dispositional gratitude take nothing for granted. They take a beginner’s thrill at a word of praise, at another’s good performance or at each sunny day. These people are present-minded and hyperresponsive.

“G.K. Chesterton wrote that ‘thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.’

“People with grateful dispositions see their efforts grandly but not themselves. Life doesn’t surpass their dreams but it nicely surpasses their expectations.”

Rest assured all of our second graders have dispositional gratitude along with inquisitive minds and candor, politeness in manner and kindness toward their peers. May they always be this way.

If they are any indication, the future is in good hands for years to come in our village. May we all emulate their refreshing view of the world with one caveat: just don’t ask the mayor how old she is!

Marvin-Mary

Column: Beware the ‘IRS,’ street trees and leaves updates

This week’s column touches on topics that are disparate by nature but share timeliness.

The week before Thanksgiving, approximately 25 residents called or visited our police department, reporting very official-sounding calls they received from the “IRS.”

An aggressive and sophisticated phone scam targeting taxpayers has been making the rounds throughout the country. Convincing callers claim to be IRS agents. They use fake names and bogus IRS badge numbers. They know a lot about their targets, often using one’s name, address and other personal information to make the call sound official. They even know how to manipulate the caller ID system so IRS can appear on your phone. These bogus call centers have recently originated in Virginia and even Turkey.

Victims are told they owe money to the IRS and must pay promptly through a preloaded debit card or wire transfer. If the victim refuses to agree to the demand, they are then threatened with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver’s license. Conversely, victims may be told they have a refund due in order to be tricked into sharing private information that will be used to defraud at a later date.

If the phone isn’t answered, the scammers often leave an “urgent” callback request.

Please note, the IRS will never:

call to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill;

demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe;

require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card;

ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone; or

threaten to bring in local police or other law enforcement groups to have you arrested for nonpayment.

If you know you don’t owe any taxes or have no reason to think that you do, give out no information and hang up immediately. Then, reach out to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, TIGTA, to report the call, use their “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page or call 800-366-4484.

If you owe or think you owe taxes, call the IRS directly at 800-829-1040.

Our village police department lacks jurisdiction to be of immediate help since the scams are out-of-state transactions. However, they too are alerting the appropriate agencies when a scam is reported.

The IRS has received reports of 736,000 scam contacts and approximately 4,550 victims have collectively paid more than $23 million to scammers.

Local scammers have imitated the IRS scheme and are currently calling merchants and residents impersonating Con Edison and United Water staffers, demanding immediate payment with threat of a service cutoff. Hang up at once.

Changing gears, this summer saw many trees die in our business district, resulting in unattractive stumps and unsightly tree pits. Professional arborists told us they were probably the wrong “street tree” when planted as the root systems most likely died due to space constraints. For example, oak trees would need 20-foot-wide sidewalks for the size of the tree pits they need to flourish.

We sought professional advice and in recent days have planted Swamp White Oaks and European Hornbeams trees which are much more conducive to longevity in a well-traveled business district.

We surrounded the trees with Flexi Pave Tree Surround, a relatively new product just installed in the Georgetown, Md., shopping district and the trails of Yellowstone National Park.

Flexi Pave is made with recycled rubber mixed with gravel and then combined with a binding agent. No particulate matter, debris or fumes are ever released. It is LEED certified, environmentally sound and qualifies for energy credits.

Its pervious surface filters and cleanses rain and runoff water, removing harmful chemicals including nitrates and phosphorous before they reach the root system and groundwater.

Flexi Pave is an excellent solution for well-traveled sidewalks when space is limited for pedestrian, stroller and wheelchair passage. The composite, unlike grates, allows tree trunks and roots to grow freely, and unlike concrete and asphalt, it does not crack or heave.

Of great importance, given the proliferation of slips and falls in the village in the past few years, is its perfectly level surface. The lack of a tree pit depression also prevents trash accumulation and any resulting rodent infestation.

Granted, it is less aesthetically pleasing than green grass or expensive wrought iron grates, but it makes sense for the village as our goal is to have healthy trees, strollers, walkers, outdoor dining, floral displays and book stalls all co-exist safely to create a busy, vibrant downtown.

