Friday, October 19, 2007

SHOULD TOWN SPEND COMMIT TO OVER $400,000 FOR COMPREHENSIVE PLAN BEFORE BUDGET PROCESS BEGINS?

The Greenburgh Town Board may vote on hiring a $400,000 + consultant to conduct a comprehensive plan this Wednesday night at the Town Board meeting.
I have some concerns.
1) I believe that we should hold off on the selection of a consultant until after the November elections - when the new members of the Town Board will be elected. Those who are elected in November should make the decision as to who they want to hire. And, when the study should begin. A comprehensive plan will take a few years to complete.
2) The Town Board should not make significant financial commitments before the 2008 budget is discussed and reviewed. The 2008 budget must be proposed by October 30th. Readers of this blog understand that taxes will go up in 2008. It won't be a small tax hike (fund balance was depleted by the Town Council last year-against my warnings; library expansion/increased debt & certiorari's). There should be a community discussion: Should the study start now or should the study be deferred? Should funding come from the capital budget,reducing the impact of the 2008 tax hike or be part of the 2008 operating budget? Is this the time for long range planning or do we need to focus more attention of fiscal discipline?

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

SPEND, SPEND, SPEND, TAX, TAX, TAX
I agree with you PAUL

Anonymous said...

Spend, spend, spend. Tax, tax, tax. I agree with you PAUL. The Town Council members have lost their mind.

Anonymous said...

Does the town council feel the pain of the taxpayers? Don't they realize that the stocks went down today?
Paul makes good sense.

Anonymous said...

Paul you are 100% right.
At this time we have to wait when such an amount has to be spent for this plan.
Instead of saving money this present board is looking at ways to take the last penny from the taxpayers.
They have been spending our money like it was water,and it looks like they won't stop
Is the consultant a friend of Sheehan.
Yes you have to wait until the new board members come in to office .
Is there a possibilty that this comprehensive plan is something that is not needed?
Sheehan will say that if the board waits too long the fees will be higher.


.

dnd said...

Greenburgh, more than any other municipality in the area, is desperately in need of a comprehensive plan. I can't think of any higher priority for the town. The town has chosen to neglect long-range planning for far too long. (This takes even greater priority to my harping about the embarrassingly poor quality that town management allows for roadway maintenance.)

That said, it should be discussed in context of the new budget. If Mr. Feiner isn't able to finish it by Wednesday, then the selection of the consultant can wait six more days. But a commitment to action is needed ASAP; the election outcome is irrelevant.

Anonymous said...

I would support the 400,000 dollars if there is not going to be a big tax hike. I would not support the spending this year if there is going to be a big tax hike. Don't drive people away from our town.

Anonymous said...

Anything that Sheehan is in favor of needs to be re-evaluated given the change in Board Members. The new own Board should vote on such a massive spending item, not the Sheehan led lame duck Board.

hal samis said...

Whereas there are laws that say a Town should have a Comprehensive Plan, I don't know whether there is a time constraint circling around that "should".

But even before going into the cost, which is considerable, the very conceit of "comprehensive" even if stated as such by the State is troubling.

As is the reality that it doesn't happen overnight and that it starts self-destructing even as the last page of the Plan is printed.

There are residents of this Town who expect to use chapters of what they assume will appear in this Plan for the express benefit of their communities and they want the cost of this result to have been paid by taxpayers of all communities. What happens here, however, doesn't always happen elsewhere.

There are many Greenburgh border projects underway or contemplated which will render the completed Comprehensive Plan near useless upon the completion of these projects. For example, the realized effects of the Ridge Hill Project, the Tappan Zee crossing, the several proposed large apartment projects in Elmsford and even the completion of the expanded Library, the Greenburgh Health Center and the Pinewood condominiums in a confined area while possibly being joined by Fortress Bible Church and nearby Golf Range and Frank's development cannot be fully judged until they are up and operating. Until such an outcome is at hand, everything else is a guess, educated or not.

So the rejoinder follows that the landscape is always under change and that using this excuse would be a poor reason not to have a Comprehensive Plan.

Or not.

