Category Archives: News

New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed tougher teacher evaluations as part of his education reform platform in his State of the State address and dangled a $1.1 billion increase in school aid if the state Legislature passes his reforms. File Photo

Common Core report cards to debut

 

 

The transition to a 1 to 4 grading system used on the new Common Core report cards focuses more on independent learning capabilities compared to the previous “E for excellent” incarnation.

The transition to a 1 to 4 grading system used on the new Common Core report cards focuses more on independent learning capabilities compared to the previous “E for excellent” incarnation.

By Sarah Varney
On Dec. 18, elementary students in Rye will receive their first report cards that measure progress in accordance with the highly-controversial Common Core Learning Standards. The new report cards list the standards deemed most important by teachers, under each core subject.

While the Common Core report card transition isn’t mandated, the Rye City School District took the initiative to do so mainly because teachers were dissatisfied with the current format. “It lacked flexibility,” Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Betty Ann Wyks said.

The Common Core Learning Standards were created from the Race To The Top initiative, which in turn came out of the $97.4 billion allocated to the U.S. Department of Education under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed in 2009.

But changing school curricula to meet the standards has engendered opposition.

For parents, the increase and overreliance on testing has been a bone of contention, while school administrators and elected officials have criticized the adoption of the statewide standards arguing it takes control away from the local districts.

Since the 2011-2012 school year, when Common Core was first implemented in the classrooms, report cards for grades kindergarten through six have relied on a standardized pull-down comments menu but retained the traditional grading system. That system used letters to indicate progress. For example, “E” for excellent, “VG” for very good, “G” for good, “P” for progressing and “NI” for needs improvement.

Teachers wanted space for comments returned, which the Common Core report card will now provide. “They wanted to be able to use their own words,” Wyks said.

The traditional “E for excellent” scale had been in use for at least a decade and “probably for many years before that,” according to Sarah Derman, chief information officer for the Rye school district.

Now students will be graded on a scale of 1 to 4.

Grading a child on a certain Common Core standard using the new Common Core report card will allow teachers to detail a students’ progress on a more minute scale, Wyks said.

Amy Carman, a fifth grade teacher at Osborn School, likens the new Common Core report card to a “montage” instead of a “snapshot” of a student’s progress.

The district expects that some parents will balk at the change to a Common Core-based report card. Despite advising parents to refrain from trying to convert the new 1 through 4 grading system to its seemingly equivalent letter grade on the old grading system, comparisons are inevitable.

“Does a 4 equal an ‘A’ or something else?” Midland School parent Beth Sydell said. “My biggest complaint with the new [report] card is that it’s very hard for people to relate [the new scale to the traditional “E for excellent” one]. The grade isn’t based on hard facts and statistics.”

Sydell finds it ironic that the school district is making this move in Rye.

“Rye is a Type A community” she said. “We’re all very goal-oriented. I think it’s kind of funny that they’re trying to [make the transition] with a group that’s naturally competitive.”

CONTACT: sarah@hometwn.com

 
AffordHousing

Court sides with county in housing battle

A 28-unit affordable housing development called Chappaqua Station, pictured, which according to a monitor failed to receive proper approvals, was at the center of an ongoing dispute between Westchester County and the monitor who claimed the county failed to meet deadlines. Rendering courtesy Warshauer Architect

A 28-unit affordable housing development called Chappaqua Station, pictured, which according to a monitor failed to receive proper approvals, was at the center of an ongoing dispute between Westchester County and the monitor who claimed the county failed to meet deadlines. Rendering courtesy Warshauer Architect

By James Pero
A judge’s recommendation has sided in favor of Westchester County over a recent affordable housing disagreement that alleged the county was failing to meet the terms of a 2009 settlement with HUD.

On Thursday, Nov. 19, a U.S. magistrate found that there was no basis for additional fines and stipulations, despite claims made by a court-appointed monitor from U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office in September that alleged the county had failed to meet its quota for affordable housing in 2014.

The terms of a 2009 settlement between the county and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD, required the county to create 750 units of affordable housing by the end of 2016 in 31 communities identified across Westchester, or otherwise face severe penalties.

“This is another win for our residents,” said Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, a Republican, in a released statement. “The magistrate’s decision clearly shows that the county has met its obligations and that the federal government’s contention of contempt was wrong and without legal merit or justification.”

