Supervisior Valerie O’Keefe of the Town of Mamaroneck has presented her annual State of the Town address. Have a look. Last year was a difficult one.
” Happy New Year to my fellow Board members and to all the residents of the Town of Mamaroneck. At the beginning of each year it has been my practice to take a few moments at our organizational meeting to comment on the State of the Town, our accomplishments over the past year, and a preview of our plans for the coming year.
Over the past two years my message to the community has been dominated by discussions of the poor economic circumstances we all face and the implications of the poor economy upon the Town government. While I would prefer to tell you that this discussion is all behind us, unfortunately I cannot. The economic conditions that have plagued local governments since 2008 have not markedly improved. Some, however, believe that the economy has reached its worst point and that conditions will now improve. However, most of those who believe that also believe that economic recovery will be a long, slow process.
The end of the calendar year also marks the end of the fiscal year for the Town of Mamaroneck and we have just completed one of the most difficult budget preparation cycles in recent memory. After multiple years of poor revenue performance, further reductions in property assessments and a significant expense increase for mandated costs, the Town was forced into a number of difficult decisions. The Town held the line on operating expenses for which it had control and reduced our total full time staff. Because of the long cycle of poor revenue performance, we were forced to severely reduce our application of surplus which was another leading factor for the property tax increase which was higher than normal.
In the end we adopted a responsible budget which reasonably positions the Town for the future and maintains our strong financial condition. We took the position with the 2011 budget that economic recovery will be a slow process and that our need to control expenses is not just for the year ahead but for several years ahead. The 2011 Budget includes no gimmicks or one-time fixes. It focuses on the needs of the community and provides adequate funding for municipal services for the long term.
Certainly, we explain why taxes have increased but that does not reduce the community’s frustration over the question of how long can we sustain taxes at these levels. Reducing expenses and staff are, however, just part of the formula for controlling property taxes. At some point the Town must look at the level of services provided and decide whether we can sustain the same level of service going forward. The difficulty, however, is that unlike higher levels of government, services provided by the Town are basic to the day-to-day quality of life in the community. Think of the many services provided by the Town government. Most if not all our services are designed to protect the good and basic welfare of the residents of the community.
Over this past Christmas weekend 22 inches of snow fell in the Town. We did not have a choice as to whether or not to respond. We knew the snow must be cleared from the streets in a timely fashion and I am sure that will not be the last snow storm this season. Our public safety departments Police, Fire and Ambulance will respond to close to 9,000 calls for service this year.
Our sanitation services will collect and process 19,000 tons of garbage and recyclable material. We will also maintain a substantial inventory of infrastructure to provide roadways and sidewalks, sanitary sewer disposal and storm water drainage.
Close to 1,000 children will participate in our summer recreation programs and we will provide nutrition programs and activities for our senior citizens. These are just a few of the many services of the Town government.
This is a considerable task and one that requires appropriate funding and staffing in order to be efficient. Finding the right level of funding and staffing is the challenge. Right now the property tax provides funding for about 65% of the services provided by the Town. The annual tax bill represents our charge to the residents for the many services we provide.
How can the Town truly stabilize or reduce the level of municipal taxes? We will need to be creative and think outside of the box. Should we reduce the level of services in order to shrink the budget and the scope of the Town government? There just may be services that we can no longer afford to provide. A second solution and one that local officials throughout the state are focused on right now is the burden of mandated costs. The New York State Conference of Mayors has coined the phrase; “We can’t cut what we can’t control”. Increases in mandated costs for pension, medical insurance along with workers compensation insurance were the sole drivers of the increase in the budget for 2011. These mandated costs are just the tip of the iceberg of mandates placed upon local governments that increase our operating costs. With the help of the new governor and cooperation of the new legislature, reductions or modifications in these mandates should impact our budget positively.
We will continue to study additional opportunities for collaboration with our sister villages and the school district for consolidation and shared services. This past year the Shared Services Committee formed by the Town and the two villages issued its report on offering opportunities for shared services. The Town and the two Villages actually have a long history of collaboration and sharing of services. We anticipate that we can build upon our past accomplishments and work with the villages on the additional shared services ideas presented in the report.
Another option and one that the Town Board explored briefly for sanitation services is the use of a pay-as-you-go system where residents pay for actual services used rather than bundling municipal service costs into a single tax bill. The Town has used this system successfully for Recreation and Ambulance Services.
Going forward we will need to look at each of these alternatives and implement a combination of all of them if we are serious about stabilizing property taxes for Town services. We will, however, need the help of the residents to identify areas of concern and identify the level of tolerance for significant service changes or reductions.
HAMPSHIRE COUNTRY CLUB
While the budget and our financial condition occupied much of our time in 2010, there were other activities that kept us busy during the year. We learned that the Hampshire Country Club would be closing. Working with the Village of Mamaroneck, local residents and outside consultants we explored the potential of purchasing the club and adapting it into a recreational facility for the community. In the end it was not to be, however, as a private concern purchased the property. While this was an exciting prospect it became clear that it was beyond our means, particularly at a time of a sluggish economy and concerns over property taxes and government spending.