Lastly, our public works staff has reported that this is the worst year they can remember for leaves being deposited on the roads, right-of-ways and near sewer grates. This is particularly distressing, as we spent thousands of taxpayer dollars cleaning our sewer systems only to now have leaves clog the system after every rain event. The slippery leaves are also contributing to car accidents and pedestrian slips and falls.

We ask that you or your landscaper move the leaves back on your property and instruct any helpers about the proper disposal of leaves going forward.

Marvin-Mary

Column: More on property reassessment

Last week’s column on reassessment sparked even more conversation on the subject, worthy of a second column explaining additional intricacies of the process.

Though New York state agencies strongly urge every municipality to reassess, this is another of the many unfunded mandates. Cities and towns receive pennies on the dollar and villages are ineligible for any state aid. Leaving 100 percent of the costs to communities sends a very contradictory message.

Thankfully, since our post-2007 property valuations were so accurate, our certioraris, grievances and small claims proceedings dropped exponentially, resulting in a recouping of our outlay for the revaluation in only three years—a great return on investment. In contrast, other Westchester communities commonly bond for tax settlements as their successful grievance awards are in the hundreds.

Our numbers were so accurate and thus fair only because our residents cooperated and opened their doors to the valuators. More than 90 percent of our residents—a record—allowed interior inspections.

We did something that I believe was key to our success. Our inspectors were instructed to view the property for value and not simultaneously look for unpermitted improvements or missing Certificates of Occupancy. Undocumented improvements were uncoupled with the valuation process because the goal of revaluation is to achieve accurate valuation and with it tax equity, and not be a punitive tool.

Our only regret was something we thought of post-revaluation. In retrospect, we should have also declared the valuation period as one of amnesty for all unpermitted work and offered residents overdue permits at the regular price structure. As it stands, when unpermitted work and missing C of O’s are discovered at the time one chooses to sell, permit costs are doubled and tripled because of the post facto review.

A problem in other communities that we thankfully did not encounter was the discovery of illegal subdivisions of houses. In these cases, a municipality cannot turn a blind eye to possible safety and fire violations.

There is no mathematical formula that an assessor uses to arrive at valuations; fireplaces are not numerically worth “X,” bathrooms “X x 2,” etc.

It is a valuation of the whole with some subjectivity in the equation. Is the house in good condition? Roof? Brick work? Is the kitchen outdated? Does the basement have water marks? Is the property level usable? Do the bathrooms need remodeling? Some features can also be a plus or a minus. Swimming pools and corner lots come to mind. If a pool is too close to doors, or not properly fenced, it can be a negative. If a corner house has two beautiful “front” facades that is a plus; if it’s on a noisy congested corner, it is a negative.

It is also important to note that sales price is a major indicator of value, but it does not always translate into market value. For example, a family estate may want a quick sale of a home that was purchased decades ago and will accept a low value since the profit margin is so high anyway. A corporation may own a home and want to divest quickly when an executive is transferred. Conversely, bidding wars on unique houses may result in the final buyer overpaying.

Making an improvement, large or small, to one’s home is not a legal loophole for an assessor to raise a home to full market value.

For example, if an assessor believes a home is under-assessed by say $200,000 and no townwide reassessment is contemplated, he or she cannot use the value of a new bathroom to raise the assessment to market value. Only the value of the bathroom itself may be added. In essence, a building permit is not an opening to revalue an entire home.

Even though single-family homeowners pay the lion’s share of property taxes in almost every Westchester community, it is not wise to try to offload taxes on the commercial businesses when the businesses are not large corporate entities, but rather mom and pop operations.

Since merchants, landlords and building owners cannot avail themselves of the public school system because the rule for school eligibility in New York state is domicile, not taxable property, they will never add to the school population.

Since increased taxes are part of the cost of doing business, they have to be absorbed in some way, most often in product cost.

If merchants can’t stay competitive, stores close, our share of the county sales tax revenue decreases and empty store fronts contribute to the diminution of property values.