The most recent ruling centered on 28 affordable housing units being developed in New Castle, called Chappaqua Station. Though the units were slated for funding and construction, a court-appointed monitor overseeing the county’s implementation of the affordable housing settlement claimed that due to the project’s lack of final permits, the units shouldn’t be counted toward reaching the county’s year-end quota of 450 units.

The housing monitor, Jim Johnson, an attorney, alleged that the county did not use “all available means” including legal action and other incentives to pursue affordable housing at the New Castle location.

If the county had been deemed short of the benchmark, it faced being held in contempt of court in addition to fines stipulated in the 2009 agreement with HUD, which could reach as much as $60,000 per month for every month the county was deemed below the threshold.

However, in the most recent decision, the magistrate, Judge Gabriel W. Gorenstein, stated in his report that the stipulation of using “all available means”
was not clear and therefore the county could not be held in contempt of court.

Currently, the county is mostly on track to develop the requisite amount of housing, with 635 units already financed over the threshold of 600 for 2015, according to numbers provided by the county executive’s office.

In addition, of those units, 466 have already secured building permits, which is 59 units short of the 2015 mandate, and permits for another 100 units are currently pending.

There is a 14-day window in which either party can object to the magistrate’s report which would be reviewed by a district court.

CONTACT: james@hometwn.com

 
starbucks5

Tuckahoe plans to adopt Eastchester fast food rules

 

 

The Starbucks located at the Tuckahoe Metro-North train station is on MTA property and was never subject to any village approval process. Tuckahoe’s Board of Trustees is expected to pass a law, like neighboring Eastchester, that will prohibit fast food businesses from setting up shop in the village. File photo

The Starbucks located at the Tuckahoe Metro-North train station is on MTA property and was never subject to any village approval process. Tuckahoe’s Board of Trustees is expected to pass a law, like neighboring Eastchester, that will prohibit fast food businesses from setting up shop in the village. File photo

By Sarah Varney
The July controversy between Subway and the Village of Tuckahoe is about to end in a victory for residents who feared the encroachment of additional fast food outlets. The Tuckahoe Village Board of Trustees will pass a law on Monday, Dec. 14 prohibiting “formula fast food and formula quick casual” restaurants from moving into the village, according to Village Administrator David Burke.

Changes in the village laws were precipitated by a controversy that erupted during the summer when a Subway went through the permitting approval process in order to open up shop at 73 Main St. During a July village board meeting, residents presented a 200-signature-long petition asking that the zoning rules be changed to prevent any other chain restaurants from locating in the village.

“Basically, we’ve taken the exact definitions that Eastchester has already implemented and they’re the basis for our law,” Burke said.

The Starbucks, which is located at the Metro-North train station, never elicited any conflict when it first opened because it is on MTA property, according to Burke.

The revisions to the existing village code calling for a ban on “formula fast food and formula quick casual restaurants” will include establishments with seven or more locations on a state or national level. For example, nationally, there are currently nearly 15,000 McDonald’s restaurants and 12,000 Burger King outlets, according to figures provided by each company, and such establishments now won’t be allowed in Tuckahoe.

Sit-down chain restaurants with menus and wait staff such as Applebee’s will be permitted, even after the new law is adopted, despite the fact that they are considered chains.

The board opened up its public comment period on Nov. 9 to hear residents’ concerns about the proposed law change issue but no one appeared to comment. There were no comments on the subject during the board meeting held on Nov. 23 either, according to Burke.

Petitioners opposed to fast food restaurants in the village seem to have gone to ground. “I thought there would be lots of people saying ‘Yes, pass it, pass it!’ but there was no follow-up at all,” the village administrator added.

Tuckahoe Mayor Steve Ecklond, a Republican, echoed Burke’s reaction. “I am also surprised by the relatively few comments by the residents overall,” Ecklond said. “I think with the minimal retail space left in our village, there’s probably a recognition that we wouldn’t see the vast fast-food chains knocking on the village’s door anyway.”

CONTACT: sarah@hometwn.com

 
A child makes a friend at the petting zoo at Mistletoe Magic on Sunday, Nov. 29.

