Category Archives: News

SmokeShop-(1)

Iconic T.D.’s Smoke Shop set for final goodbye

Tony D’Onofrio has been running the smoke shop full time for the past 24 years. According to him, he’s going to miss the customers the most.

Tony D’Onofrio has been running the smoke shop full time for the past 24 years. According to him, he’s going to miss the customers the most.

By JAMES PERO
In March, a piece of history will vanish from Rye’s Purchase Street as T.D.’s Smoke Shop waits forlornly for its eviction.

On Jan. 27, the longtime owners of the smoke shop, Peggy and Tony D’Onofrio, were greeted in the morning, not by their usual slew of customers, but with news from the landlord of their building—John Fareri of Fareri Assoicates—explaining that they had just over one month to vacate
the building, after residing there for almost 70 years.

And while a final close is imminent, for the D’Onofrios it has been far from the first time the store has faced a penultimate fate.

In 2008, according to Tony D’Onofrio, Fareri took over ownership of the building—which encompasses three other storefronts on Elm Place—and while his original intention was to redevelop the property, the economy took a turn for the worse. As a result, the shop was allowed
to stay and they were offered a slew of one-year leases that lasted for five years.

Peggy D’Onofrio shows a sign that young supporters of T.D.’s made. The smoke shop is closing in March after being on the corner of Purchase and Elm for nearly 70 years.

Peggy D’Onofrio shows a sign that young supporters of T.D.’s made. The smoke shop is closing in March after being on the corner of Purchase and Elm for nearly 70 years.

But in 2013, D’Onofrio’s rent was set to increase to a rate that he said he may no longer be able to afford.

This time, however, when word got out, the smoke shop was saved by a petition, which garnered more than 4,000 signatures from residents and culminated in the Rye City Council drafting legislation for a special permit that would help save the shop.

Under the terms of the permit, Fareri—who was intent on redeveloping the property—would be allowed to forego the terms of a bank moratorium in Rye’s business district by renting out a portion of the building to a bank for a higher price. This increased rent, the council hoped, would compensate for T.D.’s lower rate.

Though the legislation passed in the City Council by a vote of 5-1, a three-month sunset clause—which dictated that the legislation would expire if an  application was not filed for the permit in three months—was also included.

Sometimes, Tony D’Onofrio told the Review, they would receive so many Christmas cards from residents that they would run out of room to display them.

Sometimes, Tony D’Onofrio told the Review, they would receive so many Christmas cards from residents that they would run out of room to display them.

On Feb. 7, 2015, after the lengthy negotiations between the city and Fareri to create the terms of the special permit, the window for Fareri to apply for the smoke shop’s special permit expired and the storefront was left without any real idea of where the future would take them; that is, until D’Onofrio was told that the bank wanted his property as well.

“After [the council] had passed that law, Mr. Fareri and his associates came in here to say that the bank had changed their minds,” D’Onofrio said. “They wanted our space as well.”

Famous customers of the establishment include former Yankee’s manager Joe Torre, whom the D’Onofrios knew well. Photos/Andrew Dapolite

Famous customers of the establishment include former Yankee’s manager Joe Torre, whom the D’Onofrios knew well. Photos/Andrew Dapolite

According to Ferari, both parties involved—the bank and the D’Onofrios—were unable to see eye to eye, and as a result, the application for the permit was never submitted.

“The bank has certain needs. The smoke shop has certain needs. Neither of them were able to be flexible,” he said, specifically mentioning a disagreement over the usage of the shop’s prime corner space as one of the main points of disagreement.

As a result, the D’Onofrios will leave, and while the bank can no longer replace the shop, the ultimate fate of their retail space remains unclear.

D’Onofrio recalls being shocked when he found out that the special permit would not actually save his business.

“I thought I was seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

Now, D’Onofrio and his mother are left to sell the stock left in their store until they’re forced to vacate the premises at the end of March.

Mayor Joe Sack, a Republican, was among those in Rye who will miss the iconic store.

“It’s a true shame that their great run is coming to an end, but we will miss them tremendously,” he told the Review.