Because when you consider the Henry George school of thought and realize that the components of economic value are: land, labor and capital AND of the three, only land is constant (moving to Mars is not under consideration in this argument) and that what will produce any noticeable effect upon the environment, traffic or tax structure is now reduced in number to some 20 odd parcels. The result of this reduction in land no longer obviate the necessity and rush to enjoy the fruits of a Comprehensive Plan, being now decidedly on the down slope of the curve. Given that the remaining 26, 27, 28 (close enough?) parcels that could produce larger scale development (probably split evenly amongst residential and commerical zones) but it is equally unlikely that the unlocking of unrealized value of this remaining land will occur within successive months of each other, Greenburgh will not be overrun by unwanted, unacceptable or unchallenged development in just a blink of the eye.

And let's not overlook that much of the meat and potatoes of a Comprehensive Plan exists and has already been paid for by Greenburgh residents. Do residents not understand that the three year moratorium some years ago ended with the birth of the Steep Slopes and Wetlands laws? Do residents not understand that the laws regarding historic preservation are part of a Comprehensive Plan. Do residents not understand that the Hartsdale Flood Study is part of a comprehensive Plan? Do residents not realize that key elements of a Comprehensive Plan exist in files at the County waiting to be culled by some $300 an hour Comprehensive Plan coordinator? Part of a Comprehensive Plan focuses on what is surrounding Greenburgh and considers its effect upon Greenburgh; this includes not only the County but also the Region. Maybe the effects of a recall on Chinese manufactured toys has little discernable local vibrations but still "if a piece of the continent be washed away, europe is the lesse". And it is just this far and foward thinking that is endows the need to subscribe to having a "comprehensive" style plan.

But before planting our feet firmly on the ground and whipping out the Town's credit card, residents should understand that rising gas prices, a falling dollar and the sub-prime bubble will have far-reaching and as yet unrealized demands on the local economy -- while these can only be viewed from the neutral environment of models and spreadsheets. The actual pain has not yet been felt; something that does not leap off the pages of a writen report. Even when the reader is as deductive as Mr. Sheehan.

What happens to the usefulness of a Greenburgh Comprehensive Plan in the shadow of a much dreaded Indian Point meltdown. What happens to the usefulness of our Plan if White Plains were to allow the construction of 15 more high rises near Greenburgh borders. What happens if a terrorist attack in NYC creates relocation and logistical nightmares. What happens if the effects of global warming are felt earlier than expected? Is this just end of the world nonsense, naval gazing what-ifs that can be met with, "then we threw out $400,000 but if they occur then the wasted money will not be our primary concern".

OK, then let's take a step or two back and think about this. What does a Comprehensive Plan do for residents? How will our lives differ from one day not having one and the next day having one. Will the traffic go away? Many of the offending roads are controlled by other governments. Will sidewalks be built? Only if someone wants to spend the money to build and maintain them. Will WESTHELP go away? Not because of a Comprehensive Plan. Will the Library or other Town Department budgets decrease? No. Will the Zoning and Planning Boards have less to do? No because there will always be appeals and requests for variances. Will the Town Clerk come to work before 1:00? Yes because there will be a new Town Clerk holding the office come 1/1/07. Will our rateables go up? Rateables will not increase just because Greenburgh has a Plan. Private property hopefully will still remain private property and if owners choose to develop or not is not the result of printing a volume called Comprehensive Plan. Will cable rates come down because of competition? In your dreams. Will more affordable housing be built? No because by then there will be less land; the land remaining may be under more severe use laws and what remains unencumbered will be more costly and less likely to be used for lower income development.
Will the Ethics Laws be rescinded? No because politicians like loopholes. Will large scale development cease. For a few months while the Town spends 20% of its budget battling in Court and the remaining exempted parcels become even more valuable and expensive.
In short, no one has any idea of what the tangible benefits of a Comprehensive Plan really are. Those advocating having one are vague about the benefits, in part because the time to produce (lots and lots and lots of cut and pasting) is lengthy and then, the process, of crafting new laws to embrace the presumed recommendations, is itself a long road what with interest groups and public hearings weighing in.

So what will the good citizens, who have paid dearly to plant this fruit only to wither on the vine in the Planning Department, get for their bucks?