All tax grievances in Bronxville come before an impartial nonpartisan board of village residents, who often have an expertise in finance, real estate or property valuation. Elected officials have no role in property valuation.

Since almost all village homes have received interior inspections, visits are only made by the assessor to value building improvements.

Our tax roll stays current by constant update of values based on real estate sales coupled with computer modeling and exterior inspections. This plan was approved by the appropriate state agencies and valuation professionals.

Marvin-Mary

Column: On property values and local control

Property revaluation, completed in our village in 2007, has been recently undertaken by nearby communities including Mamaroneck and Scarsdale. It is also on the drawing board in Yonkers for the upcoming fiscal year and was the deciding issue in the recent Ossining election. Residents there voted in the slate committed to continuing the revaluation that was already underway. Our neighbors in Eastchester have not revalued in more than 50 years, and Mount Vernon holds the record for a revaluation last done in 1898.

The above municipal initiatives are required because New York state leaves the process in local control. Not even our county will commit to a Westchesterwide property revaluation, and legislation at the state level to do the same has died many times. It reached the governor’s desk once but was vetoed by then-Gov. Pataki.

By contrast, Connecticut requires revaluation every five years and Massachusetts every three years regardless of which party is in office, taking it completely out of the political realm. Florida has a very interesting valuation law, nicknamed “Welcome Stranger,” as the property assessment is immediately tagged at whatever the latest buyer was willing to pay at the time of closing.

Traditionally, New York politicians have shied away from undertaking the process because it has always been considered a career-killer.

The reason why is that statistically the process most often results in one-third of the property values increasing and thus taxes going up; another third staying flat and the remaining third receiving a decrease. So after an arduous and often contentious process, potentially 66 percent of the voting public may be unhappy with the outcome, certainly not a career-enhancer.

The process is nuanced, esoteric and more an art than a science, and therefore, many misconceptions still exist around valuation methods and the role of government and the property owner.

The following topics are issues that frequently cause misunderstanding or need explanation:

Local governments have no control over the taxation formula for co-ops. It is governed by state law. Co-ops are valued on a stream of income or comparable rental approach versus the market value formula used for single-family homes. The genesis for this hybrid method grew out of the depressed housing market in New York City in the early ‘70s, causing lawmakers to fear entire buildings would be abandoned by their owners due to unprofitability. To encourage conversion from apartment units to homeownership, the co-op “discount” proved the incentive.

In his former job, our Village Assessor Gerry Iagallo actually brought an early lawsuit in the mid-1980s challenging the co-op law’s ambiguity and equity, but was unsuccessful as have all judicial and legislative attempts that have followed. In essence, the co-op method of taxation has been with us almost 50 years.

Under-assessed homes cannot have their values increased unless a full revaluation is undertaken so they often remain undervalued for decades. The grievance process can only serve to lower assessments. In a village, by state law, there is only one opportunity to “grieve” a perceived inaccurate assessment. This occurs on the third Tuesday of February, with applications for grievance available by Feb. 1.

A revaluation is only a snapshot at one moment in time and will become “old” or stale almost immediately, unless constantly readjusted to reflect market changes, which the village does assiduously.

Historically speaking, at the time of the village’s last reassessment in 1962, the homes on the Hilltop were in disrepair and true “white elephants” in terms of resale value, versus the brand new split-level homes with new appliances and family rooms. Hence, Hilltop homes were considered under-assessed and 1960s homes over-assessed in the prism of the 2007 value determinations.

Re-assessment never generates additional income due to value changes. It simply changes the size of the slices in the community “pie” to reflect equity. School boards and village boards set taxes based on operating expenses divided equally by the net worth of all real estate taxes. The assessor has no role in setting or collecting taxes.

In Bronxville, the total amount exempted from taxation due to all forms of partially-exempt property, together with fully-exempt property represent 19.9 percent of all taxable value. The impact on a single-family home worth approximately $2 million is: village and school taxes with exempt property fully taxable: $27,676; village and school taxes with exempt property not fully taxable: $33,563, creating a difference of $5,887.