CONTACT: james@hometwn.com 

 
With school enrollment numbers oftentimes difficult to predict on a year-by-year basis, the Rye City Board of Education will soon receive a presentation on increasing class sizes. The school district’s fifth grade class enrollment, which includes the Osborn School, is considered massive this year, according to a district official. File photo

School board to discuss larger class sizes

With school enrollment numbers oftentimes difficult to predict on a year-by-year basis, the Rye City Board of Education will soon receive a presentation on increasing class sizes. The school district’s fifth grade class enrollment, which includes the Osborn School, is considered massive this year, according to a district official. File photo

With school enrollment numbers oftentimes difficult to predict on a year-by-year basis, the Rye City Board of Education will soon receive a presentation on increasing class sizes. The school district’s fifth grade class enrollment, which includes the Osborn School, is considered massive this year, according to a district official. File photo

By Sarah Varney
At the Jan. 12 meeting, the Rye City Board of Education will hear a proposal to change the class size policy for grades three through five that would allow for an increase from 20 to 25 students per class.

The current policy with recommended class sizes of 18 to 22 students would remain in effect for kindergarten through second grade. Due diligence and the need for flexibility in accommodating enrollment fluctuations are the primary reasons for the proposed increase, according to Dr. Betty Ann Wyks, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

“It’s budget time and these things come up,” said Wyks, who will be presenting the proposal to the school board.

Karen Belanger, a member of the city Board of Education, added that space constraints, aligned with enrollment increases in certain grades, are a continuing factor. Belanger is the chairwoman of the board’s school policy committee.

Unanticipated enrollment growth in the district’s schools has been a frequent factor over the last few years. During the 2014-2015 school year, overcrowding in 10th grade math classes necessitated adding another class, for which an additional math teacher was hired this past summer, according to school district officials. This year, the districtwide fifth grade class is “massive,” according to Sarah Derman, the district’s chief information officer. Rye Middle School gained 81 students for the current 2015-2016 school year. An enrollment increase at Rye High School during the 2014-2015 school year translated to approximately 100 students migrating into grades nine to 12.

“[The proposed policy change] gives us a way to start a discussion,” Belanger said. “It is a subject that needs to be discussed from an educational standpoint, the standpoint of space constraints and from a financial standpoint.”

Belanger stressed that cost-saving is not likely to be a huge factor in this policy discussion.

The current policy that recommends 18 to 22 students per class has been in place since July 2011. “Reasonable class sizes” without proscribed numbers is the policy for the middle and high schools, according to the current policy.

At the Jan. 12 meeting, Wyks will use a Brookings Institute 2011 compilation of class size research conducted in the United States and Canada since the mid-2000s to determine the recommended class size. The majority of those studies seem to suggest that for economically disadvantaged students, fewer students make a big difference.

Molly Ness, a Midland School mother and assistant professor of childhood education at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Education, agreed that the research is mixed on the effects of class size.

“The research is really split on this, but overall it is not compelling enough to say that [an increase in suggested class sizes] would necessarily be a bad thing,” she said.

The fact that fifth-graders will soon move on to middle school and a larger class anyway is also a mitigator, Ness added. Research is more unified in showing that class sizes matter less in both middle school and high school also, she noted.

And in Rye, even if the proposed increase in class sizes for grades three through five does come to pass, it might not be very problematic. “If the proposal passes and parents aren’t happy, they’ll go out and get tutors for their kids,” Ness said.

Wyks noted that the flexibility to have either as few as 20 students to as many as 25 students in a class would not be drastic enough to have much of an impact. Starting in third grade, the developmental differences between children are pretty much evened out, she said.

In education circles, the 20 to 25 student range is considered “medium.” Eighteen to 22 students is considered small, and 27 to 32 students in a class is considered large.

Even so, “our big class sizes aren’t really that big in the real world,” Wyks said.

CONTACT sarah@hometwn.com

 
In less than a year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo went from advocating that standardized Common Core test scores should account for as much as 50 percent of the basis for teacher evaluations to leaving it up to the Board of Regents to decide. File photo

Regents board cuts testing as teacher eval. factor

 

In less than a year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo went from advocating that standardized Common Core test scores should account for as much as 50 percent of the basis for teacher evaluations to leaving it up to the Board of Regents to decide. File photo

In less than a year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo went from advocating that standardized Common Core test scores should account for as much as 50 percent of the basis for teacher evaluations to leaving it up to the Board of Regents to decide. File photo

By SARAH VARNEY
In response to “feedback we received,” Board of Regents President Meryl S. Tisch presided over a committeewide vote that did away with the portion of the Annual Professional Performance Review that ranked teachers statewide on how well students performed on annual Common Core standardized English Language Arts and Math Concepts exams.

Rye City Board of Education President Katy Keohane Glassberg expressed her approval of the demise of the ranking percentage.

“The board is very pleased with the four-year moratorium on using state tests as a major factor in evaluating teachers,” she said. “The pendulum is beginning to swing in the right direction, reducing the pressure around testing and allowing school districts to focus on using tests to inform instruction to benefit students.”

