Bond Sale Indicates “Good Shape” of TOM Finances

by Judy Raab

(March 12, 2009) In the words of Supervisor Valerie O’Keeffe, the “really very important fun part of the evening” was the presentation at the March 4 Mamaroneck Town Board meeting of proclamations to two long-term valued members of the Larchmont-Mamaroneck Joint Sanitation District on the occasion of their retirement. Phil Totten (hired in 1972) and Ben Sands (hired in 1971 and now operating the Town’s veggie-powered truck) received praise from Mayor Liz Feld, Supervisor O’Keeffe and Town Administrator Steve Altieri for their valuable service to the community.

The other “really very important” parts of the evening involved updates on bond ratings, the Madison Avenue apartment project and a possible reassessment of property values.

Good Rate on Bonds

The Town’s $4.7 million bond (to be used for various public improvements and purchases) was sold on March 3 at a 3.8% rate, well below the initial rate estimate of 4.2-4.6%. (For bond details, see: TOM Approves $3.97M for Capital Projects Held Over From 2008.)

Mr. Altieri noted that Mamaroneck’s bonds were not aggregated with those of other New York State municipalities, as they have been in the past, but were offered on their own. This was an indication, he said, of the financial community’s belief that there is a market for good credit and that the “good name of the Town [will be] sufficient to sell the bond. “ Supervisor O’Keeffe added, “This is a big indication of how, in a bad market, this particular municipality’s financial situation is in good shape - and let’s keep it that way.”

Repeal of Law on Off-Street Parking: Public Hearing Set for May 6

Mr. Altieri, in researching off-street parking requirements in the residential districts of the Town, unearthed a section of the Zoning Ordinance [Section 240-79(B)] that appears to be an anachronism. The law states that cars must be parked at least 25 feet back from the front line of a property. The ordinance was meant to encourage homeowners to keep cars in the garage or otherwise out of sight. However, in this era of SUVs and multiple cars per household, Mamaroneck’s pre-1960 garages often prove inadequate to the task. Town Attorney William Maker has drafted a repeal of this section of the law.

The board authorized Mr. Maker to request input from the Planning Board, as required, and set a May 6 public hearing on repeal of the ordinance.

Despite Rumors, No Further Changes to Madison Avenue Apartment Project

Mr. Altieri gave a brief status report on construction of the parking deck on Myrtle Boulevard and the planned high rise project on Madison Avenue.

First, the parking deck: Forest City Daly Residential has transferred ownership of the apartment site to Iron Oaks, the builder of the Sweetwater project in the Village of Mamaroneck. Nevertheless, Forest City is still responsible for the parking deck, which it agreed to fund in exchange for the Town making zoning changes to allow the apartment building to be built on the Madison Avenue site. (See: Work on Parking Deck Begins.)

Mr. Altieri reported that the deck construction “has progressed very well.” There are no changes to the plan, which adds 68 spaces for Town residents (but not for those in the new building) and will alleviate parking difficulties around Washington Square. Once the cold weather abates, concrete pillars for the structure will be poured. This will require a brief closing of nearby streets and rerouting of traffic for public safety.Ample notice of the impending closing will be provided. (See: Upcoming: Myrtle Boulevard Street Closing for Parking Deck Work.)

parking deck
Myrtle Boulevard parking deck: Artist's sketch of the west
elevation supplied in 2006 by Divney Tung Schwalbe, LLP.

Then, the apartment building: As of the board meeting, the Town had not received a construction schedule from Iron Oaks. However, the board expects to receive a request for demolition permits to be filed within the next two to three months. Forest City was given an extension, now transferred to Iron Oaks, until 2011, to request such permits.

The building project is unchanged from its last scaled-down version: seven stories, 139 units, 9 of which will be “affordable (workforce) housing” available on a rental basis. There will be a two-level below grade parking garage for the residents. In response to a question from the audience, board members stated that the project would not become an assisted living residence.