By law, due to their education and experience, assessors receive the legal presumption that his or her valuation number is correct until proven inaccurate. It is a shifting of the traditional burden of proof. That being said, the process is not designed to be adversarial; rather, the parties should compromise or litigate if necessary with equity as the only goal and residents are entitled to a full explanation by an assessor for the reasons behind a valuation.

Property taxes ae not based on the highest and best use of the property (the use representing the greatest return of the real estate). Rather, property tax is based on the actual use (even though the property is not being used to its full potential) as of the appropriate legal Valuation Date in a given community.

Ultimately, fairness dictates that the process be undertaken to address the inequities in antiquated tax rolls. Property values are the only drivers of local taxes and if this unpinning is inherently unfair, it affects the entire integrity of a government.

Marvin-Mary

Column: Mayor, what’s going on?

The level of activity in the village—construction, paving, striping, and beautification—is currently at an unprecedented level. The stars all seemed to have aligned, creating a great deal of simultaneous activity. Ideally, we would have orderly staggered the projects to minimize congestion, but most of the work is determined by the schedule of the providers.

Con Edison is the most representative example. As you may recall, this summer we waited a considerably long time to have the gas line installed on Kraft Avenue so the proposed diner could begin remodeling. When Con Ed returned to repair a gas line on Tanglewylde Avenue near Midland Gardens and repave the work they had done on Ridge Road, we had no choice but to make the necessary accommodations. As point of fact, Con Ed no longer has an in-house construction division, so projects to return streets back to pre-excavation conditions are bundled and then subbed out to independent contractors. Hence the often long-term presence and proliferation of metal road plates throughout Westchester County.

Continuing on the Con Ed front, many of you kindly report lamp post outages only to become frustrated when the lights stay dark. If it is a bulb issue, we do replace immediately. Our night police patrols actually have a formalized procedure for reporting the outages to our Department of Public Works, DPW. If the outage continues, it is a Con Ed issue that often relates to conduit connections that have been reported.

After quite literally requesting new fiber optic cabling in our downtown for years now, Cablevision has sought to undertake the project. The needed trenching extends all along Kraft Avenue and Park Place, from Cedar Street to the People’s Bank. The new service will make second floor offices more attractive to rent to professionals, and as an added benefit, if anyone is an Optimum/Cablevision customer, the Wi-Fi signal will extend to the train platforms.

The Con Ed and Cablevision projects are two of the biggest in scope, but something is happening in virtually every quadrant of the village.

This is just a sampling:

New trees are being planted in the pits in the business district and grates are being repaired or removed to provide easier passage.

Bids were received at the end of October for the purchase of new street lights and are currently being evaluated and we are now requesting bids for their installation.

Leaf season is in full swing for our DPW staff. We asked that you keep the leaves out of the roadways as they further narrow our streets as well as clog the storm drains.

Our outside contractor is currently televising and cleaning the sewer pipes in the business district. Much of the work will be done at night to minimize disruption. We are finding tree root obstructions, crumbling pipes, dozens of water bottles and, even hard to imagine, a bowling ball. We will be investing in sewer grates that block the ability to toss refuse into our water system because the labor intensive work to remove the volume of debris is time-consuming and expensive.

The front walk at Village Hall is in a redesign stage as the synthetic materials used several decades ago did not stand up to the test of time and weather.

After months of searching for proper bricks to resurface the yellow brick road after almost 100 years of use, compatible bricks have now been delivered and are being installed as I write.

Our historical decorative street signs, which have been damaged by weather and accidents over the years, are also being recast. Since so many are missing, we will be replacing them in stages. The village owes a great debt of thanks to the Bronxville Historical Conservancy for their generous funding of both the yellow bricks and the template to fabricate the replacement street signs.

Striping of crosswalks and lane lines is in progress throughout the village, with the largest expanse covering the length of Kensington Road.  Also on Kensington Road, the tattered construction fence will be replaced with a more attractive alternative.

