Commentary: Guest Columns for 2009

VOTE NO/VOTE YES on School Bond

Columns for 2008

Answer Moishe's Cry:
Mumbai Memorial, Dec 7 - by Rabbi Mendel Silberstein

Quieter Skies - for Now? by Patty Horing

Mamaroneck School Board Speaks Out on Tax Cap

April Farber: Served Community, Friends & Family by Cheryl Lewy

The Bench: A Father's Day Tribute by Melissa Azulay

State Aid: Getting MORE for Mam'k Schools by Emily Saltzman

Fighting Fire With Cooperation by Ned Benton

Columns from 2006 and 2007

Columns from 2005

Columns from 2004

Columns from 2003 and 2002

 

VOTE NO/VOTE YES on School Bond

Editor's Note: Opponents of the Mamaroneck School District's $38M bond have developed a website and distributed fliers detailing their criticisms, as outlined below. Board President Linnet Tse replies to the critics and clarifies her own and the board's positions.

VOTE NO


The bond vote on February 10 is loaded with projects better suited to rosier economic times.

It's not all or nothing. According to the Assistant Superintendent of
Operations, if this $38 million bond fails,
another bond, just for the necessary repairs, can be voted on in just 45 days.

During the worst financial crisis in our lifetime, it is fiscally irresponsible to ask the community to pay over $9 million for 4 brand new artificial turf fields, a new track and 2 new playgrounds, when what we really need are necessary repairs to roofs, electricity upgrades, safety code compliance and new boilers for the Hommocks and Central.

What the school board info meetings haven't told you:

•3 school board members, including the school board president, Linnet Tse, believed it was wise, in light of the economic meltdown, to split the artificial turf expenditures and necessary repair bonds into 2 separate bonds. That way, the community would be given a choice (one bond vs. two-part bond). They were defeated, 3 votes to 4. The board has been advised by their hired bond consultant to present a united front to the public.

• New York state's gigantic budget deficit will decrease school aid, so taxes will go up.

• Mamaroneck Town taxes will rise almost 4%.

• Sound Shore residents are federally mandated to pay $235 million for Long Island Sound sewer upgrades. There is no cost per household as yet.

• High taxes are already affecting our housing sales. We have to conserve expenditures.

• The original bond was $51 million. That means $13 million in repairs are waiting in the wings.

• In the last bond, $7.5 million of work could not be completed due to cost overruns. Murray Avenue never got their elevator. Why must repairs to our schools, that will save so much in the future, take a back seat to 4 new artificial athletic fields, a new track (we spent $2 million for the current one only 6 years ago) and 2 new synthetic playgrounds before an ADA-compliant school, decent bathrooms, pointing to cement (Murray is so bad that the whole wall has to be rebuilt) and whatever else was left out with the $13 million?

• Whatever they say it costs, it always costs more. With the last bond, 25% of the work was not done.

• The cost estimates for the bond were prepared by the architects, not by independent cost estimators, who are trained to deliver a realistic picture of the true costs. Bids cannot go out until the bond is approved, so these costs are a best guess.

• Artificial turf lasts only 8-10 years. We'll still be paying for them in 15 years. A new field replacement costs $400,000 to $600,000 each. Where will replacement money come from? We are told from future school budgets and new bonds.

• $9 million of the bond is being funded by New York State. While that is still true as of today, since this is a multi-year project, falling tax revenues to the state can change that. Governor Paterson has said that "nothing is off the table" and he specifically is targeting education and health care. We taxpayers would be left to pick up the burden.

• Our current grass fields at MHS are in such bad shape because, ever since the school board tried to relocate the Kemper War Memorial for a new grass field, field proponents have been pushing for synthetic fields. There is no line item in the current budget for natural grass field care.

• If 1 new grass field was fine, why do we need 4 synthetic fields? This is overkill. No attempt at scaling back the scope of the project has been accepted. They want it all.