Mistletoe Magic gives Rye some holiday cheer

local-summitw

Local Summit focuses on village development

New World Realty Advisors, LLC representatives Thomas Nappi, left, and Daniel Pfeffer describe the current development plan for Hampshire Country Club at the Local Summit’s breakfast program on Nov. 17.  Photo/John Gitlitz

New World Realty Advisors, LLC representatives Thomas Nappi, left, and Daniel Pfeffer describe the current development plan for Hampshire Country Club at the Local Summit’s breakfast program on Nov. 17.
Photo/John Gitlitz

By Linnet Tse
Addressing a packed room at the Local Summit’s breakfast program in Mamaroneck on Nov. 17 were representatives from the Village of Mamaroneck and from New World Realty Advisors, LLC, the organization responsible for managing the redevelopment of Hampshire Country Club. Village Manager Richard Slingerland, accompanied by Bob Galvin, village planner, and Greg Cutler, assistant village planner, provided an overview of the development projects currently underway in the Village of Mamaroneck, including Hampshire Country Club. Daniel Pfeffer and Thomas Nappi, from New World Realty Advisors, LLC, provided details on their current plan to redevelop Hampshire.

While the proposed redevelopment of Hampshire has received a lot of attention due in part to the opposition by certain community groups, few audience members were aware of the other potentially influential development projects currently underway in the Village of Mamaroneck.

First, Slingerland reviewed recently-implemented zoning amendments intended to encourage development consistent with the village’s comprehensive plan update adopted in February 2012. The main amendments include Transit-Oriented Development and Library Lane. The Transit-Oriented Development, TOD, change was passed in November 2014, and was created  to revitalize the area on Mamaroneck Avenue west of the train tracks. TODs aim to create mixed-use residential and commercial space near active train stations and promote reduced reliance on personal automobiles and are currently in effect in Bronxville, Mount Kisco, Pelham and Scarsdale.

Library Lane is a proposal to rezone the west side of Library Lane from C-1 (general commercial) to C-2 (downtown commercial), consistent with the east side of the road. Five properties on the west side of Library Lane would be affected, but the impact is expected to be minimal.

The current Hampshire proposal calls for eliminating the golf course, and adding 44 single-family homes and 61 townhouses scattered throughout the 116-acre property, most of which lies in the Village of Mamaroneck; however, Dan Pfeffer explained that New World Realty Advisors’, NWRA, plans for Hampshire began differently.

Hampshire closed its doors because of financial problems in December 2009, and was sold to NWRA in June 2010 for $12.1 million. Pfeffer was quoted in a Larchmont Gazette article published in  June 2010 saying there were no immediate plans to turn the club into a housing development; instead it was being used for Mamaroneck High School’s golf team and charitable events.

Pfeffer said that after purchasing the club, NWRA planned on creating a “Country Club Community” that preserved the golf course, turning the area where the current clubhouse is located into condominium housing and giving up their development rights to the remaining land by putting it in a land trust. However, this plan would have required a zoning change as the current clubhouse—the site of the proposed condominiums—is located in a protected marine zone that does not permit development. This controversial plan sparked opposition from neighbors concerned about any development in the environmentally-sensitive and flood-prone area. According to Pfeffer, when this original rezoning plan was submitted to the Village of Mamaroneck Board of Trustees in February 2014, it was immedi-
ately rejected.

Following the initial rejection, NWRA revised its plans based on community feedback, reducing the proposed condominium units by 25 percent to 96 units. However, the plan was rejected again with no discussion.summit2

Hampshire submitted the current plan to the Village of Mamaroneck in June 2015. The plan did not require any zoning changes, and instead proposed that single-family homes be scattered throughout the current golf course. Pfeffer noted that, in keeping with FEMA regulations, homes would be built above the predicted floodplain, and although the golf course would be destroyed, the clubhouse, swimming pool and tennis courts would be preserved.

Following the recent Local Summit meeting, the Village of Mamaroneck’s Planning Board approved the Scope for an Environmental Impact Statement, EIS, process for the Hampshire redevelopment project, requiring Hampshire to prepare a draft EIS to be circulated, reviewed, edited and supplemented into a final copy. Upon completion of SEQRA, the site plan will be adjusted and finalized, a process that Slingerland estimates to last from one to two years based on the average amount of time that SEQRA reviews usually take. A $55 million lawsuit by the club against the village over the process of rejecting their rezoning proposal remains in progress.