The village has made a commitment to rejuvenate the paddle tennis program and has hired Jessica Watts, a seasoned professional, to oversee the operation. She comes to Bronxville with more than a decade of sports management experience, having served most recently as director of recreational programs for Park City, Utah. New programs are already in place for players of all ages and skill sets. By going to the village’s Paddle Tennis page under the Recreation Department heading on the village website, a resident  can purchase a permit, sign up for a court, receive information about upcoming events or email Jessica at jwatts@vobny.com with individual inquiries. We are so hoping to see our students and new residents embrace the program.

We at Village Hall genuinely appreciate your patience as we make progress on these many fronts throughout the village.

Marvin-Mary

Column: Pay-by-phone parking option coming soon

I am pleased to announce that the village will be rolling out a pay-by-phone option for village parking meters beginning early 2016. In preparation, village staff is meeting with constituent groups to explain the mechanics of the new app system. The first of such meetings took place on Oct. 22 with members of our Chamber of Commerce.

The system is owned and operated by PANGO Inc., an Israeli company headquartered in New York City. An industry pioneer, PANGO holds many of the patents in the mobile parking technology field. With coverage all over Israel and Germany, PANGO also operates in many American cities including Harrisburg, Penn., Philadelphia, Phoenix, Scranton, Penn., Alexandria, Va., and nearby Mount Vernon.

In essence, the PANGO service is a downloaded app that allows parkers to pay their meter charge by phone. This alleviates the need for a pocketful of coins and allows people to add time remotely if running late up to the allotted hour limit on the meter. For example, if I prepaid for an hour in a two-hour parking zone, I can add an additional hour while in a waiting room or under a hair dryer.

PANGO programs its systems to recognize the rules of each parking zone in the village as well as each meter number entered by the user. As a result, the system knows what to charge and how long the user may park. Parkers may also opt to receive an automated alert that notifies them that their meter is about to expire. The alert is typically 15 minutes before expiration but may be adjusted to the needs of the particular app user.

There is a fee of 25 cents per transaction. Although parkers may use PANGO to pay their fees at all metered spaces in the village, the coin payment option will never go away. PANGO is simply a second way to pay.

The app may be downloaded via the App Store or by accessing PANGO via mypango.com. Users complete a brief form entering the license plate numbers—and can register an unlimited number of vehicles—and credit card information. The sign-up process takes approximately two minutes and there is no fee for the download. PANGO works with iPhone and Android, but not BlackBerry devices. Once the app is installed, customers just have to open the app, choose their vehicle and enter a meter number. It can even be done on the run or from a train seat if pressed for time. Those who choose not to use the mobile app may still pay by credit card with PANGO by calling the company’s dedicated phone line at 1-877-697-2646.

Our parking enforcement officers will have synchronized hand-held devices to monitor both coin and app payment methods. Should an app user experience a glitch or confusion at the time of use, they may call a staffed call-in number and receive assistance within 60 seconds.

We expect to have instructional forums for any interested groups including our senior citizens and school families. PANGO will provide several thousand brochures with all the prompts for new users as well as on the ground helpers during the actual roll out period.

Not only is the system an advantageous alternative for village parkers, it also has built-in services that can assist our merchants and our chamber. Merchants can advertise sales, extended hours of business, or offer free patron parking in the app format. The messages can also be almost instantaneous in nature. For example, as you type in your parking space number, you may read that your favorite store is having a sale that afternoon or is offering free parking if you come and shop or dine that day.

The Chamber of Commerce can also use the app to announce local events including street concerts or sidewalk sales.

Ideally, the village plan was to simultaneously roll out the PANGO app with the evening changes in parking meter enforcement. However, due to an unforeseen glitch in the synchronization of computer equipment, PANGO is delayed.

In the interest of fairness, we will not be enforcing the 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. meter payment until the non-coin option is available. We will make sure all will be informed of when the new program app and concurrent enforcement takes effect.

Due to the increase in staffing throughout the village, businesses and institutions, as well as the increase in service-oriented businesses versus the traditional soft goods stores, parking is at an all-time premium.