• The community is asked to pay for the million dollar fields, but depending on the warranties, permits to use the fields may be required, although the board is currently promising that won't happen. Conversely, if the fields are open to all, they can be easily damaged.

• The change (thankfully) from crumb rubber at $.31/sq. foot to Mondo fill for the synthetic fields adds up to $3 per square foot. That can add another million dollars to the project. We were told the bond supports a range of options. That's some wide range.

• We paid for re-doing Central field 3 times. Until the runoff problem from Stop & Shop is fixed, an artificial turf field may be a waste of money. New Rochelle and Rye's synthetic turf fields were damaged by floods and were replaced at taxpayer's expense.

• Maintenance can be sliced may ways. While a figure of $5,000 per field, per year is claimed for synthetic turf, in a 16-year scenario, Brad Fresenburg, an MU Extension turfgrass specialist, completed a cost analysis of installing and maintaining natural and synthetic fields. Including installation and 1 replacement of synthetic turf, an annual average cost for each field type as follows: natural soil-based field, $33,522; sand-cap grass field, $49,318; basic synthetic field, $65,846; and premium synthetic field, $109,013.

When you can only afford to patch your roof, don't borrow to buy a Maserati.

Catherine Wachs
taxedenuf.org

 

BOND FACTS

 

The proposed Mamaroneck Schools bond referendum, scheduled for February 10, 2009, was developed as part of a long (over two years), transparent and well-documented process. Recently, critics of the bond began distributing information that contains many inaccuracies. While the board respects different points of view, the dissemination of misleading information is not acceptable. I would like to clarify some of the inaccuracies put forth by this group. Hopefully, it will encourage members of our community to give the bond the fair-minded consideration it deserves.

Though critics are implying otherwise, the board IS highly sensitive to the economic hardship in our country and community. The Board, with significant community input, has worked diligently over two years to cut the original $75 million proposal almost in half. The bond will result in no tax increase until the 2010-11 school year, when there will be an additional cost of approximately $80 per average home. While we are not eager to increase our debt service at any time, the board has the responsibility to ensure the proper maintenance of our schools and the safety of our children. It is more prudent and cost effective to take care of this critical work NOW, than to have to do so under emergency conditions. All of these considerations went into the board’s decision.

The majority of the criticism has been focused on a relatively small portion of the bond -- the much-needed field work, which, in fact, represents only 20% of the bond. Let me clarify a few key points about this field work:

Our grass fields are NOT in bad shape because of neglect. Our fields, which serve over 5,000 students and the wider community, are woefully inadequate to meet our needs and in poor condition due to severe overuse. We simply don’t have enough field space to serve the schools and the community. Safety issues remain despite the significant and expensive ongoing upkeep efforts by the district. Durable, safe, low maintenance synthetic turf, vastly improved in recent years, is the best way to maximize usability of our very limited field space.

The district will NOT need to completely replace the athletic fields every 8-10 years. The average lifespan of a synthetic turf field is 10-12 years and often longer. When the "carpet" needs to be replaced (in addition to some possible crowning or re-leveling of the fields), it will be at a fraction of the initial installation cost because the basic infrastructure will already be in place. Other school districts we’ve spoken with confirm that synthetic turf is much easier and far less costly to maintain than natural grass fields. In fact, because of its durability and ease of maintenance, synthetic turf has become the standard at thousands of schools, parks and sports facilities across the country.

• The board made the decision not to use recycled crumb rubber infill in deference to concerns that we heard. The alternative infills are available in lighter colors (not black) that will absorb less heat. While more expensive, the cost of using an alternative infill, IS included in our project estimates as is the cost of the maintenance equipment (a groomer and leaf picker) needed to care for the synthetic turf.

• While lead has been an issue in some older generation nylon turf fields, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s July 2008 evaluation of newer polyethylene turf fields found these newer fields are safe to install and to play on. In fact, synthetic turf is now available without any lead or lead chromate. The district plans to include in its product specifications the requirement that the turf products contain no lead or lead chromate.

