City of Rye: Update from the Mayor

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From Rye Mayor Doug French:

The Healthcare Challenge
At its March 2nd meeting, the City Council will hear from the City Manager and a subcommittee of our Citizens Finance Committee on the healthcare cost challenges facing the City. One-quarter or $7.5M of the $30M annual operating budget of the City goes toward employee benefits and payroll taxes. This line item grew 14% in one year from $6.5M driven partly by the new Federal healthcare legislation. While employee pensions are part of this rise, pensions are mandated under the New York State Constitution and reform is currently being discussed in Albany. Healthcare is managed by local governments, and healthcare coverage for employee retirees is an unfunded liability that is paid for out of each year’s operating budget. The main issue is how to best deal with this liability. The Council has asked the City Manager to review the future healthcare liability and begin to identify potential solutions.

The Playland Resolution
In anticipation of Westchester County issuing a request for proposal (RFP) on the future of Playland, last summer the Council appointed a Playland Strategic Working Group. Without a defined vision for Playland in the RFP, the committee identified key principles and values that reflected the culmination of research, outreach and public sessions from Rye citizens and surrounding communities. A summary of the core values to be considered with any proposed use is as follows: Playland is first and foremost a public resource for the use and enjoyment of all residents of Rye and Westchester County to include access to open space, Long Island Sound and facilities; any use must be sensitive to environmental considerations and sustainability; Playland’s unique historical importance and its highest national historic designation are at the heart of Playland and should be maintained; any proposal should have demonstrated financial viability over the long term; and finally, Rye has a long established designated zoning policy which reflects a careful balancing of many considerations that are reflected in the Master Plan, the Zoning Code, the Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan and other chapters within the Rye City Code concerning environmental and other health and safety issues. In addition, the Council has asked to include its support of the Children’s Museum as part of Playland because such an institution reflects the stated values. The Council will finalize and vote on the resolution at the March 2nd meeting.

Funding for the Library through a Chapter 414 Vote
Some communities financially support their libraries by setting up a separate tax district by which the annual budget is voted on by the public each year – known as a Chapter 414 vote. The council and the library are discussing the merits of supporting the creation of a new tax district for the Rye Free Reading room. One of the advantages is that the public would be able to vote annually on the library budget; however, one of the disadvantages is that overall taxes may rise over time if separate tax districts are set up as City spending may rise without proper controls in place. If the decision is to forgo a 414 process, the council is exploring a longer-term agreement with the library (currently done annually) that would identify areas of partnership to include labor relations coordination. This approach would give the library certainty of City funding while allowing the City to have some influence on decisions made. Right now the City funds roughly $1.1M or 75% of the operations of the Rye Free Reading Room.

Hen Island Case Dismissed
The City was pleased with the recent court decision by the Honorable Barbara Zambelli to grant the City’s motion to dismiss the matter of Healtheharbor.com vs. the City of Rye. In order to provide the best environmental and health services to residents, it has long been the standing practice of the City of Rye, like many other surrounding communities, that Westchester County provides the best level of quality services and oversight on these matters. Rye will use its authority and discretion to respond to any issues it believes it should address and will refer to Westchester County matters on which the County has expertise. Since the cottages on the Island are seasonal, if issues arise in the coming season, the City will continue to engage the appropriate departments to work cooperatively with all parties involved to review the concerns. In addition, per the Judge’s the Decision, the City is in the process of reviewing the City Code and will be addressing possible amendments to same.

Visit the City of Rye Website at www.ryeny.gov or contact me, City Council members or the City Manager should you need more information. Mayor Doug French, mayor@ryeny.gov