A lot of books, a lot of pages, a lot of murdered trees and a blueprint for a future that will not occur without a fight over every chapter and every conclusion.
Not at all unlike what happened when the earlier Comprehensive Plans were underway.

Why will it be different this time? As far as I can see it is the same cast of residents, it is the same Planning Komisar and it will still be focused upon the same tiresome Edgemont problems.
In short, we are paying for an entire Comprehensive Plan to create a safety valve for the Edgemont schools "at capacity" issues while they still cry no more space in the classroom while renting out 28 desks to non-residents. But lest I be accused of beating up on Edgemont let me point out what is also true. East Irvington cried the same tears and they got 200 acres of a buffer zone to protect them from all the smaller parks that are scattered throughout their school district. They were fortunate in that their part of town had lots of undeveloped acres for sale at a reasonable price per acre which allowed landbanking at Walmart prices whereas Edgemont has no land to throw into the pot even at Bergdoff prices. So Edgemont faces a problem but the solution is not one of "I want what they got" or robbing the rich pockets of Central Avenue property owners to give to the rich pockets of the Edgemont gentry. The first step to recovery should come from Edgemont, lose the for rent classroom space before you cry "at capacity" and the second step is to spread the risk among all Edgemont residents. This means no residential development anywhere in Edgemont. A student backside in a school desk chair is the same from wherever in Edgemont it was grown. If, as Mr. Krauss suggests, your homes have appreciated greater than the rest of Town due to the singular result of an outstanding school system, then all Edgemont residents receive this benefit whether they have school age children or not. Therefore, all Edgemont should be happy not to upset this fragile arrangement and risk devaluing their most bankable assets. After first trying all of the above, then come to Town Hall and ask for help.

Returning to the main issue of this topic, let me conclude as follows:

This is the wrong time to shop for a Comprehensive Plan. Assuming that the Town does have options of when it commences and completes such a venture, today and tomorrow is clearly the worst time to start.
Tomorrow or the day after, the Courts will decide the various lawsuits that they have been working over so "judiciously" for years now. Whatever the outcome, it will have consequences on how the Town is run. If the outcome were so clear, then we would not need the Courts and the Comprehensive Plan could provide decisions for the Town. But, alas, that is not the situation.

To this add the major and unrealized, even not started, consequences of large scale development in our midst and on our flanks. The argument about Stone Ridge Manor, say 5 kids to enroll versus the say 25 that showed up at school, is the same one that we won't know what we don't know until we know it. Ridge Hill we were told will adversely affect Central Avenue retail, create onerous traffic in the Villages and send frogs and crickets in search of new homes. Once this occurs, will Greenburgh be better off or worse? The Tappan Zee crossing will have major and far reaching effects on Greenburgh. We will waste our precious dollars buying a Comprehensive Plan that will be less and less or a guide as these developments come on line. Even in the best of cases, a Comprehensive Plan is not a long term investment but has a mere useful shelf life of some five years before it needs to be redone. Those pushing for one are pitching that it will be good for at least 15 years. Let's compromise and buy a Plan in 7.

The cost? $400,000? Does anyone know for certain? Are there out-of-pocket expenses that are to be billed as extras? Using the Library (of which I know something) as a reference point, the project has a Construction Manager who in turn oversees the work of 5 contractors serving different disciplines. Under these contractors, are sets of sub-contractors who perform specific tasks. As the Public has become aware, the Project, like all others, is subject to a multitude of change orders to resolve unanticipated situations, alternative solutions, circumstances etc. The contract for the Comprehensive Plan is similar. The firms interviewed are Construction Managers and they farm the work out to contractors who may engage subs. There will be change orders as things change over the information gathering and evaluating period. So the dollars bandied about today may not be the only dollars disbursed by thetime of delivery of the completed product.

