April, 2007 Newsletter
To My Rye Brook Friends and Neighbors:
Please forgive me in advance if I mix metaphors and similes as I provide you with the quarterly update of Village happenings, but several recent events lend themselves to some truisms. For example, I will divide this letter into two general themes: an overview and some specifics. Thus, I will try to look at the forest and the trees--not a bad analogy for Rye Brook whose logo bears the image of a stately and healthy elm--because your Board and our staff have indeed spent time looking at the big picture even as we paid attention to the smallest details.
In terms of the overall view, as I noted in the State of the Village Report in February, Rye Brook is in pretty good shape, both operationally and financially. Moreover, I am pleased to say that the positive momentum I cited has continued and we have made good progress on a number of situations, including some that have lingered for a many years. To wit, we are coming to closure on a number of "quality of life" matters. The "Keyhole Project" on Bowman Avenue is one such instance. The developer is planning to construct 10 residential units on the so-called peninsula section of that site and donate the balance of the property to the Village for a park and a pond, giving residents a place for passive enjoyment on a "waterfront." Another situation that has been closed is a resolution of our claim for recovery for the remediation of underground petroleum we discovered while constructing our firehouse. After more than three years of laborious work and negotiations with the State Office of the Comptroller, the Oil Spill Fund has paid us $400,000. We will be using those funds for capital improvements throughout Rye Brook. And, we are continuing to make progress on the residential development to be built on Anderson Hill Road (the site of the former planned Garden Inn hotel). We are currently awaiting the developer to file revised site plans.
Cell phone service should improve now that the "flag pole" tower is being erected on Village Hall property; we are already receiving income from the service providers from the lease of Village land. Successful negotiations with Verizon to offer cable television service will also bring additional competition to the Village, and residents will have the opportunity to choose between that carrier and Cablevision as both companies vie for residents' cable television, broadband and telephone business.
Another "big picture" item that can be parsed into details is our 2007-08 budget, which was just approved by the Board of Trustees. The bottom line: we were able to maintain a stable tax rate and produce a tax levy that was below the percent increase in the 2006-07 levy. As a result, the average Village property taxes per household in Rye Brook remains one of the lowest Village property taxes paid in the entire county. I am especially pleased that we were able to produce such a favorable budget despite an increase in our total operating expenses to approximately $16 million, reinvesting in our infrastructure with over $1.5 million in capital projects, including $425,000 in road resurfacing, and raising our proposed fund balance by fiscal year end in May, 2008 to approximately 14% of planned expenditures (as compared to a 9% fund balance at May, 2007), a figure we deemed appropriate given the size of our municipal budget.
The 2007-08 budget will highlight added services and programs and additional staff to meet the service needs of the Rye Brook residents. Thus, for the fourth consecutive year, we have met our fiscal target of keeping the amount to be raised by taxes at or near the rate of inflation, and among the lowest in Westchester. Meanwhile, our property values continued to rise with our assessables increasing by more than $171 million to a record $2.3 billion. I encourage you to read the details of the budget for yourself by visiting our website at www.ryebrook.org.
You have also heard and read a lot about library services for Rye Brook. The Pace University study that we commissioned helped us to conclude that among the alternatives we have, negotiating a long-term agreement with the Port Chester Public Library appears to make the most sense. We are currently negotiating an agreement with the Library that would, in effect, require the Village to increase its present operational funding commitment from 30% to 35%, have us help contribute to capital improvements, give Rye Brook more representation on the Library Board and have the institution change its name to the Port Chester-Rye Brook Public Library (a change that the Library Board unanimously approved). At the same time, the Library is seeking to revise its present agreement with the Village of Port Chester as well. Hopefully, all three entities will be able to come to a resolution of this matter, and we will all have succeeded in keeping this vital institution healthy, financially sound and better able to provide quality library services cost-efficiently to the Rye Brook and Port Chester community.