Two more points need saying: critics have implied that the board will put a lower bond up for vote in 45 days, if this $38 million bond is defeated, as if the creation of a bond referendum is easy and cost-free. Neither of those points is true. NO such decision has been made; any such decision would have to be discussed and made at a public meeting. Because of the critical nature of ALL the work, it is unclear what the board would decide.

Finally, these critics have implied that I, as board president, did not or do not support this bond. This is categorically false. There was a difference of opinion, debated honestly and openly in numerous public meetings, among board members on how to present the bond referendum to the community. However, we are all in agreement that this bond referendum is critical to preserving district facilities and ensuring safe, healthy learning environments for our children. The board is unanimous in its support of this bond.

I encourage voters to visit our website - www.mamkschools.org – to learn more about the proposed bond referendum. [See, for example: Project Descriptions & Costs and Frequently Asked Questions.]

Please attend one of our informational sessions, and most important, remember to vote on February 10 at your local elementary school.

Linnet Tse
President,
Mamaroneck Board of Education

 


 

COLUMNS FOR 2008

Answer Moishe's Cry
Join the Westchester Mumbai Massacre Memorial, December 7

by Rabbi Mendel Silberstein, Director of Chabad of Larchmont and Mamaroneck

(December 4, 2008) The pain is intense, the wound is deep, and the cry of an orphan is piercing.

The sound of a two year old Jewish child screaming for his mother at his parents' funeral, "Ima, Ima" (mother, mother) is crushing!

Little Moishe tugging at his parents' lifeless bodies, his pants soaked with blood, is waiting for us.

Little Moishe needs to know that his Jewish family, and the whole world, cares.

I ask you to please answer Moishe's cry. Please come and join the Westchester community for a memorial and solidarity tribute this Sunday, December 7, 2008 at
Young Israel of Scarsdale, 1313 Weaver Street, 5:30 - 6:30 pm.

Rivka and Moishe
Rivkah Holzberg, second from left, holds her son Moishe.

Little Moshe is the son of my colleague and friend Rabbi Gavriel and his wife Rivkah Holtzberg, the beloved directors of Chabad-Lubavitch of Mumbai, who were killed along with 4 other Jews last Thursday at their Chabad House during one of the worst terrorist attacks to strike India in recent memory, which left more than 150 people dead and hundreds more injured.


Gavriel and Rivka Holzberg were killed on November 26 at the Mumbai Chabad House.

Through the heroic actions of his nanny, the Holtzberg's toddler son, Moshe, managed to escape many hours before Indian commandos stormed their building, known as the Nariman House, in the popular touristy neighborhood of Colaba. The boy - whose birthday was Saturday - was unharmed, but was wearing blood-soaked pants.

As Chabad representatives in Mumbai, Gabi and Rivky gave up the comforts of the West in order to spread Jewish pride in a corner of the world that was a frequent stop for throngs of Israeli tourists. Their Chabad House was popular among the local community, as well as with visiting businesspeople.

The Hertzberg’s arrived in Mumbai in 2003 to serve the small local Jewish community, visiting businesspeople and the throngs of tourists, many of them Israeli, who annually travel to the seaside city. For five years, they ran a synagogue and Torah classes, and helped people dealing with drug addiction and poverty.

I met Gabi while I was studying at a Yeshivah in Brooklyn. A prodigious student, he was a two-time champion in a competition of memorizing the Mishnah, a compendium of rabbinical laws and enactments redacted in the second century C.E.

His 28-year-old wife, born Rivkah Rosenberg, is a native of Afula, Israel. She taught classes, inspiring myriads of people who walked through their doors. Her ability to connect with people and make them feel at home was legendary among visitors to their center. Friends described her as always having a positive outlook and a kind word for everyone.