The completion of the Kensington Garage in the spring of 2016 will alleviate some of the parking stress and we hope PANGO can too. To learn more about the application, log on to mypango.com or call Village Hall at 337-6500.

Marvin-Mary

Column: Parking advice from the past

I was cleaning out a cupboard last week at Village Hall and came across a newspaper from 1939 with a lead article entitled, “What Do We Do About Parking?” I immediately stopped to read the article looking for the elusive answer only to learn the title was rhetorical, not solution-oriented.

Issues come and go in Bronxville, but not parking. Since schools have reopened, residents have returned from vacation, store traffic has increased and service organizations have geared up, the issue is again front and center.

The parking needs of the many constituent groups in the village require the most delicate of balancing with the domino effects often unforeseen. I am quite sure that the trustees and I don’t always make the best or most popular decisions in this arena, but we do truly look hard at the needs of all the stakeholders we are elected to represent.

In light of the valid, but often divergent and conflicting needs of each constituent group, I thought it might be helpful to understand our thought processes as we try to balance the needs of each group, while being mindful that every one of them is integral to the rich fabric that defines Bronxville. The following are just a few vignettes that illustrate some of the conundrums we face:

The complaint of the merchant tired of their fellow merchant or employees feeding the meter all day in front of a neighboring store and impeding the free flow of parking for potential customers versus the doctor, restaurateur or hair salon owner on the same block pleading that their clientele needs the meter-feeding option to complete their services.

The restaurateur, movie theater owner or gym owner who desires free evening parking meters for their businesses while not recognizing that the same free meters entice folks to park in our business district and then head to Manhattan for the evening via train in order to avoid $40-plus city garage fee.

The West Side beauty salon owner or restauranteur who needs lengthy meter time for their customers to enjoy their services while not making the time interval so attractive that it becomes an alternative to the more expensive hospital parking garage.

The fact that the increasingly tight parking situation is also an outgrowth of the success of our institutions. In the recent past, our nursery schools have added sections, our senior citizens’ group has grown in size and offerings, our refurbished library has attracted new patrons and our public school’s enrollment and footprint has expanded significantly, all without the needed additional parking spaces in the equation. (As a point of interest, after surveying my fellow Westchester elected officials, Bronxville government officials were the only ones who are perceived to have a role either historically or de facto in finding parking for school employees.)

The above leads to Bronxville school teachers being frustrated as they circle the blocks looking for parking and competing with postal workers who have an inadequate staff lot, or their very own students who drove to school. Paid parking placards have offered a partial solution but other village groups that are integral to our village makeup—be it religious institutions, private schools, seniors or hardworking merchants—would like placards as well.

It goes without saying that many people move to our village precisely for our outstanding public school. As government officials, we need them to stay post-school and continue to support the tax base and contribute to village life. Bottom line, if every resident in the village housed a school family, we could not financially or structurally survive. That being said, it is vital that our government provide services and amenities, including parking, to keep folks in the village.

Everyone should continue to advocate for their constituency’s parking needs. On any given day, a resident library patron will call frustrated that they couldn’t park to use the facility; a school parent with the same frustration will call as they seek to park to volunteer or catch a student performance; a senior citizen will go home because parking options were too far from the activity; a resident will not be able to unload groceries or have a friend, relative or babysitter park near their home because someone parked there at 7 and left at 5.

These all very valid but often competing interests of our constituencies must be treated as fairly and as even-handedly as possible, hence some of the patchwork parking regulations whose logic isn’t immediately apparent.

Not only do we need to increase our inventory, which will somewhat happen with the building of the Kensington Road project. In the interim, all of our stakeholder groups must work with us to most effectively use the supply at hand, be it incentives for parking at a distance, walking to work or school, or using Metro-North. I am confident there are solutions out there if we work together as a village.

Marvin-Mary

Column: What to do about pensions

The subject of pension liabilities is always an issue of concern for governments, but two recent events brought it to the forefront once again.

Central States Fund, a prominent Teamster pension fund and one of the nation’s largest, has filed for reorganization under a new federal law and informed its more than 400,000 members that their benefits must be cut.

