In the wake of back-to-back destructive storms and a response by Con Edison that was woefully insufficient and prompted outrage throughout Westchester County, too many of our friends and neighbors had to endure very dark days. But even in our darkest days, our Village shone brightly.
These past weeks have reminded us again of how unique Scarsdale really is, why so many families move in each year to be part of this community, why so many Scarsdale High School grads return to raise families of their own, why so many empty nesters willingly pay a premium to stay, and how privileged we are to call Scarsdale our home.
Examples were everywhere. Our police and firefighters were stretched thin during the state of emergency, but took on all challenges with professionalism. Our Village staff, especially the tireless workers of the Department of Public Works, went above and beyond. The Village Manager’s office basically lived at Village Hall. The DPW cleared roads, removed trees, partnered with Con Ed’s restoration crews, and went the extra mile day-by-day and hour-by-hour to come to our residents’ aid. The Public Library extended its hours to provide warmth and good cheer to residents without light and heat, and the Scarsdale Volunteer Ambulance Corps opened its doors so residents could charge their phones, take a shower, and have somewhere warm to go.
While residents in big cities might have needed to take refuge in temporary shelters for days on end, with little dignity and less privacy, here in Scarsdale, so many of you opened your own homes. We saw again and again on social media, “Come over. Sleep over. Share our heat. Use our washer and dryer. Take a shower. Feel human. Charge your devices. Share our food. Tell us how we can help. We’re here for you. Our home is your home.” With very few exceptions, individual agendas were put aside. Your generosity was overwhelming.
The Scarsdale we saw in the face of the storm was the Scarsdale we love, and the Scarsdale we want to serve. To work our hardest every day for people with this level of passion, accountability, and thoughtful engagement is what we signed up for when we stood before the Citizens Nominating Committee, the elected group of volunteers, representing a diverse cross-section of our citizens and hailing from every school district.
What they expected, and what you expect, is clear to us. We will need to listen to the whole community and hear every voice, not just the loudest ones. We will need to do our homework, gain a deep understanding of each issue before we opine about it, and take no decision lightly. We must debate vigorously but respectfully. We will need to look over every line item of every budget, sometimes dozens of times, to make sure every last dollar of our taxes goes into providing the high level of services Scarsdalians expect and deserve. We will need to proactively reach out to everyone, to hear your new ideas, your hopes, and your concerns, to share information, and to invite you to fully engage in this ongoing project of democratic self-governance.
We’re committed to this. We each know from our years of experience, volunteerism, service, and leadership in Scarsdale that no one person has all the answers. As the saying goes, it takes a Village.
If we earn your vote on March 20, these are among the big and complicated issues that we’ll be focused on:
A Budget That Strikes the Right Balance Between Fair Taxes and Excellent Services. With a new federal tax reform law that makes state and local taxes, including our Village property taxes, more burdensome, we need to provide you with confidence that we are spending our tax dollars prudently and efficiently. This will not be easy. Keeping taxes as low as possible while providing the services you deserve and expect was challenging even before federal tax reform. The single biggest line items in our budget each year are salaries and benefits, nearly all of which correspond to binding contracts. While the Village has improved its ability to stay under the state tax property tax cap, the increase in health insurance costs alone for Village employees is often three to six times the cap. There’s no magic gimmick, and no substitute for hard work. But our AAA bond rating is a testament to our sound fiscal practices, and we will continue in that tradition.
Support for Those Who Keep Us Safe. No amount of praise for our police and firefighters can ever match what they do for our community. This year, they have solved high profile robbery cases, responded to acts of nature, continued their efforts to improve traffic safety, and prepared for the unthinkable in the wake of unspeakable national tragedies. They’ve done this while also handling the small, personal, and sometimes quirky cases of small Village life with empathy and professionalism. Our first responders need our support, our continued investment, and our thanks.
Create a Vibrant Village Center. Despite the disruptions e-commerce has brought to traditional brick and mortar retail, we have made progress in revitalizing our downtown area. From the Farmer’s Market to pop-up art and concerts, from Light the ‘Dale to pilot programs making parking more efficient, from recruiting new merchants to planning for possible redevelopment (including the Freightway project), we need to keep the momentum going, and bring merchants, property owners, residents, and consumers together to enhance our Village.
Continue to Make Scarsdale the Model of a Sustainable Community. Scarsdale has always been a leader in our County for recycling, for the protection of our natural resources, and for the sustainability practiced in our schools. Recently, our composting efforts have become the model for other Westchester municipalities to follow. Whether it is the rollout of cost-saving and environment-friendly LED lights, continuing to educate residents and landscapers about the virtues of leaf mulching and “grasscycling,” taking a closer look at our regulations for overdeveloped lots, or continuing to listen to the community in search of the right balance between individual property rights and protecting our tree canopy from overzealous developers, we owe it to our children to leave them a Scarsdale that is better than how we found it.
Better Communication and Deeper Engagement with the Community. With the establishment of the Ad Hoc Committee on Communications, our local government has made great strides in getting you the information you want and need, and encouraging you to get involved in Scarsdale’s discussions, debates, and countless opportunities to volunteer. We need to use all of the modern tools of communication, including the web and social media, to make sure you know what we’re working on, why we’re working on it, and how you can get involved.
Scarsdale has had its share of controversies these last few years, some superficial, some deeply felt. At times, the angriest voices were the loudest. Perhaps it sometimes felt like deliberate division of neighbor vs. neighbor, not practical problem-solving, was the intended outcome. But we know that there is more that unites us than divides us. We know how special this community is. We have all been reminded that when challenges arise, our ability to come together is undiminished.
We love Scarsdale. We love being your neighbors. And we ask for your vote on March 20.