And finally, the dollars, whatever they may be. Now is the wrong time to say to residents you've got to dig deeper into your pockets. I gather that the tax increases being discussed are a lot higher than the 2.3%? raise that Social Security is distributing in 2008. I know for sure that gasoline prices have risen more than 2.3% as has milk. These are staples for most residents. If you're too old for milk, you're buying gas. Some of us are drinking milk and getting gas. Everyone is facing health cost increases well in excess of the Social Security increase. ETC. ETC. and so forth.
Greenburgh has its own crosses to bare. You wanted the Library, now you've got to pay for it. You want better schools, pay up. You want sidewalks? After the Town Council decides who is to pay for them, they need to tell the "who" where to find the money to pay for them. Tax rateables continue to decline even though mortgage tax revenue (people are borrowing more against property they say is worth less) continued through last year to rise but clearly has peaked in 2007. Town employees get contractual raises, in fact there is little real savings that can be cut from an operation that has little that isn't pre-ordained or controlled by the State. I assume that the Town Board will do the best they can to prune (looking everywhere other than the Library) but they can no longer borrow from Peter (fund balances) to pay the Piper, ok Paul. What this adds up to is a substantial increase in taxes and that should mean that it is time to put off what spending can be defined as discretionary. Fortunately all the Town did was to vote moral support for Darfur, not provide financial aid, so we won't have to face the embarrassment of making that cut. But we can elect not to spend "$400,000, more or less" on a Comprehensive Plan while residents are still learning to live with higher taxes on what we have already chosen to do. Have we already put aside some money for this? Yes, but had we put aside money to pay for the Hartsdale flood study, no. Money is money and if it isn't spent for one thing, it can be used for another or not spent at all.

Is this idea not to fund the Comprehensive Plan in 2008 some conspiracy and sneaky plan to deprive citizens of an inalienable right to own a Comprehensive Plan?
Personally I don't believe the Town needs one now and I have written above my whys. But who listens to me anyway? So, apart from my prejudices, there remains a very real cost in a very real world and 2008 is going to create a very real hardship upon the town's less affluent residents. Perhaps the Town Council which earns $30,000 from their part-time Council positions alone will feel no pain while I as a renter will feel hardly any. However someone who works in low paying retail jobs must live in Greenburgh and have to pay taxes and earn minimum wage that if muliplied 2.5 times equals the Town Council's part-time pay; or consider those living on fixed incomes, they are the ones suffering. So I say to the Town Board, think about all your residents, not just those who aren't affected by rising costs and have extra money to make campaign contributions.

Postponing the Comprehensive Plan is not a secret agenda to feather the nests of developers; in 2008 it should be taken as an act of mercy toward those less fortunate.

Just three no votes.

Anonymous said...

Paul Sheehan wants this passed asap because he knows right now he has the votes to do so.
He has never looked at what the residents want and where to save money.
His teaming up with certain members of civic assoc. is extreemly disgusting.
We all know what this area wants they get.
Come January the talbles will turn in favor of all the residents of Greenburgh.
Sheehan give up,can't you see that whatever group that you are affiliated with goes byebye.
Your word and plans for Greenburgh are full of poop..

Anonymous said...

Mike kolesar please check out this amount of money that Sheehan wants to put into this comming budget.
From what I understand the comprehensive plan will not take effect for some time to come.
Why must we the tax payers pay for something that is not needed at the moment.
Sheehan wants to make sure that his ugly voice is heard to the very last day that he will have the three board members voting in favor of his plan.
Now is that not a sicko whom we put in office not thinking that he one day will ruin our way of living a good life
We do not need this amount added to the budget.
Mike you are looking to see where we could save some money,I thank you,this amount is not something that should be considered..

Anonymous said...

400,000 dollars is a lot of money for a study. Usually, government studies are put on the shelves and get dusty.

Anonymous said...

I opt for reduced taxes, not a study.

Anonymous said...

Like maintenance, a comprehensive plan isn't a highly visible political opportunity. Sure we can defer it, just like maintenance - and look where deferred maintenance has gotten us.
We can't really blame Feiner and the Paulitburo - they deferred maintenance and we cheered the lower taxes. This year, when we face a 30% increase, much of it because we let the Town's physical infrastructure deteriorate, we're all looking for someone to blame. Look in the mirror.
The new comprehensive plan is the document which will express our vision for Greenburgh. Much has changed since the last plan - and it neither conforms to current economic reality nor accurately expresses the current residents' vision of our community. We need to update it, and the sooner the better.
Should we spend $400,000 now? Maybe not, but we need to insist on a timetable (and a funding schedule) which will lead to the timely creation, public discussion and ultimate adoption of a new comprehensive plan.

dnd said...