Rye City Schools Superintendent Dr. Frank Alvarez said he is hopeful that the change will lead to a teacher evaluation system based on teaching.

Recently, state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, hinted to a group of Westchester school officials that positive changes would be coming soon. At the time, that indication…
was met with surprise and cautious optimism.

That’s because, as recently as last February, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, spoke of his
intention to encourage the Board of Regents to increase the weighted percentage of test scores from 40 percent to 50 percent.

However, he left the final decision to the board.

Under a model that assigned 50 percent of the weight of a yearly evaluation for teachers, 30 percent would be based on Common Core standardized test scores and 15 percent would be based on “locally-determined assessments.” The remaining 5 percent was undetermined. However, that model
was never adopted due to the increasingly vocal controversy around Common Core testing and the fairness issue around test scores affecting teachers’ careers. The remaining 50 percent of the evaluation would be gathered by observing teachers in their classrooms during instructional time.

Now, by a vote of 15 to 1,
using a weighted percentage of tests as a means of evaluating teachers has been overturned. Tisch, who was the lone opposition to the measure, did not provide an explanation.

While the measure has been overturned, school administrators are still left with the vestiges, said Dr. Betty Anne Wyks, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for the Rye City School District.  “I’m curious to see what guidance we’re going to get [from the New York State Education Department] for this. We’re still going to have to live by the testing rules until there’s a clear transition,” she said.

In addition, school district administrators will still have to calculate teacher evaluation scores according to the rules that are in place, and once a score is recorded, it is part of a teacher’s permanent record. Stepping carefully around the issue of fairness, Wyks said that a negative score recorded for a teacher under the current rules could still undermine that teacher’s confidence and motivation.

“Why record the score if it doesn’t matter?” she asked.

Area school community members, including parents, board members, and teachers’ reaction to the news of the test percentage elimination was met with enthusiasm.

President of the Mamaroneck Union Free School District’s Board of Education Ann LoBue reacted positively.

“I think it’s great. While it makes sense to me that student performance should be part of the evaluations, this methodology is flawed,” LoBue said.

CONTACT: sarah@hometwn.com

 
The Renaissance Westchester, one of the two hotels in Harrison that would have been affected by a recently-nixed bed tax. Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill that would have imposed the 3 percent hotel occupancy tax on patrons in some Westchester municipalities. 
Photo courtesy Marriott.com

Cuomo vetoes hotel tax, upsets local officials

By ANGELA JORDAN
After finally passing through the New York State Legislature, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, on Dec. 28, vetoed legislation that would have imposed a 3 percent hotel occupancy tax on patrons of the two hotels in Harrison.

In addition to the town/village of Harrison, Cuomo, a Democrat, vetoed requests for a hotel occupancy tax, also known as a “bed tax,” from other Westchester towns and villages including the village of North Castle, Tuckahoe, Greenburgh, Mamaroneck and Port Chester. glance

In his veto message, Cuomo said that so far, the state Legislature has only advanced hotel occupancy tax bills like this for counties and cities, the village of Rye Brook being a special circumstance in 2011.

In Westchester, cities such as Rye, New Rochelle, White Plains, Peekskill, and Yonkers have the authority from the state to implement the tax.

“If there is to be policy change on this issue, it should be done pursuant to a comprehensive and determinate statewide policy as advanced by the legislature,” Cuomo wrote in the message.
“If the legislature sets such a policy, I will commit to reconsidering this issue.”

According to state Assemblyman David Buchwald, a White Plains Democrat, the veto was disappointing to many state and local elected officials, who were hoping that if this bill was passed, it could alleviate some of the property tax burdens felt by local residents.

“The local [Harrison] town board was unanimous about seeking this legislation,” Buchwald said. “The state Assembly passed this bill for three straight years, and this time the Senate passed it, too.”

He also said he didn’t see why Cuomo couldn’t have called for a comprehensive, statewide policy to be established for bed taxes while allowing these municipalities to impose the tax right now.

“Wanting to establish a more uniform framework is fine,” Buchwald said. “But that doesn’t explain why a community like Harrison shouldn’t be able to provide property tax relief by these means.”

Harrison Councilman Steve Malfitano, a Republican and former mayor of Harrison, described the veto as “terrible and short sighted,” and feels that towns and villages in New York shouldn’t be treated any differently than cities and counties on this issue.