Two years ago, the Holtzbergs raised funds to purchase the current location of the Rohr Chabad Center, a five-story building in Mumbai’s Colaba market area known as Nariman House. A trained ritual circumciser and slaughterer, the rabbi also conducted weddings for local Jewish couples in addition to teaching Torah classes and visiting with tourists.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, whose teachings Gabi and Rivkah followed, taught of the need to turn tears into action. Beneath the surface of every terrible experience there lies the opportunity to grow and increase in goodness. Every step back can — and must — become the impetus for a giant leap forward.

Chabad-Lubavitch has started a global campaign for mitzvot (Divine commandments, or good deeds) to be done in memory of those murdered. You can go to www.JewishLarchmont.com to join with the thousands of others who have pledged to do something in memory of the victims. There, you can choose from a list of suggestions or choose your own personal acts of goodness to be your personal answer to the senseless evil which was perpetrated.

In their deaths, as in their lives, Gabi and Rivky brought people together from diverse backgrounds, uniting them in the celebration of Judaism. Together, across the globe, let us join in ensuring that the lives of the Holtzbergs and the other victims live on by continuing that unity, that enormous outpouring of love and prayer, in our own homes and communities and, indeed, in the world at large.

The great medieval sage/scholar Moses Maimonides who, incidentally, lived in Muslim countries where he was respected by Jew and Muslim alike, taught: One positive action, one word, or even one thought, can reverberate throughout the world, and impact the entire world for good. I encourage all people of goodwill to add in goodness and kindness, to those around you--and to people you may have never met.

I ask of each and every one of you to emulate the shining example of Gabi and Rivky Holtzberg. To dedicate our lives a little bit more to goodness and kindness, to true and boundless love of our fellows. To take on one additional Mitzvah, so that each and every one of us, in our own way, creates an individual Chabad House – a personal space of love and holiness.

For more information please contact Chabad of Larchmont at 914-834-4321 or Rabbi@JewishLarchmont.com

Quieter Skies - for Now?

by Patty Horing, Quiet Skies Committee

(October 2, 2008) For those who remember the loud old days of summers past, the skies over our area were surprisingly quiet this summer. High fuel costs led airlines to reduce the number of flights at La Guardia and nearly eliminated that noisy practice of "circling." But that doesn't mean that the Quiet Skies Committee of Larchmont/Mamaroneck is out of commission. (See: Plane Crazy? Local Group Working to Route Planes More Fairly.)

Quiet Skies has tallied some successes in its mission to lessen air traffic over our community. But the process is so lengthy, litigious and political that continuing vigilance is required.

planeNoisy Skies of 2000: Founded by a group of frustrated citizens in the summer of 2000, Quiet Skies is a non-profit, volunteer organization whose sole focus has been to lobby for a fairer distribution of LaGuardia-bound air traffic, which has plagued our skies since the airport increased its hourly take-offs and landings. For eight years we have been working with our local municipalities, the offices of Senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton, and most notably Congresswoman Nita Lowey, through whom we have had direct access to air traffic controllers, Federal Aviation Administration officials (who run the planes) and Port Authority officials (who run the airport).

Unfortunately for us, our towns line up with LGA's runway 22, the runway used for the majority of landings due to the geography, wind direction, and technology currently available at the airport. A point to point directional system forces planes to line up with the runway at least 5 miles out. We're 11 miles out , but in many situations, especially low visibility, planes line up much sooner, often over Larchmont.

For years our group was told by officials that little could be done unless the whole airspace was redesigned. Then, in 2006, FAA announced that it was creating a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for a redesign of the airspace in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, which was to be the first area changed as part of a national overhaul. (See: Village Skies Under FAA Review.)

As a result, in 2007, Quiet Skies raised funds to support the hiring of a highly specialized aviation consultant and legal team to review the multi-thousand-page DEIS and submit official comments to FAA on our behalf. We raised half of the funds from the local municipalities (Town of Mamaroneck, Village of Larchmont and Village of Mamaroneck) in the amount of $15,000 each, and the other half of the money was donated by private citizens. (See: Larchmont Contributing $15K to Quiet Skies Campaign.)