Rye-Police-Station

Breaking: Rye to name new police commissioner

 

For the first time since the change of the city charter last year, a new police commissioner—Michael Corcoran from the West Orange Police Department—has been selected with the approval of both the city manager and the Rye City Council. Photo courtesy Linkedin.com

For the first time since the change of the city charter last year, a new police commissioner—Michael Corcoran from the West Orange Police Department—has been selected with the approval of both the city manager and the Rye City Council. Photo courtesy Linkedin.com

By James Pero
Michael Corcoran is expected to take over as the new Rye City police commissioner after his hiring was approved by the Rye City Council on Wednesday, Dec. 2, after press time, according to sources with knowledge of the hire. 

Corcoran, whose first day on the job is slated for Feb. 1, 2016, is set to replace current police commissioner, William Pease, who has occupied the position since June 2014.

Over the course of Corcoran’s career, he has filled a number of different roles in law enforcement, law and the military, including approximately 20 years of cumulative experience at the West Orange County Police Department in New Jersey, as well as four years serving in the U.S. Navy.

According to Councilman Richard Mecca, a Republican, Corcoran was chosen, in part, because of his diverse experience.

“You have a well-rounded guy who is not just about police work,” Mecca said, adding that Corcoran’s experience with the West Orange police—a region similar to Westchester County—also factored into the decision. “Those well-rounded skills will work to our benefit.”

In his most recent position, Corcoran acted as deputy chief of the West Orange police, a role he held for nearly two years. His new position in Rye, however, will be Corcoran’s first ever role as the top cop.

With Corcoran’s confirmation, Rye will kick a trend of transitional police commissioners—commissioners not meant for a long-term stay—which have included Pease and Lt. Robert Falk, both of whom served as commissioner over the past several years, following the January 2014 resignation of longtime Police Commissioner William Connors.

Pease’s current run as police commissioner, which came as part of a temporary succession plan following Connors’ departure, marks the second time he has served in that capacity, the first being from 1993 to 1999.

According to City Manager Marcus Serrano, if the hire goes as planned, Corcoran will be occupying the position for a lengthier tenure.

“[We want] somebody that can take over the reins and add some additional assets,” Serrano said. “And then be there for a long period of time.”

Aiding Corcoran in his duties as commissioner will be his educational background in criminal justice, which includes a certificate in criminal justice education by the FBI National Academy.

According to Serrano, Corcoran was chosen among 14 other candidates who also interviewed for the position. Serrano declined to comment on other candidates for fear of jeopardizing their current occupations.

The decision to hire Corcoran marks the first time that the Rye City Council has chosen a new police commissioner under an amended charter which was passed by the council unanimously in October last year.

The change allows the city council to approve or deny the appointment of a police commissioner, a duty which was formerly the sole responsibility of the city manager.

Last year, the rule change was met with some criticism from those who claimed the change would politicize the appointment process of police commissioner.

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

CONTACT: james@hometwn.com

 

IMG_8071

Hommocks first public school to launch Rocket

 

 

Through implementing a Rocket, students are learning a lesson in composting as well as broader knowledge of how to take care of their environment. Photo courtesy NATH Sustainable Solutions

Through implementing a Rocket, students are learning a lesson in composting as well as broader knowledge of how to take care of their environment. Photo courtesy NATH Sustainable Solutions

By James Pero
At Hommocks Middle School in Mamaroneck, one person’s trash is turning into another person’s fertilizer. With the launch of a new compost machine, Hommocks will be the first public school in New York state to implement the use of a Rocket composter. 

According to a statement from the school, the $33,000 machine—which was purchased using a grant from the Mamaroneck Schools Foundation—will be used to convert student and faculty food waste into organic fertilizer which will be used in Hommocks’ gardens to grow food, and will also be available for use by other gardeners in the community.

School administrators and students hope that the composter will not only cut down on the school’s garbage production—which according to the school has already been decrease by about 86 percent since the school began using the composter several weeks ago—but will also reduce the cost of shipping garbage to landfills.

In addition to helping the environment, Hommocks Principal Dr. Seth Weitzman also hopes the composter will be a valuable tool in teaching students the importance of reducing food waste and taking care of the environment.

“The Rocket Composter provides us with the opportunity to educate students about the importance of turning food waste back into nature’s best and being good stewards of the earth,” he said.

And if Arthur Silva, a seventh grade student at the school, is any indication, the machine has already started working on both environmental and educational levels.

“When we grow up it’s going to be our world and our environment so if we help it now, it’s all going to be better than today,” he said.