The Renaissance Westchester, one of the two hotels in Harrison that would have been affected by a recently-nixed bed tax. Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill that would have imposed the 3 percent hotel occupancy tax on patrons in some Westchester municipalities.  Photo courtesy Marriott.com

The Renaissance Westchester, one of the two hotels in Harrison that would have been affected by a recently-nixed bed tax. Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill that would have imposed the 3 percent hotel occupancy tax on patrons in some Westchester municipalities.
Photo courtesy Marriott.com

“Why is it that Harrison residents should be given different treatment than residents of cities like New York or Rye?” Malfitano asked. “If you travel to many other cities and states, there will be a hotel occupancy tax.”

The bill was strongly opposed by members of the Westchester Hotel Association. Dan Conte, the president of the trade group and manager of the Westchester Marriott in Tarrytown, penned a letter to Cuomo on Dec. 16 urging the governor not to pass the bill.

Conte wrote that hotels in Westchester County already face a 3 percent Room Occupancy Tax from the county, in addition to state and county sales taxes. He said that by allowing these bills to pass in Westchester, the total tax on hotel rooms would increase from 11 percent to 14 percent.

“Our business relies heavily on annual bookings of large blocks of rooms by the businesses whose corporate travel planners could easily shift their hotel choices to adjacent markets in northern New Jersey and Fairfield County, Conn.,” he wrote in the letter. “All would be hurt as well as the local economy which benefits from the visitors they attract.”

However, this now means that the impetus to provide tax revenue remains on property owners in Harrison. According to Malfitano, Harrison could have potentially gained anywhere from $300,000 to $500,000 in non-property tax revenue from the bed tax.

The tax on hotel occupants is considered an attractive option by elected officials as a means of generating revenue outside of the property tax; further, that revenue comes largely from non-residents.

State Sen. George Latimer, a Rye Democrat who sponsored the bill along with Buchwald, said, “All these governments are under a tax cap, and so these communities have no relief from pension costs, fire, police, sanitation. So far there’s no plan to give them more state aid, so eventually something’s got to give.”

Conte could not be reached for comment as of press time.

CONTACT: angela@hometwn.com

 
Although nearly all of Bronxville’s 1,200 parking meters now bear the Pango logo, but a brief survey of passers-by indicates that many residents are not aware of the mobile app. Photo/Sarah Varney

Pango parking app takes off in Bronxville

Although nearly all of Bronxville’s 1,200 parking meters now bear the Pango logo, but a brief survey of passers-by indicates that many residents are not aware of the mobile app. Photo/Sarah Varney

Although nearly all of Bronxville’s 1,200 parking meters now bear the Pango logo, but a brief survey of passers-by indicates that many residents are not aware of the mobile app. Photo/Sarah Varney

By Sarah Varney
The move by Bronxville residents to use Pango, the mobile app to pay for parking, is steadily gaining ground with nearly 500 transactions logged since Dec. 18. Village Administrator James Palmer dubbed the period between then and Jan. 1 as a “soft implementation” that gave the village and Pango time to troubleshoot software or user problems.

“It’s absolutely gaining traction every day especially when you consider the holidays,” Palmer said.

Currently, nearly all of the village’s 1,200 coin-operated meters are now tagged with the Pango emblem that informs parkers that a meter’s code is part of the company’s database. The app was created to give users an alternative way to pay, Palmer said.

The plan to implement Pango was first announced in Octo-
ber 2015.

The Israel-based app is free for Android and Apple smartphone users. Area residents can use it to pay for parking or add more time to a space they’re already using. By creating an account with a credit or debit card link, the Pango app handles the transaction automatically.

But the app won’t enable meter feeding. “It only allows you to go up to [the] limit on that particular meter,” Palmer explained.

The history of parking enforcement in Bronxville is surprisingly colorful.

“It’s militant here,” Mary Anne Healey said. Healey, a Bronxville resident who was born and raised in the village, recalled a particularly notorious meter maid who was tough to avoid. “Around the holidays, the local merchants used to hire people dressed up as elves to feed the meters and avoid tickets,” she said. “I think [Pango] could be really useful.”

Patrons of Pondfield Road will now have the luxury of parking with a pay-by-phone app. File photo

Patrons of Pondfield Road will now have the luxury of parking with a pay-by-phone app. File photo

Several other bystanders said they heard of the app but had not yet downloaded it.

“I will try it. I’m not good at downloading apps, but I’ll try,” said one shopper who declined to give her name to the Review.