One thought on “City of Rye: Update from the Mayor

  1. Mayor French,
    It appears that either you did not read the decision or you chose to intentionally misstate the relevant sections of Supreme Court Justice Barbara Zambelli’s well reasoned Decision. The following is just a sample of the City’s claims that were thrown out by the Court.
    Found on Page 4 of the Decision – The City argues that their motion to dismiss should be granted because the Westchester County Department of Health (“DOH”), as opposed to any City entities, has jurisdiction over the private sanitary sewer systems in the City.
    Found on Page 6 of the Decision – The City simply alleges that “essentially”, the Department of Health is the City’s Health Department and is the enforcement agency over the applicable County health regulations.
    THE COURT’S ANSWER –
    “The City’s conclusory contentions herein are an insufficient basis upon which to grant dismissal of the parties claims. Moreover, while it is true that the County has enacted regulations regarding sewage systems, the County has clearly not usurped local municipalities rights to pass their own regulations regarding such systems, as the County Sanitary Code, of which the sewage regulations are a part, specifies that nothing herein contained in this code shall be construed to restrict the power of any city, town or any village to adopt and enforce additional ordinances or enforce existing ordinances relating to health and sanitation, provided that such ordinances are not inconsistent with the provisions of the Public Health Law, the Environmental Conservation Law or the State Sanitary Code. (Westchester County Sanitary code, §873.102(4)). While respondents’ claim that Code §161 has been pre-empted by County Legislation, they do not argue that it is inconsistent with it, and indeed, this Court finds nothing inconsistent in the inspection required by Code §161 and the County’s regulations. Accordingly, respondents’ motion to dismiss on this basis must also be denied”.
    Therefore, the New York State Supreme Court has found that the City clearly has the right to pass their own regulations and there is nothing in the County Sanitary Code to restrict the Power of the City to adopt and enforce additional ordinances or enforce existing ordinances relating to health and sanitation provided that such ordinances are not inconsistent with the provisions of the Public Health Law. As you know, §161 of the Rye City Code is not, inconsistent with the Public Health Law and accordingly, the City is not restricted by the County Health Law from enforcing this important chapter of the Rye City Code to further protect the important environmentally sensitive area, Milton Harbor.
    ……………………………………………………………
    Found on Page 4 of the Decision – The City claims that Code §161 is no longer applicable or enforced in the City.
    THE COURT’S ANSWER –
    “The City’s motion to dismiss based upon their contention that Code §161 is no longer applicable or enforced in the city, and that the Department of Health has preempted the regulatory field in regard to private sewer systems, is also denied. As with respondents’ allegations regarding the Common Council and the Sanitation Committee, only insufficient, conclusory statements are offered in support of their allegation that Code §161 is no longer applicable. Respondents fail to point to any evidence the Code §161 has been repealed or superseded; indeed, Code §161 still appears “on the books” today and its history, while reflecting that the ordinance was originally adopted on September 20, 1950 and that certain parts were amended in the 1980’s fails to reflect any such repeal (Respondents” Exhibit B). Moreover, while it is true that the County has enacted regulations regarding sewage systems, the County has clearly not usurped local municipalities rights to pass their own regulations regarding such systems, as the County Sanitary Code, of which the sewage regulations are a part, specifies that “nothing herein contained in this code shall be
    construed to restrict the power of any city, town or any village to adopt and enforce additional ordinances are not inconsistent with the provisions of the Public Health Law, (Westchester County Sanitary Code, §873.102(4)). While respondents’ claim that Code §161 and the County’s regulations. Accordingly, respondents’ motion to dismiss on this basis must also be denied.
    Therefore, the Court has found that §161 of the Rye City Code is still “on the books” today and that the City has the right to pass their own regulations regarding septic systems and that “there is nothing in the County Code that shall be construed to restrict the power of any city to adopt or enforce additional ordinances”.

    Fortunately, the predecessors of this City Council had the foresight to provide even greater even greater protection to Milton Harbor than the requirements of the County Health Department.

    Additionally Mayor, Found on Page 3 of the Decision – The City of Rye moved to dismiss my Petition, arguing that I lack standing to maintain the proceeding.
    THE COURT’S ANSWER –
    “Addressing the issue of petitioners’ standing, it appears to this Court that at least petitioner Tartaglione and possibly petitioner HTH would have standing under the analysis of the Court of Appeals in Matter of Save the Pine Bush, Inc. v Common Council of the City of Albany, 13 N.Y.3d 297 (2009), as petitioner Tartaglione, the president of petitioner HTH, asserts that he uses and enjoys the affected natural resource of Milton Harbor in a way different from the public at large (Tartaglione Affidavit ¶¶ 14-17) and alleges that the municipal action (or in this case, inaction) directly harms his use and enjoyment of the harbor”.
    Therefore, the New York State Supreme Court has found that Raymond J. Tartaglione and possibly Heal the Harbor have standing to bring action against the City with regard to matters pertaining to Hen Island.
    …………………………………………………
    Found on Page 7 of the Decision – The only issue that the Court did not resolve in favor of the petitioner was the request of the petitioner that the Court compel the City to enforce their own City code.
    THE COURT’S ANSWER –
    “The decision to enforce a municipal code rests in the discretion of the public officials charged with its enforcement and is not a proper subject for relief in the nature of mandamus to compel”.