Already, the students have gotten a lesson in food separation, which according to the school is an important part of the composting process.

At the students’ cafeteria, recycling station plastics are separated from paper, and food waste—including liquids which are emptied into a bucket—is partitioned off and moved into the compost machine when ready, where it sits until it is either applied to the school’s garden or taken by residents.

School administrators say the amount of waste produced by the school has already been substantially reduced. According to an audit by We Future Cycle, a nonprofit organization that helps schools carry out green initiatives, the 156 lbs. of trash accumulated during a two-hour time span has been reduced by 86 percent

According to Mamaroneck Town Supervisor Nancy Seligson, a Democrat, the Rocket compost machine will be just one step forward in a long list of sustainability initiatives by both the town and Hommocks.

“The town has been interested in promoting food composting for several years, and this is a big step forward in composting and educating our kids about composting,” Seligson said.

CONTACT: james@hometwn.com

 

Tease

Astorino budget slashes nonprofit, arts funding

So far, County Executive Rob Astorino has showed little interest in enacting a gun show ban at the Westchester County Center, even despite some public support.  File photos

County Executive Rob Astorino

By James Pero
With election season in the books, budget talks have taken the front seat, as a tentative budget proposal has been submitted for Westchester County’s 2016 fiscal year. This year, however, focus hasn’t centered on what’s in the budget; rather, what isn’t. 

In line with the last six years, Republican Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino’s $1.8 billion operating budget proposal includes no property tax increase or increase to the $548 million property tax levy. A budget message from the county executive attributes the lack of increase to reductions in both staff and discretionary spending—the former of which has been cut by 16 percent since he took office in 2010.

Astorino’s budget also includes a proposal for 25 layoffs in addition to cutting 60 other unfilled positions and does not raise the tax levy or increase spending.

A proposal to borrow $11 million is also included in an effort to offset the cost of tax-grievance settlements. County administration officials said this will help prevent more than 100 layoffs.

Additionally, the budget has proposed $216 million in capital projects, which includes $51.6 million specifically dedicated to affordable housing projects and another $18 million toward capital projects at the Westchester County Airport, the likes of which are aimed at improving electrical systems, taxiways, terminal systems and various pieces of equipment.

However, criticism this year is centering on a wide range of budget cuts, which could affect various nonprofit and arts organizations across the county.

According to Nonprofit Westchester, a coalition of more than 90 nonprofit groups in Westchester County, current proposals could gut the budget of hundreds of nonprofit organizations across the county. According to its executive director, Joanna Straub, the only problem is that they are currently unsure of just how bad the cuts would be.

“It’s broad,” Straub said. “There’s not one type of service that’s going untouched.”

As of press time, the budget shows cuts to “community-based organizations,” which Straub stated entails a large swath of nonprofit community programs whose budgets are either being cut from 20 percent or nixed altogether.

According to figures in the budget, the $1.5 million budgeted for such organizations during the 2015 fiscal year are proposed to fall to zero.

These organizations, Straub states, range from April’s Child—an organization responsible for helping combat child abuse and neglect in the county—which is seeing their funding slashed entirely, to Legal Services of the Hudson Valley, which helps those who can’t afford legal services, particularly in the event of eviction and foreclosure proceedings. Hudson Valley Legal Services is currently anticipating a 17 percent decrease in county funding, according to Barbara Finkelstein, the CEO of Hudson Valley Legal Services. The organization currently receives 18 percent of their funding from the county.

However, Ned McCormack, spokesperson for the administration, said the funding cut for Hudson Valley is being proposed at 11 percent.

According to Straub, the ripple effects of these budget cuts could not only affect the arena in which the services are aimed, but could also contribute to an even wider range of problems in some cases.

“If you don’t prevent someone from being evicted and they become homeless, that’s going to be a heck of a lot more expensive than if you provided them legal services,” Straub said.

Finkelstein said that each person in public housing costs the county $30,000 a year.

On the other hand, McCormack said that such cuts are a necessary part of balancing the budget, especially if the county is to keep taxes at a reasonable rate.

“We are the highest taxed county in the country,” McCormack said. “The executive has made a commitment to not raising taxes.”

McCormack said that extensive federal mandates have contributed to a budget which is increasingly limited in how much control the county has over the way its money is spent.