Palmer said the village will be doing more outreach with the Bronxville Chamber of Commerce to help spread the word about Pango. Also, starting Jan. 1, all on-street parking meters will require payment from
8 a.m. until 9 p.m. Parking lot spaces will continue to be free after 6 p.m.

However, enforcement of the new hours of operation has been tabled until the chamber and village officials hash out the expanded meter hours, Palmer said.

Although excited about Pango, the chamber is opposed to the new evening meter enforcement and has requested that the policy be reconsidered by the village.

“Fortunately, our village officials are highly dedicated to the business district and are never reluctant to reverse a decision if convinced to do so,” Susan Miele, director of the chamber, wrote in an email to the Review.

The pay-by-app system is currently in use in several municipalities in Pennsylvania, including Harrisburg and Scranton. Similar app-based parking systems are currently in use in New Rochelle, parts of Yonkers and Mount Vernon.[Palmer added that parking kiosks are probably the next step in Bronxville’s parking plans.  Parking kiosks with pay stations are probably the next step in Bronxville’s parking plans, Palmer said.

CONTACT: sarah@hometwn.com

 
If approved, Larchmont could launch a pilot program to implement bike lanes in the village, beginning with one extending from Palmer Avenue to Magnolia Avenue.

Traffic commission hopes to see bike lanes

The Larchmont Traffic Commission is proposing to implement bike lanes within the village, a plan that has been in the works for several years. Photos/Andrew Dapolite

The Larchmont Traffic Commission is proposing to implement bike lanes within the village, a plan that has been in the works for several years. Photos/Andrew Dapolite

If approved, Larchmont could launch a pilot program to implement bike lanes in the village, beginning with one extending from Palmer Avenue to Magnolia Avenue.

If approved, Larchmont could launch a pilot program to implement bike lanes in the village, beginning with one extending from Palmer Avenue to Magnolia Avenue.

By KILEY STEVENS
The Larchmont Traffic Commission has a presentation and proposal ready for the village Board of Trustees to create bike lanes in the village, that, if approved, could begin with a pilot program from Palmer Avenue to Magnolia Avenue.

According to Traffic Commission Co-Chair Carol Miller, the idea was formed in either 2007 or 2008, and the commission started working with the Rye YMCA to come up with ideas on how to incorporate bike lanes into the wide village streets. After the project was tabled for a while, Carolyn Lee, a resident of Larchmont and chairwoman of the Recreation Committee, approached the mayor about it to pick up where the Traffic Commission left off. They were able to dig up a report that the Rye YMCA completed with the help of New York University Wagner, the graduate school for public service.

The report was a study researching the “Complete Streets” strategy, which according to the study’s findings means, “to implement policy measure and design features that make streets safe and accessible for all users, regardless of age, ability or mode of transportation.”

In this study, which included the city of Rye, the town of Mamaroneck and the villages of Larchmont and Mamaroneck, the NYU Wagner team describes types of bike lanes, including sharrows—painted markings on the roadway, indicating that the road is a shared space for both motorists and recreational users—dedicated bike lanes—space for bicyclists along roadways, at least 5 feet in width and in the same direction as prevailing traffic—and two-way bike lanes—the same as a dedicated  bike lane, but doubled in width, allowing for two directions of bike traffic.

The study recommends two different sections of roadway in the village of Larchmont, the first for Chatsworth Avenue (from Palmer Avenue south to Boston Post Road) suggests dedicated bike lanes on both sides of the road, as well as sharrows used in areas where the avenue has four vehicle lanes. The study suggests dedicated bike lanes because Chatsworth Avenue is 54 feet wide—the streets were designed for a trolley system in the late 1800s and early 1900s—allowing for the 5-foot wide requirement to be met.

For Larchmont Avenue (from Palmer Avenue south to Magnolia Avenue), the study suggests a two-way bike lane, a dedicated bike lane and sharrows, or a single, southbound dedicated bike lane.

Lee, who told the Review that she is an avid biker, feels strongly that residents should be biking and walking more.

“My kids bike to school or walk to school every day, and they’re not the norm,” she said.

Lee, however, realizes that many parents make the choice to drive their children places simply for safety reasons. “The design [of the roads] is not welcoming,” she said. “It doesn’t make you want to hop on your bike.”

The implementation of these lanes would be fairly simple, according to Miller.

“It requires some careful measuring and painting, and possibly labeling,” she said, adding that it would be cost-effective. “There’s no construction, nothing has to be widened, and no traffic patterns have to change.”