As for some "detail work": we are continuing to strictly enforce our laws and regulations, including some few remaining encroachment violations and building permit violations. As promised when the Byram Ridge Task Force made its recommendations, we are presently looking at other sections of the Village that could benefit from zoning or other changes. A Zoning/Design Study Group has already begun its work and will make recommendations to the Board. At the same time as we are enforcing and revising our laws, we have also extended our highly popular building permit "amnesty program" through December 31, 2007, providing residents additional time (without penalties) to receive permits and certificates of occupancies for work completed prior to June 20, 2006 without a permit.
None of the above actions or planned activities could be accomplished without the hard work and dedication of resident volunteers and our staff. Joan Feinstein, Michael Brown, Paul Rosenberg and Pat Sanders Romano, my fellow trustees, spend hours each week on Board and committee matters. As for the latter, we are blessed with residents who devote their time and efforts to serve on our boards. committees and councils, and, as in the tradition we instituted I am pleased to report that all residents who have volunteered to serve on a Village committee was given a position.
Our staff, led by Village Administrator Chris Bradbury, is professional, courteous and willing and able to help. I am most grateful to them, and on behalf of the residents and the Board, want to thank them and tell them how much we appreciate all they do for us.
As we enter the spring-summer season, once again I remind you to please travel carefully. Residents (both young and older) are availing themselves of the many activities and pleasantries we offer-at our athletic fields, parks, playgrounds and walking our streets and roads. Let's keep them all safe.
Lawrence A. Rand
While December and January proved to he an extremely mild period in terms of severe weather, Mother Nature reminded us who's in charge and February, March and April turned out to be quite difficult, testing the resolve of the hardiest of Rye Brook souls. From the Valentine's Day weather massacre that dumped snow, sleet, freezing rain and ice on us, to the incredible rain storm in early April, to be soon followed by the Spring Nor'easter that delivered more than 8 inches of rain in less than 30 hours, we had to cope with massive flooding. Our emergency service personnel--fire, police. EMS, highway department-did an outstanding job of making sure that all residents in flood-prone areas along the Blind Brook were notified of the impending storm (our Reverse 911 system worked splendidly), to the evacuation of those people stranded by the torrential rain and rising waters along the Blind Brook and its many tributaries, we all survived physically unscathed, if not emotionally damaged.
The clean up was both time consuming and costly. We asked our sanitation contractor to put extra equipment and personnel on duty to remove bulk waste and property waterlogged and destroyed, and we have been working closely with the County to seek disaster aid from the State and Federal governments so that residents can seek to recover any non-insured property losses. As of this writing, we do not know if the County will be successful in its efforts, so please continue to monitor our Village website (www.ryebrook.org) for the latest news about the availability of funds and how you may request reimbursement if monies are to be forthcoming. Please retain any documentation such as photographs or receipts until the request for funding is determined by the Federal government.
The Spring storms also served as a reminder that Rye Brook sits atop both a flood zone and the Blind Brook system that goes through Rye City and ultimately ends up in Long Island Sound. Although no amount of capital projects could eliminate flooding in the Village given the volume of recent rainfall, we have completed several upstream capital projects in recent years to lessen the impact of these storms. As you read in the 2007-2008 budget, we are planning to spend $700,000 more in the coming year on improving stormwater management along the King Street/Loch Lane/Edgewood channel of the Blind Brook. But other sections of the Village along the eastern and western branches of the Blind Brook (Wyman/Brookridge/Brook Lane/Avon Circle/Hidden Falls) need further evaluation of stormwater management as well.
Over the last several years, working with eleven other municipalities along the Long Island Sound watershed, we have been studying the possibility of creating a regional stormwater utility district to deal with the overall problems of stormwater management, flooding, and water quality issues affecting all of the Sound Shore communities (Rye City, Mamaroneck, New Rochelle, etc.). In addition to the unprecedented rainfall in recent storms, there is no doubt that the severity of flooding is due to some degree to construction in the region and the increase of impervious surface and the attendant loss of natural buffers that have exacerbated the problems we face. The solution must be done on a holistic basis and we are looking for long term answers to meet this challenge. We will keep you apprised as to the progress we are making.