“Seventy-five percent of the budget is mandated by the state and federal government,” he said. “That has become extremely problematic.”

In addition to cuts in nonprofit spending, art programs across Westchester may also be taking a hit. In the current budget proposal, arts funding for programs across Westchester County could see a loss of $330,000 or a 20 percent decrease in their overall budget.

Such cuts have already riled arts organizations around the county, sparking a response from Thomas Schwarz, president of Purchase College, a state-funded liberal arts school.

“The arts inspire people to become creative and in turn create jobs and attract jobs. The county can’t have it both ways,” he said in a released statement. “We respect the need for reasonable tax levels, but a balanced budget should not mean an unbalanced approach to the arts.”

Nonprofit Westchester and coalitions that represent hundreds of nonprofit agencies throughout the county held a press conference on Nov. 19 to urge Westchester officials to reconsider cuts in funding in County Executive Rob Astorino’s 2016 proposed budget. The organizations urged for restoration of funding for nonprofit programs—slated to be eliminated in the $1.8 billion proposed budget—and launched an advocacy campaign, #KeepWestchesterThriving. Photo courtesy Nonprofit Westchester

Nonprofit Westchester and coalitions that represent hundreds of nonprofit agencies throughout the county held a press conference on Nov. 19 to urge Westchester officials to reconsider cuts in funding in County Executive Rob Astorino’s 2016 proposed budget. The organizations urged for restoration of funding for nonprofit programs—slated to be eliminated in the $1.8 billion proposed budget—and launched an advocacy campaign, #KeepWestchesterThriving. Photo courtesy Nonprofit Westchester

Whether or not the proposed cuts will stick remains to be seen, as the final budget is set for a vote by Dec. 27 and must first go to the Westchester County Board of Legislators for revisions.

For now, both nonprofit organizations and arts organizations across Westchester plan on continuing their campaign to restore crucial funding.

“We are sending out the word to urge people to contact their elected officials to tell them we want these services,” Straub said. “I encourage our legislators to speak up.”

CONTACT: james@hometwn.com

 
DEER_1f

Rye signs up deer counter for pellet survey

Rye has spent $5,000 for a survey method formulated by Dr. David deCalesta, a wildlife researcher, to try to ascertain the number of deer within the city’s boundaries. Photo courtesy Metro Creative

Rye has spent $5,000 for a survey method formulated by Dr. David deCalesta, a wildlife researcher, to try to ascertain the number of deer within the city’s boundaries. Photo courtesy Metro Creative

By Sarah Varney
The City of Rye has signed a $5,000 contract with Hank J. Birdsall, a Rye-based wildlife biologist, to perform an in-depth deer count set to begin after Thanksgiving and to be reported on in May 2016. 

In February 2015, an informal ground survey that Birdsall took part in used a Westchester County parks department helicopter and tallied 48 deer at the Marshlands Conservatory and 26 in the Greenhaven area abutting Marshlands.

According to Mayor Joe Sack, a Republican, Rye has not yet determined how they plan to use the results of Birdsall’s count.

“We have enough information from the county’s deer counts and plain observation that there is a significant deer over-population problem; however, we continue to desire even more metrics, especially to set the most precise baseline possible,” Sack said.

In order to obtain that precise baseline, Birdsall will use a deer pellet survey method developed by Dr. David deCalesta, a wildlife researcher. The state has relied on deCalesta’s counting method. but this is the first time it will be used locally, Birdsall said.

Because the survey method requires a straight mile-long path, its use is limited in Westchester. But Rye is one of the few municipalities with enough contiguous land to accommodate a mile-long straightaway. Birdsall will establish a one-mile path that goes through land at the Jay Heritage Center, 23 acres, Marshlands Conservancy, 147 acres, the Rye Golf Club, 125 acres, and a section of Greenhaven that abuts the Jay property.

The pellet count survey method is already used at the Ward Pound Ridge Reservation in Pound Ridge, which has 4,315 acres.

Twice monthly, Birdsall will walk a carefully-delineated area to complete both a visual survey and a pellet count. Deer deposit droppings as often as 25 times a day, Birdsall said. Determining a deer number based on the number of pellets found involves a complex formula, but according to deCalesta, 57 clumps of pellets comprising 10 pellets per group is generally equal to 32 deer per square mile, with a margin of error within 10 percent.