Miller added that she hopes to see the issue on the agenda for a village board meeting soon. She requested that it be added to an agenda last November, and it was scheduled for a meeting in January but was pushed back. Larchmont Mayor Anne McAndrews, a Democrat, said she is not yet ready to comment on the proposal, but is excited to see the commission’s presentation at an upcoming board meeting.

CONTACT: kiley@hometwn.com

 
Rye City Mayor Joe Sack welcomes the newest elected and re-elected members of the Rye City Council to the Jan. 3 inauguration ceremony, offering the trio both his own advice as well as the advice of former councilmembers.

A new year with new council faces

 

Like her council colleagues being inaugurated, Danielle Tagger-Epstein, a Democrat, gave her vow with family in tow. Photos/Andrew Dapolite

Like her council colleagues being inaugurated, Danielle Tagger-Epstein, a Democrat, gave her vow with family in tow. Photos/Andrew Dapolite

By James Pero
With a new year, change is often in tow, and for the Rye City Council, that change is coming partially in the form of two new faces: councilwomen Danielle Tagger-Epstein and Emily Hurd, both Democrats.

On Sunday, Jan. 3, both councilwomen in addition to Councilman Richard Mecca, a Republican, who was recently re-elected for his third consecutive term, were sworn in as members of the City Council at Rye City Hall by Judge Joe Latwin.

Mecca had an opportunity to reflect on his past inauguration ceremonies, the latest of which he pointed out was his best yet.

“The crowd was a lot bigger than my first [inauguration],” Mecca remarked jokingly.

But both Tagger-Epstein and Hurd didn’t have the benefit of context, as the latest inauguration
was their seminal. When asked about her sentiments on her very first inauguration, Tagger-Epstein responded with a mixture of awe and pride.

“Can you ask me how I feel tomorrow?” she asked. “It’s great. This whole experience has been the culmination of a lot of people’s hard work and it’s very exciting.”

Hurd, who like the other inductees attended the evening’s ceremony with her family, spoke to the audience and fellow councilmembers with a similar sense of pride and gratitude.

Emily Hurd, a Democrat, like her running mate Danielle Tagger-Epstein, gave her first inauguration speech, and thanked both the community and her supporters at a crowded Rye City Hall.

Emily Hurd, a Democrat, like her running mate Danielle Tagger-Epstein, gave her first inauguration speech, and thanked both the community and her supporters at a crowded Rye City Hall.

“I appreciate the support of all of you here today,” she said. “It was definitely by the grace of God that my family and I landed in Rye five years ago when we moved east, and I can’t wait to begin to give back to the community that has blessed us.”

During the evening’s ceremony, Mayor Joe Sack, a Republican, also took the podium to share his thoughts with both audience members and fellow councilmembers alike.

“I would suggest simply that you listen to yourself and your good instincts and trust yourself to do what is right,” he advised the newest members of the City Council.

The three elected councilmembers will now begin their four-year terms on the council dais. Members of the City Council receive no compensation or benefits for their service.

CONTACT: james@hometwn.com

 
With five policemen retiring at the end of 2015, the Rye City Police Department will see its staff decline from 37 to 32, a level which marks the lowest staff size since at least 2010, following the recession. File photo

Rye police faces turnover, transition

 

With five policemen retiring at the end of 2015, the Rye City Police Department will see its staff decline from 37 to 32, a level which marks the lowest staff size since at least 2010, following the recession. File photo

With five policemen retiring at the end of 2015, the Rye City Police Department will see its staff decline from 37 to 32, a level which marks the lowest staff size since at least 2010, following the recession. File photo

By James Pero
The Rye City Police Department lost five ranking police officers to retirement at the end of December, effectively dropping their current staff size from 37 to 32 officers.

Among the recent retirees were two sergeants, one lieutenant, one patrolman and a detective. These five will account for a 13.5 percent decrease in the current overall staffing of the department, which is already undergoing a transition in leadership. In late December, then-Police Commissioner William Pease retired, serving as the one absence that had been anticipated.

According to interim Police Commissioner Lt. Scott Craig, the current levels are enough to qualify the department as short-staffed.

“We’re currently understaffed,” Craig said, “because some of the responsibilities we do day-to-day need to be covered with overtime.”

With the recent retirements, there are currently two lieutenants, four sergeants and 24 officers left on the force.

Despite the loss, however, City Manager Marcus Serrano, who described the amount of police officers leaving as “a good number,” said the services provided by the department won’t decline, but will instead be sustained through a combination of working overtime and promoting remaining officers.

The biggest effect of current staffing levels, according to Craig, will be seen in the interior operations of the department and not in active patrol.