I just can't imagine how any business (including a municipality) can operate without a comprehensive plan at least every five years.

School districts, donut shops, large corporations, etc. all need them to operate efficiently, so why such a major municipality as Greenburgh doesn't have an updated plan is baffling. It doesn't even have to be as sophisticated as those of White Plains and Yonkers.

Like Greenburgh's roadway maintenance neglect standards, we're already paying the price for not always having an active plan.

A professional consulting contract is needed to direct the effort, though $400,000 is somewhat high. So many residents are fluent with comprehensive plans and would be willing to volunteer to serve on subcommittees under a consultant's guidance.

Anonymous said...

How much money has been spent on consultants and lawyers in the two year period under the regime of Sir Sheehan.
Is it possible that Sheehan refuses to make decisions on his own for fear of failure.
What ever comes up he wants a study to be made.
Come on Sheehan enough is enough.

Anonymous said...

We face a tax hike because Sheehan and company wanted to embarrass the Supervisor. They wanted him to propose a tax hike. The Bd was irresponsible, depleted the fund balance in two years. They confused the public. Councilwoman Eddie Mae Barnes even said that the town was going to hire additional police without increasing taxes. How's that possible?

Anonymous said...

No, we face a tax hike because the gimmicks have run out and whether you like it or not, it costs more to run the Town every year. Part of the increase is contractual salary increases for Town employees, part is higher costs for employee benefits, and another part is simply growth. Greenburgh is getting bigger every year and that adds to the cost of operations.
Tax hikes have been moderated by the surplus or "fund balance".
That surplus is neither more nor less than the amount of money we have OVERPAID in previous tax years. It isn't a gift from the gods - it's OUR MONEY being returned to us by politicians. Returning tax collections which exceeded the budget planners estimates is good policy - why should today's taxpayers contribute to the reduction of tomorrow's responsiblilities? Those highly touted "increased bond ratings" were, in very significant part, due to the Town's deliberate policy of underestimating tax revenues in the budget process and keeping the differnce between the estimated collections and actual receipts as a "surplus". Drawing it down is nothing more, nor less, than returning taxpayers' money to taxpayers!

Anonymous said...

How many police were hired and above all where are they.
It seems the more that are hired the less you find on the streets.

Anonymous said...

It seems new hiring at GPD is only done when an existing hire goes on disability. A policeperson on disability is still employed - just unavailable for duty. Eventually you have to hire someone to ride in the patrol car - which is where the new hires go. They replace individuals on disability leave - they don't add to the number of individuals on patrol.

Anonymous said...

interesting how taxes go up only during the non-election year. hmmmm.....

Anonymous said...

The Town had a Comprehensive Plan less than 10 years ago. Why does it need another one already? And why would an update cost over $400,000? How many firms were invited to submit bids? Is the Ferrandino firm politically connected to the comprehensive plan committee? This whole scheme seems very fishy, especially if Ferrandino's track record in past government jobs is investigated.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous at 4:48 -
When was the last time you had a comprehensive physical? For the Town of Greenburgh it has now been more than a decade. Just as individuals have periodic physical exams, governments need to have periodic fiscal exams.
As he has done an admirable job keeping himself physically through regular exercise, one can only hope the Supervisor sees the wisdom in keeping the Town fiscally fit through a program of regular maintenance and care - a recently reviewed, current and consistently applied comprehensive plan should be an integral part of the strategy.

Anonymous said...

So the board voted to pass this expense because of who voiced their favoritism [Bernstein,McNally and Preiser].
Now can you see who runs this present board.
The money will only satisfy part of this so called study.
When the money finishes that's all folks either you come up with more or we are out of here.
I will love to see how many law suits will come up because of the stupidity of the board and their problem advisers.
Yes you had half of the money but the tax payers have to come up with the rest.
When Bernstein,Mcnally and Preiser learn that people are starting to get tired of them will be a little too late if this present board stays in office.
This is why we must all exercise our right to vote the Feiner slate in office.
Let's give them a chance to make changes instead of having civic associations run the town.