In addition, Birdsall will consult with the city’s Department of Public Works and the Rye Police Department to track deer disposal numbers and deer/auto collisions.

Birsdall said he will also present deer management strategies when he makes his May report.

Sack hosted a deer management forum on Feb. 25 during which he and Village of Mamaroneck Mayor Norman Rosenblum, a Republican, officially requested deer management personnel from the Westchester County Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation in a letter. In a responding letter dated Sept. 30, Deputy County Executive Kevin J. Plunkett declined.

In an attempt to clarify Plunkett’s decision, Deputy Commissioner of Westchester County Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation Peter Tartaglia said that the county would hold off on providing any sort of culling solution until Rye and Mamaroneck had a plan in place that included neighboring towns and neighborhoods.

The deer count contract with Birdsall indicates Sack’s intention to carry on with the issue despite the county’s reluctance. “We have moved on, and will take steps to address the problem without the county’s help,” Sack said.

Rosenblum said he has no plans to hire a wildlife consultant to count deer.

Despite Sack’s doggedness in pursuing a deer solution, Rye’s citizens and city council members may not be in favor of archers or sharpshooters culling the herd; the city decided not to pursue a bow hunting program in 2013.

CONTACT: sarah@hometwn.com

 
The Rye City Council will be forced to grapple with adding paid staff to a fire department that has lost a number of volunteers over the past two decades. File photo

City forms study group to address FD staffing

The Rye City Council will be forced to grapple with adding paid staff to a fire department that has lost a number of volunteers over the past two decades. File photo

The Rye City Council will be forced to grapple with adding paid staff to a fire department that has lost a number of volunteers over the past two decades. File photo

By James Pero
Though Rye’s 2016 budget proposal is in, the decision to add any additional staffing is still up in the air—even for a waning fire department that has lost numerous volunteers.

Now, in an effort to help guide the decision of the Rye City Council on the issue of fire department staffing, a seven-member, mayor-appointed study group has been formed by Mayor Joe Sack, a Republican.

The committee—which will consist of Councilman Richard Mecca, a longtime volunteer firefighter, Mayor Sack, Councilwoman Kirstin Bucci, City Manager Marcus Serrano and Fire Lt. Kurt Tietjen—will deliberate which staffing levels are appropriate in order to ensure Rye residents’ safety, and then recommend actions to the city council.

So far, the group has yet to have an official meeting, according to Serrano, but will do so prior to the city budget being adopted in mid-December.

The issue—which is part of a larger trend of decreasing city staff that Serrano said has fallen by 10 percent over the past five years—has become a focal point for residents and city council members alike, after former City Manager Frank Culross stated it was “staffed for failure” at this time last year.

According to John Castelhano, president of the city’s fire union, the decision to form an advisory committee has arrived not a second too late, as Rye’s number of volunteer firefighters has dropped precipitously over the past two decades.

Currently, he told the Review, there are only 16 total volunteer interior firefighters—firefighters that are trained to enter buildings—and only about half of them are active. These firefighters supplement the current 17 paid firefighters assigned to the department full time.

Because of this lack of interior firefighters, he says the department’s capabilities are limited.

“Firefighters have two options: suppression or rescue,” Castelhano said. “With the staff we have right now, we can only do one of those…We don’t have enough manpower.”

Last year, there was a proposal from Culross that recommended hiring four new career firefighters, which would increase the number of paid firefighters on duty from three to four per hour; but the additions were nixed by the city council before the final 2015 budget approval.

In addition to staffing, forthcoming expenses in regard to the fire department—which has been without a new union contract since 2009—also include the replacement of an aging firetruck, Engine No. 191, which was flagged in last year’s budget for its deteriorating condition. The engine, which was originally purchased in 1994, is estimated to cost about $625,000 to replace, based on last year’s budget projections.

According to Mecca, though the tentative budget for 2016 doesn’t propose any additional staffing for the fire department, adding firefighters—if deemed necessary—isn’t entirely out of the question.

“There’s always consideration before the final budget is passed [in December],” he said.

Working against the likelihood of expensive new hires, however, are other understaffed departments such as the city’s Department of Public Works, which Serrano said is also in need of more staff members. In addition, the city manager said, if new hires are to take place, then the city would likely have to break the state-mandated tax cap, meaning that residents who would normally receive a state tax refund check would not do so.

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

CONTACT: james@hometwn.com