Supervisor O’Keeffe explained that the building’s “skin” was designed by the noted architect Robert A. M. Stern to be compatible with the architecture of residential buildings on North Chatsworth Avenue.

FCD from 2003
Proposed apartments designed by Robert A. M. Stern Architects. The artist's rendering
from 2003, does not reflect a number of changes to the plan made since then.

Next Round for Reval

Supervisor O’Keeffe stressed that the state of the economy is irrelevant to the timing of a proposed reassessment of properties in Mamaroneck Town. The idea is to reassess all properties at the same time. Regardless of the point in time, each house is assessed relative to all others.

The board has already taken a number of steps: they have commissioned and received a preliminary report on potential impacts of reassessment from Frey Appraisal and Consulting Services. (See: Reassessment Report.) They have also delegated Mr. Frey to make presentations before their own board and those in Mamaroneck Village and Larchmont Village.

The next step for the Town, said Supervisor O’Keeffe, will probably be to request proposals (RFP) so as to determine the cost of conducting the revaluation process. After that, will come further outreach to the community, to explain the process and answer questions.

Better Bill Pay System for Ambulance District

At Mr. Altieri’s suggestion, the board authorized the entrance into agreements with Pamco Health Insurance and MVP Health Services under which the carriers would remit payments directly to the Ambulance District (within 30 days of receipt of bills) for care provided to their patients. Although the fee schedule for these agreements would be lower than the customary fee the district typically receives, Mr. Altieri believes the Town would benefit from receiving prompt payment and avoiding costs incurred to pursue payment when the patient is billed directly.

Under the current system, patients get billed promptly. The insurance carrier then sends reimbursement to the patient, who is supposed to forward payment to the district. Often, however, the patient does not send payment, setting in motion a debt collection procedure that leaves the district waiting six to eight months before it gets paid. The costs of debt collection can result in a final payment that amounts to no more than 20% of the total bill.

In addition, there are many instances (600 in the past year) when an ambulance is called and the patient, while accepting minor treatment, refuses medical transportation to the hospital (RMA). MVP Health Services is willing to establish a set fee for RMAs.

In response to board members’ questions about collection practices, both Mr. Altieri and Supervisor O’Keeffe made it clear that the Town is not a “hard- core biller.” Town staff try to make workable financial arrangements with patients who are short of funds and may need a payment plan. In appropriate instances, the fee is waived. Nonetheless, Mr. Altieri noted, the proposed service agreements may improve the system and ease occasional cash flow problems for the Ambulance District.

Councilwoman Nancy Seligson agreed. “I think it’s worth trying, and if it does pan out, it would be great if we could sign up everyone.”

Bids Accepted for Memorial Park Survey & More

As a possible first step towards developing a master plan for Memorial Park, the board authorized a transfer of funds to pay $$8,890 for a survey from Ward Carpenter Engineers, the low bidder. There is no survey of the park, which consists of a number of land parcels combined over the years.

Hiring a planner for the next stage would cost approximately $25,000, said Supervisor O’Keeffe. Given current economic conditions and priorities, such a plan, if developed, would describe various usages for the park that could be implemented in stages while still providing benefits to the residents.

Councilwoman Seligson supported the survey authorization enthusiastically, stating if there is “some way to connect the disparate parts (of the park) without spending a fortune, I think it would make it a much more successful park.”

The board also authorized bids for:

1. Street Sweeping Services (2009 and 2010) from Three D Industrial Maintenance Corp., the sole bidder and the current provider. Mr. Altieri opined that the slight increase in fees from $720 per day in 2008 to $736 per day in 2009 seemed reasonable. Councilman Ernie Ordierna asked whether there might be a saving to buy and supervise use of the necessary equipment as do the two villages. However, Mr. Altieri said this would not be economical.

2. Grass maintenance for Hommocks Field and Hommocks Pool from Ferraro Landscaping, the lowest responsible bidder. The bid ($8775 in ’09 and $8950 in’10) was $500 below the bid for the previous two-year contract.