“It’s not going to be noticeable on the street,” he said. “Places where we’ll see it is places like IT… What you might see is an increase in overtime.”

Of the five retiring officers, Mayor Joe Sack, a Republican, said two had already been out of the rotation for some time due to injury and a third held an administrative position. Of the remaining two, neither were patrol officers, he added.

“For anyone to suggest that the department will somehow be understaffed either in the very short-term or even after all the retiring spots are quickly filled, that strikes me as an unnecessarily sensational perspective,” the mayor said.

According to Serrano, both he and Craig—who recently took over the department on an interim basis until his replacement, Michael Corcoran, takes the helm on Feb. 1—are already working to fill in the gaps.

“We were made aware of the potential retirement of these individuals,” Serrano said. “We’re working on what to do with the Police Department.”

The increase in overtime, Serrano said, will be a temporary fix until new officers are promoted or transferred in from other neighboring departments.

The department has historically had 40 officers on duty, but once 20090 hit, staff size began to diminish.

While the level of 32 is not an all-time low—in 2010, the active patrol force numbered just 27—it is, according to a 2011 assessment by former Police Commissioner William Connors, below the level of 35, which he deemed “just adequate.”

Currently, the levels of overall staff are at their lowest since at least 2010 when staffing plummeted to just 33 officers, 27 of them being active.

Now, the new commissioner, Corcoran, from the West Orange Police Department in New Jersey, will be tasked with overseeing a department with key positions to fill.

According to the mayor, the entry of a new police commissioner isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“In fact, it is a fortuitous coincidence that our new commissioner is starting in a few weeks, because he will now be able to shape the department through his own new hiring and promotional decisions,” Sack said. “This transition to a more fully staffed department will take place seamlessly under the leadership of the city manager and new commissioner.”

Further, Sack added that the retirements, positions which he expects to be filled in short order, will actually strengthen the department over time since the city will no longer be hindered by the two officers—Lt. Joseph Verille and patrolman Daniel Camacho—out on workers’ compensation.

Verille had been inactive since 2012 after sustaining a hand injury during a car crash in which he rear-ended a motorist on Interstate 684; it is unclear why Camacho was inactive.

Corcoran could not be reached for comment as of press time.

CONTACT: james@hometwn.com

 
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, seated center, signs his $1.8 billion budget for 2016—that includes no tax levy increase—as Republican legislators look on. A large portion of proposed funding cuts to nonprofit and arts organizations, originally included in the county executive’s budget, have been restored. For some organizations, however, the restoration may not be enough. Photo courtesy Westchester County

Adopted county budget restores nonprofit funding

 

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, seated center, signs his $1.8 billion budget for 2016—that includes no tax levy increase—as Republican legislators look on. A large portion of proposed funding cuts to nonprofit and arts organizations, originally included in the county executive’s budget, have been restored. For some organizations, however, the restoration may not be enough. Photo courtesy Westchester County

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, seated center, signs his $1.8 billion budget for 2016—that includes no tax levy increase—as Republican legislators look on. A large portion of proposed funding cuts to nonprofit and arts organizations, originally included in the county executive’s budget, have been restored. For some organizations, however, the restoration may not be enough. Photo courtesy Westchester County

By JAMES PERO
On Dec. 14, the Westchester County Board of Legislators voted 10-7 in favor of passing a budget that restores some crucial funding to both nonprofit and arts organizations across Westchester County, adding $8.4 million to the 2016 budget.

The funding cuts were introduced as a part of Republican County Executive Rob Astorino’s original budget, which was released in November.

Despite amendments to restore proposed funding cuts, the $1.8 billion approved budget does not raise the property tax levy, marking the sixth consecutive year without an increase. Cuts to vacant staff positions, which total $3 million, were among the biggest decreases in proposed expenditures.

The decision to pass the budget comes from a bipartisan coalition made up of eight Republicans and two Democrats, county legislators Virginia Perez, of Yonkers, and Michael Kaplowitz, of Yorktown, which controls the board of legislators.

Among the nonprofit organizations that saw a major restoration in funding is the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, which has seen its funding cuts fall from $140,000 to only $40,000.

According to the executive director of Nonprofit Westchester, Joanna Straub, although the restored funding is a step in the right direction, the recently-approved budget still leaves some organizations without the money they need, marking the sixth consecutive year of funding cuts.

“Some organizations [had] small but not insignificant cuts,” she said. “Even a small cut can have a big impact on these programs.”

Straub said that although about 75 percent of the funds proposed to be cut were restored, some organizations like April’s Child—which helps combat child abuse in Westchester—are seeing their funding slashed substantially.