A project that has been discussed for the last year or so is the revaluation of property in the entire Town of Mamaroneck. With all of the concerns regarding the 2011 budget the revaluation project did get pushed to the side. We will, however, be taking the project up again this winter with the issuance of a request for proposal to firms interested in conducting the revaluation. Once we have selected a firm, an extensive educational process will begin to understand how the revaluation is done and how values are determined. At this time the plan is to complete the process for the 2013 assessment role.
There were several other projects of note that began in 2010 and will be completed this coming year. In June of 2010 the Town broke ground on the Gardens Lake Restoration Project. With the completion of this project in the summer of 2011, the Gardens Lake will serve to improve water quality in the lower reaches of the Sheldrake River and serve as a critical flood control detention basin. The Gardens Lake was one of only 4 projects to receive funding through the Westchester County Flood Control Program. I AM PROUD TO SAY County Legislator Judy Myers and I served on the County Flood Action Task Force.
In 2011 we will take delivery of two new pieces of fire apparatus; a rescue truck and fire pumper. Both of these pieces of equipment will help to improve our public safety services by using the latest technology for fire protection and rescue services.
CARBON FOOT PRINT
One of the initiatives the Town undertook several years ago was a measurement of our carbon footprint and to find solutions to reduce it. As an addition to our successful vegetable oil fueled garbage trucks, the Town in 2011 will take delivery of its first hybrid dump truck. Using electric over diesel technology the hybrid dump truck will save fuel and emit fewer pollutants. The replacement of a dump truck for the Highway Department was already planned for this year and a grant from the Federal Government will subsidize the additional cost for the hybrid technology. So we look forward to experimenting with this technology and hope for the same success as we experienced with our veggie garbage trucks.
In 2009 the Town assumed responsibility for the delivery of all services to senior citizens both in the Town and the two Villages. In order to serve the larger population of seniors, the Town entered into a long term lease with the Veterans of Foreign War to utilize their building on Boston Post Road. With funding assistance from the County of Westchester and the Community Development Block Grant Program the Town will soon begin renovations to the building. The project will include updating old bathroom and kitchen facilities as well as renovating existing spaces used for programs. We intend to complete the project by this summer.
We will also soon begin a project to construct a new office and locker room facility for the employees of the Larchmont Mamaroneck Joint Sanitation Commission. The new building will replace 2 very old trailers that were originally meant to serve as a temporary facility over 12 years ago.
Our continued service to the community as stewards of the environment is an ongoing activity for the Town. We have long prided ourselves on the many projects conducted by the Town to maintain and protect our natural resources. This past year we completed a project to improve bank stabilization along the Sheldrake River near East and West Brookside Drive. New plantings and changes made to control the flow of water in the river will help preserve for the future the river banks. New plantings also have added to the aesthetics of the neighborhood.
We will also be pursuing a project to improve water quality both in the Sheldrake River and in Long Island Sound. This past year the Town applied for and received a grant to improve the quality of storm water by installing catch basin filters and traps. The devices will allow us to capture solid waste and certain pollutants often found in storm water. Implementation of this project will occur in 2011.
PROPERTY RECORD ON WEBSITE
In 2010 we rolled out our property record portal on the Town’s website. The portal allows residents, real estate agents and others access to much of our property information, aerial photography and tax map data. When the property revaluation is completed the Town will expand the data base in the portal to include additional information regarding properties in the Town.
TOWN BUILDINGS AND FACILITIES
Part of the infrastructure of the Town includes the buildings and facilities used to house Town operations and activities. Periodically, it is important that we look at our facilities to keep up with needed repairs and improvements. In 2009 the Town conducted an evaluation of the Hommocks Ice Rink. This important year-round facility is over 20 years old and the study was intended to identify needed repairs and equipment upgrades. We delayed action on the study due to other capital project priorities but our plan for 2011 is to revisit the study and identify the repairs and improvements that are absolutely needed to maintain the integrity and quality of facility. Hopefully, the work will be completed in 2012.
In 2011 we will also evaluate the Town Center Building for needed repairs. The last major renovation to the building occurred 27 years ago and considering that parts of this building are almost 125 years old the timing is right to evaluate the buildings overall condition.
2011 will indeed be a busy year for the Town. In addition to overseeing the operations of the government, our discussions of the Town Budget will soon begin again as we evaluate service delivery for Town residents.
In conclusion, I want to thank my fellow board members. The many hours of meetings and hearings can at times be grueling. Our success as a board is due to a culture of collegiality. We certainly do not always agree upon issues but we take the time to evaluate and discuss matters in a thoughtful way. We are of one voice, however, when it comes to accomplishing our mission of maintaining the high quality of life in our community.
Many thanks to the staff, especially Town Administrator Steve Altieri; their experience and professionalism are so important to the manner in which services are provided to the community.
Lastly, thank you to the many residents who contact me and other Board members. Your opinions are important and we do want to hear from you. Your comments can make a difference in how the Town can better serve you.
Thank you and I wish the best to all in the New Year.”