April 2008 Newsletter
To My Rye Brook Friends and Neighbors:
In this, my last update to the community as Mayor, it is somewhat tempting to provide a retrospective of the last four years, listing both what I see as our accomplishments and, yes, those areas where we fell short of the mark. But that is not what these quarterly updates are designed to do, and, thus, I will put the temptation aside and focus instead on the current condition of the Village and what the new Board and Mayor Joan Feinstein will have to deal with as they assume office.
To begin, they will have to approve the 2008-2009 budget. A draft of that document was submitted to the Board on March 20th (and you can read it on the Village website at www.ryebrook.org) by the Village Administrator and the staff, and I am pleased to report that consistent with the directives we provided, the proposed residential (Homestead) tax levy increase of 3.8% over the prior year and the overall tax levy increase of 4.09% is squarely in line with our wishes, and also consistent with the objective we established four years ago of keeping resident tax increases in line with the rate of inflation in the region. I am especially pleased that all tax rates for the proposed 2008-2009 fiscal year budget reflect a decrease from the current 2007-2008 rates.
Over the next several weeks, the Board will hold a series of public meetings to conduct a line-by-line review and analysis of both the operating revenues and expenses, and the capital expenditures for the coming fiscal year. Following that, the Board will hold a public hearing on the budget and then adopt the 2008-2009 budget by late April for the fiscal year that begins on June 1, 2008. As usual, you are invited to attend and participate in this process, and make input to a subject that affects every resident’s pocketbook and quality of life.
I am pleased to report that at this juncture it looks as though this budget, which is very conservative, reflects the diligence and concern that the Board and the staff puts into how our monies are spent. This budget, once again, includes adding more services and programs for our residents, keeps our staffing levels lean, makes prudent investments in our infrastructure, including street repavements and storm water management programs, and still keeps the proposed village tax burden among the lowest in the County. Additionally, the budget also has a fund balance that falls within our target of approximately 12-15% of our operating expenditures.
Among the highlights of the budget are a modest increase in revenues from the non-property taxes, including from the flag pole/cell tower at the Village Hall campus and scheduled increases from the PILOTs ( payments in lieu of taxes) that the Village has successfully negotiated with several major properties in Rye Brook (including 800 Westchester Avenue, Pfizer and Reckson). While still representing the lion’s share of our revenue base (as it always will), the Village is always seeking additional revenue sources to offset the property tax.
Speaking of which, several long-term projects are starting to show movement that will further help improve our already strong financial base and lessen the tax burden on residents. The new owners of Reckson Corporate Park have indicated that they might be prepared to move ahead on the construction of the so-called Phase III office building. If and when this project gets underway, it will generate additional revenues as the development progresses since they will trigger higher payments under the PILOT we negotiated.
Likewise, the developers of both the Kingswood project on Anderson Hill Road and the “Keyhole” on Bowman Avenue are finalizing their plans. In the former matter, we expect the Board of Trustees and the Planning Board to begin site plan reviews of the final plans prior to the commencement of any construction. As for the latter, while this project received approvals from the various Village agencies, the developer still has some way to go to meet all of the stringent conditions that the Village placed upon its approvals. I would characterize this project as still a work in progress with several possible outcomes.
All of this activity is timely as the next Board will now begin its review the many applications we received in response to our request for proposals (“RFP”) for serving as our consultant on the Comprehensive Plan. This multi-year project, the first such undertaking for the Village, is designed to create a road map for Rye Brook’s future development.
As you also may know, last year ownership of the venerable Rye Town Hilton changed hands and the new owners have already approached us with some very preliminary ideas for “modernizing” the hotel and offering guests greater amenities than currently exist. Realizing the value of that location, and aware of the presence from such world class hotel operators as the Ritz-Carlton in White Plains and Arrowwood in Rye Brook, there is a great incentive for the new owners to make certain that this complex remains competitive. Any activity at this hotel will not only help enhance our revenue base, but assures that Rye Brook will remain an important destination for visitors to the region.
While it bothers me personally to leave before completing certain tasks, I am pleased that substantial progress has been made on a number of items, including coming to closure on our long-term arrangement with the Port Chester Public Library. While we are working closely with the Village of Port Chester and the Port Chester Public Library on enacting a new charter for that institution and a viable financial plan for its operations, there is no certainty as to if and when such an agreement can be reached; we are also engaged in a number of joint projects with the City of Rye on several flood mitigation projects; we are also developing plans with the Town of Greenwich, Port Chester and the schools to get the New York State Department of Transportation to understand how vital it is that we make King Street a safer thoroughfare; and, while it seems that it has taken forever, we are in the final stages of securing the needed approvals from the County and State for the re-construction of Ridge Street. These are but a few open items I leave behind.
But we do have momentum, and our new Board is well prepared to move ahead expeditiously on these and other matters. Thus, I am confident that Rye Brook will not miss a beat and our residents’ interests will be protected. The concept of continuity in government and the advantages of experience were not lost upon the voters either. I am grateful that the electorate chose to extend the terms of our officials by one year from the present two year term to a three year term beginning with those individuals who will be elected next March.
Despite my intent not to look back, I cannot close without taking a brief glance at the past four years. I believe that much has been done, and that, on the whole, Rye Brook is in excellent shape and one of the prime communities in the County in which to live, work and raise a family. But to do this takes work by many people, starting with a dedicated and professional staff, from Chris Bradbury, to our department heads, to our police, fire, public works, parks, and senior center personnel, and all of our employees at Village Hall. All of these people care for this community and its residents…..and this caring shows in many ways, every single day.
We are also blessed by the fact that we have a truly participatory governing structure. Without pay (and sometimes without thanks), Rye Brook residents give of their time and efforts to serving on our boards, councils and committies. For more than 25 years, you have volunteered to work on behalf of your neighbors and this community…..and, in so doing, you have further enhanced an already enviable quality of life. You deserve credit for making Rye Brook a very special place.
Joan, Paul, Michael, Pat and Dean, I wish you well as you take over. I know that you will do an outstanding job and I am extremely confident about the future.
Lawrence A. Rand