    Therefore, the New York State Supreme Court has found that the decision as to whether or not the City of Rye should enforce their own Code (§161), lies with the City Council, as the Court is not, as a matter of law, empowered the City Council to do so.
    This was of course, a disappointment, yet, it is still a victory because now everyone in the City of Rye knows the truth and I am sure that they are just as appalled as I am that the Mayor and the City Council would outright refuse to enforce a code that was put in place for the protection of the very people who elected them. Who ever heard of a City refusing to enforce their own code? The shame is still on all of you.
    Also regarding this particular issue, I would like to bring to your attention, a recent article published by “The Rye Sound Shore Review” which quoted City Attorney Kristen Wilson as saying that, “The city has no reason to enforce §161 of the code. Also, the Rye City Council may look to revise the law and clarify language highlighted by the county as in health concerns”. I was not aware that the Corporation Council’s responsibilities included setting policy. It would appear from Ms. Wilson’s statement that the Council has without meeting, decided not to enforce their own code and intends to revise §161. The council should carefully consider this statement and their intentions. §161 was made law on September 20, 1950 by the Forefathers of this City Council, I am sure after much thought, to further protect Milton Harbor, one of the most precious resources of this city. It has remained law for over 60 years. And now we are told that this Council has “no reason or intention to enforce this Chapter of the Code”. I for one, would like to know why not. Something is very wrong here.
    In the same “Rye Sound Shore Review” article, you, Mayor French claim to be pleased with the ruling and stated, “It speaks to the fact that we’ve always believed the county is our health department and we look to them for that service”. Incredibly, you also claim that the city was within its right not to enforce the code that is on its books and you go on to say, “We don’t have the level of expertise, it’s part of a range of services that the county provides”. These are blatant misstatements of fact, whether intentional or due to ignorance of the code of the City over which you preside. There is no expertise required, with regard to this issue and the County does not provide this service, nor is either necessary.
    I urge you and the City Council to review §161 of the Rye City Code, paying particular attention to 1 through 4. For now I will quote §161-1, “There shall be an annual inspection of all private sewage disposal systems by a contractor duly approved by the Westchester County Commissioner of Healthy on all properties bordering on all watercourses, including Long Island Sound, Milton Harbor and all tributaries thereto”.
    The annual inspection would be the responsibility of the property owner. Accordingly, there would be no cost to the City to enforce the existing Code. In fact, as stated in §161-4, “Any person violating any of the provisions of this article shall, upon conviction thereof, be punished by a fine not exceeding $500 or imprisonment not exceeding 15 days, or by both such fine and Imprisonment. Each day such violation shall continue shall constitute a separate offense”. Rather than costing the City money, it would actually bring additional revenue, assuming the occasional violation.

    Mayor French, during your campaign, you promised to resolve the Hen Island issues and the Schubert matter. Not only did you not keep your promise, you have gone to great lengths at the expense of the Rye City taxpayer, to keep those matters unresolved. Had you taken the appropriate course, both these issues could have and should have been resolved at no expense to the City and ultimately to the taxpayers. I find your lack of concern, as well as the City Council’s, to be reprehensible. I have remained silent for over a year now, while I waited for you to fulfill your campaign promises to resolve these significant problems, but since it is obvious at this point that you have no intention of doing so, it seems I must pick up where I left off and continue to do everything in my power to protect Milton Harbor and the Long Island Sound. Obviously, I have no choice, since you will do nothing. You could have made your mark as a decent, caring, “for the good of the people” mayor, with the resolution of these issues. Instead, and sadly, for the residents of Rye, you have accomplished nothing since taking office, which makes you just another politician. While the City has claimed a victory with regard to this decision, this is clearly not the case.

    Ray Tartaglione

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