Cutting retirees’ benefits has generally been thought undoable, but the director of the Teamster fund believes that reducing the payouts is the only realistic way to make any of the money last. Currently, the Central States Fund pays out $3.46 in benefits to its retirees for every $1 it receives in employer contributions, resulting in a pension capital fund reserve that will run out in 10 to 15 years. Conversely, restructuring could make the fund last 50 more years. The fund chairman, unlike many government leaders, realized that the responsible thing, not the politically expedient thing, was to confront the problem now.

The governor of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo, took the same principled approach. After a four-year overhaul and intense union negotiations, a new pension plan was enacted that neither raised taxes nor forced the purchase of risky pension obligation bonds. To reach this result, retirees had to trade in part of their defined benefit pension plan for a 401(k)-style plan where they must bear some of the investment risk.

Mired in Illinois’ $110 billion shortfall, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel of Chicago is also attempting to get a handle on pension costs, but the outcome has been very different due to a very important variance in state law.

Most states, including Illinois and New York, took steps long ago to make pensions creatures of contract law versus that of a statutory right á la Rhode Island, and the distinction is critical.

Statutes are relatively easy to change by simple amendment, but pension “contract” states have to confront a clause in the United States Constitution that bans them from enacting any law that retroactively impairs contract rights.

The clause dates all the way back to post-Revolutionary America and was created as a way for the Founding Fathers to stop the states from giving themselves debt relief.

In essence, Gov. Raimondo had bargaining leverage that Mayor Emmanuel does not.

Mayor Emmanuel successfully negotiated compromises with 30 of his 33 unions. The deal collapsed when some holdouts filed an injunction to stay the new plan until the Supreme Court of Illinois decided the constitutionality of a concurrent case concerning an Illinois state pension revision.

The court found the state’s restructuring unconstitutional, and soon after, a Cook County judge ruled the decision binding on Chicago as well.

The effect on Albany did not go unnoticed as Illinois’ constitutional provision nearly verbatim mirrors that of New York’s, which defines membership in a governmental pension system as a “contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or repaired.”

The Illinois court went even further and disallowed any attempt to reduce the future benefits not yet earned by people still working in government.

New York officials have always presumed that our constitutional language would be interpreted in a like manner, i.e. entitling public employees to earn all the benefits offered by the pension system at the time of their hire.

That is why the few reforms of late have only focused on changing the rules for new “tiers” of employees not yet hired.

As a result of the court’s interpretation, the current reality for Chicago is a record-breaking property tax increase. Mayor Emmanuel stated his only other option to bridge the gaping financial hole was to layoff thousands of police and firefighters and forestall street repairs and rodent control programs, making in his words the city of Chicago “unlivable.”

At the Illinois state level, the governor is scrambling to avert the same draconian choice of deep spending cuts or exorbitant tax hikes by proposing a constitutional amendment that limits current employees from being entitled to pension benefits they have yet to earn.

Likewise, but with a zero chance of passing in New York, Republican Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick of Suffolk County has proposed a similar constitutional amendment.

Faced with what appears to be an almost insurmountable legal firewall, some financial analysts are urging Congress to enact a law enabling states to declare bankruptcy the way municipalities such as Detroit and San Bernardino, Calif., did under Chapter 9 of the Federal Bankruptcy Code. California and Illinois are in such extremis that the possibility is not so far-fetched. As a nation, it is estimated that we now have unfunded public pension liabilities of as much as $3 trillion. The logic flows that even the threat of bankruptcy and the attenuating change in financial obligations would give governors and legislatures a powerful new weapon to achieve concessions.

I don’t know where the answers or solutions lie, but I know it is not by not confronting the issue head on. Inaction is a clear and dangerous action and as the fund manager of the Central States plan stated, it is also “irresponsible.”

The state of New York must do something soon and significant. A union leader in Rhode Island put it best when he said, “A settlement can be fair and heartbreaking at the same time.”

Marvin-Mary

Column: What to do about pensions

The subject of pension liabilities is always an issue of concern for governments, but two recent events brought it to the forefront once again.