With a cut of $184,000 the organization is set to lose about 40 percent of its total budget, which Straub said will likely lead to massive staffing cuts—about half of their current staff.

She said ripple effects of those cuts could extend to the rest of the county.

“There’s a chance that more children will go into foster care at a much greater expense to the county.” Straub added.

The approved budget also drastically reduces the amount of county staffing cuts from 25 to just six, in addition to the elimination of 64 currently-vacant positions.

Among the restored positions are six curator spots for county parks as well as a salaried position for a farm manager at Muscoot Farm in Katonah.

Despite a bipartisan effort to restore some of the funding cuts to nonprofit and arts organizations, concerns over an increasingly tight budget have still lingered, as sales tax shortfalls continue to plague the county.

“We saw diminished sales tax revenue this year because of plummeting fuel costs, which will leave us short of what we anticipated,” said Kaplowitz, chairman of the county board of legislators, in a prepared statement. “As a result, we will likely have to use dollars from our fund balance to make up that shortfall.”

The shortfall is expected to total about $10 million to $15 million, placing extra emphasis on revenue. Currently, the budget estimates another $1.1 million in revenue, and a 4 percent increase in sales tax revenue for the 2016 fiscal year over what the county collected this year.

The county’s Democratic caucus has already spoken out against the budget, calling it “structurally unbalanced,” citing overly optimistic sales tax revenue projections as a major area of concern.

“While I’m happy to see that there were some service restorations, I cannot endorse a budget that spends money based on fictitious revenues,” said Legislator Catherine Borgia, an Ossining Democrat and majority leader, who voted against the budget.

CONTACT: james@hometwn.com

 
According to village officials, the installation of walkways would improve the convenience of parking lots and give residents and visitors an alternative to parking directly on Mamaroneck Avenue. File photo

Walkways being discussed for Mamaroneck Ave.

 

According to village officials, the installation of walkways would improve the convenience of parking lots and give residents and visitors an alternative to parking directly on Mamaroneck Avenue. File photo

According to village officials, the installation of walkways would improve the convenience of parking lots and give residents and visitors an alternative to parking directly on Mamaroneck Avenue. File photo

By KILEY STEVENS
In attempt to incentivize commerce and increase pedestrian safety, the village of Mamaroneck is considering installing walkways between Mamaroneck Avenue and public parking lots in the adjoining business district.

The idea of creating pedestrian walkways in the village’s business district spawned out of discussions within the planning department. In a recommendation to the village Board of Trustees, the department outlined many reasons to increase the number of walkways in the village, highlighting sustaining businesses on the avenue and pedestrian safety as the two major factors. In addition, the department believes the creation of walkways would improve the convenience of rear parking lots and give visitors and residents an alternative to parking directly on Mamaroneck Avenue, which, at times, suffers from limited parking due to lack of turnover.

Ray Schramm, owner of Northeast Oyster Co., located at 152 Mamaroneck Ave., said he has realized that parking is a much bigger issue than he thought.

“Anything that is going to help with parking, I’m all for,” Schramm said.

Currently, there are only two walkways connecting parking lots behind businesses on the avenue—one near CVS and the walkway that connects the parking lot under the Emelin Theatre, located on Library Lane, to Mamaroneck Avenue.

Assistant Village Planner Gregory Cutler said the planning department is recommending implementing an amendment to the zoning laws that will encourage storeowners and developers to create open-air walkways by granting them extra space to build to make up for space lost by the creation of a walkway.

Because building space is limited in the central business district, without an incentive, there is little leverage to encourage development of walkways that will take away from the overall density of a business’ building, according to Cutler.

Saidur Dawn, owner of Café Mozart, located at 308 Mamaroneck Ave., said if the village doesn’t find a solution to the parking problem soon, people will stop frequenting the avenue.

“If they make a walkway between the parking spaces and the avenue it would be a good thing to do,” he said.

In an effort to make up for potential building space lost by creating walkways, the planning department has suggested that applicants be granted a 10 percent building bonus, as long as it complies with a list of guidelines as determined by the village Planning Board. However, when the proposal was brought to a work session in June 2015, the Board of Trustees expressed concerns about how the building bonus would be calculated.

A memo from Cutler to Village Manager Richard Slingerland stated that the Board of Trustees believed the criteria for the calculation was not fair. But after a recent village board work session, village trustees asked the planning department to draft a code for these guidelines so that the board may move forward in putting this incentive in motion.

CONTACT: kiley@hometwn.com