Central States Fund, a prominent Teamster pension fund and one of the nation’s largest, has filed for reorganization under a new federal law and informed its more than 400,000 members that their benefits must be cut.

Cutting retirees’ benefits has generally been thought undoable, but the director of the Teamster fund believes that reducing the payouts is the only realistic way to make any of the money last. Currently, the Central States Fund pays out $3.46 in benefits to its retirees for every $1 it receives in employer contributions, resulting in a pension capital fund reserve that will run out in 10 to 15 years. Conversely, restructuring could make the fund last 50 more years. The fund chairman, unlike many government leaders, realized that the responsible thing, not the politically expedient thing, was to confront the problem now.

The governor of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo, took the same principled approach. After a four-year overhaul and intense union negotiations, a new pension plan was enacted that neither raised taxes nor forced the purchase of risky pension obligation bonds. To reach this result, retirees had to trade in part of their defined benefit pension plan for a 401(k)-style plan where they must bear some of the investment risk.

Mired in Illinois’ $110 billion shortfall, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel of Chicago is also attempting to get a handle on pension costs, but the outcome has been very different due to a very important variance in state law.

Most states, including Illinois and New York, took steps long ago to make pensions creatures of contract law versus that of a statutory right á la Rhode Island, and the distinction is critical.

Statutes are relatively easy to change by simple amendment, but pension “contract” states have to confront a clause in the United States Constitution that bans them from enacting any law that retroactively impairs contract rights.

The clause dates all the way back to post-Revolutionary America and was created as a way for the Founding Fathers to stop the states from giving themselves debt relief.

In essence, Gov. Raimondo had bargaining leverage that Mayor Emmanuel does not.

Mayor Emmanuel successfully negotiated compromises with 30 of his 33 unions. The deal collapsed when some holdouts filed an injunction to stay the new plan until the Supreme Court of Illinois decided the constitutionality of a concurrent case concerning an Illinois state pension revision.

The court found the state’s restructuring unconstitutional, and soon after, a Cook County judge ruled the decision binding on Chicago as well.

The effect on Albany did not go unnoticed as Illinois’ constitutional provision nearly verbatim mirrors that of New York’s, which defines membership in a governmental pension system as a “contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or repaired.”

The Illinois court went even further and disallowed any attempt to reduce the future benefits not yet earned by people still working in government.

New York officials have always presumed that our constitutional language would be interpreted in a like manner, i.e. entitling public employees to earn all the benefits offered by the pension system at the time of their hire.

That is why the few reforms of late have only focused on changing the rules for new “tiers” of employees not yet hired.

As a result of the court’s interpretation, the current reality for Chicago is a record-breaking property tax increase. Mayor Emmanuel stated his only other option to bridge the gaping financial hole was to layoff thousands of police and firefighters and forestall street repairs and rodent control programs, making in his words the city of Chicago “unlivable.”

At the Illinois state level, the governor is scrambling to avert the same draconian choice of deep spending cuts or exorbitant tax hikes by proposing a constitutional amendment that limits current employees from being entitled to pension benefits they have yet to earn.

Likewise, but with a zero chance of passing in New York, Republican Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick of Suffolk County has proposed a similar constitutional amendment.

Faced with what appears to be an almost insurmountable legal firewall, some financial analysts are urging Congress to enact a law enabling states to declare bankruptcy the way municipalities such as Detroit and San Bernardino, Calif., did under Chapter 9 of the Federal Bankruptcy Code. California and Illinois are in such extremis that the possibility is not so far-fetched. As a nation, it is estimated that we now have unfunded public pension liabilities of as much as $3 trillion. The logic flows that even the threat of bankruptcy and the attenuating change in financial obligations would give governors and legislatures a powerful new weapon to achieve concessions.

I don’t know where the answers or solutions lie, but I know it is not by not confronting the issue head on. Inaction is a clear and dangerous action and as the fund manager of the Central States plan stated, it is also “irresponsible.”

The state of New York must do something soon and significant. A union leader in Rhode Island put it best when he said, “A settlement can be fair and heartbreaking at the same time.”