The result was as good as we could realistically have hoped for -- in fact, ours was the ONLY community to benefit from early and aggressive lobbying in the final outcome. (Active lawsuits in New Jersey and Connecticut continue.)

Here's how we benefited:

Our consultants discovered a plan in the DEIS to start a new cycle of take-offs from Runway 4 that would have put thrusting planes up over all the Sound Shore communities -- in effect more than doubling our existing noise problem, since take-offs are even louder than landings. FAA dropped this heading from the final plan in response to our comments. This eliminated a major noise disaster for the Sound Shore.

In its Final Environmental Impact Statement, the FAA officially indicated that it would seek to reduce overflights from LGA-bound planes landing on Runway 22 (our perennial problem) by installing new technology called "R-NAV", which is a 3-point GPS system that allows planes more flexibility in flight paths. With R-NAV, the FAA hopes to increase the number of flights that can use the over-the-water route from its current 29% to MINIMUM of 40%.

This would be a tremendous improvement for our communities when/if it comes to pass. Because other localities were not as favored in this process, there are a number of pending lawsuits that might hold up implementation of aspects of the redesign.

Going forward, our group is continuing to work with elected officials to determine how best to facilitate R-NAV implementation and manage fair distribution of aircraft with the new technology. Even without the law suits from Connecticut and New Jersey communities, the redesign plan will take years to implement.

This is a complex and political situation that continues to change in unexpected ways. We’ve learned that vigilance is required – when no one is watching, changes can be implemented that disadvantage our community.

Want to help? Quiet Skies welcomes new people who are interested in getting involved and giving some time to help address this key quality of life issue.Anyone wishing to get involved can email: p_horing@yahoo.com


Mamaroneck School Board Speaks Out on Tax Cap

On September 15, 2008, the School Board issued the following letter to the media and the community:

Dear School District Resident:

As many of you are aware, the New York State legislature is considering a proposal to impose a cap on property taxes levied by school districts. As members of the Mamaroneck Union Free School District Board of Education, and as taxpayers ourselves in the District, we have studied this proposal and are deeply concerned about the potential adverse effects this measure may have. We want to let you know our opinion on this critical issue.

The heart of the proposal (as passed by the State Senate but not considered by the State Assembly) is a cap on the annual growth of school property taxes. The cap would limit the school tax levy increase to 4% per year, or 120% of the Consumer Price Index (CPI), whichever is lower. (Please note that this is a cap on the school district portion of property taxes only, not on all property taxes.)

There is no question that property taxes are high and are a burden to taxpayers in the state. High taxes are a source of anger for some, anxiety for others and hardship for many. But we believe the cap as proposed is not the answer and indeed may be a cure that is worse than the disease it seeks to prevent.

Before even getting to the negative effect this proposal could have on education in the state, there are a number of points about the proposal that should give each of us pause. First, many of the costs our schools face - and which have caused school property taxes to skyrocket - are a direct result of costly mandates imposed on local schools, many of which would be unaffected by the proposed legislation. Second, there is already a mechanism in place that keeps school budget increases in check. Schools are not only required to balance their budgets every year but, alone among branches of government, must go to voters every year to get their budgets approved. If a district’s budget fails twice in a given year, it is obligated by existing law to go to a “contingency” budget - that is, a similar cap on increases of 4%, or 120% of the CPI, whichever is lower, that is now being proposed as the “new” tax cap.

We, in the Mamaroneck Union Free School District, understand this dynamic. Two years ago, voters rejected the District’s initial budget for reasons that were uniquely our own. It necessitated the Board to re-evaluate spending and program initiatives and come back to the voters with a new budget that passed resoundingly. This year, that defeat was on everyone’s mind as the Board crafted a budget that again passed overwhelmingly. As it should be, the voters of our district, rather than the politicians in Albany, decided what their own district should spend.

Finally, supporters of the tax cap suggest that it will lead to fiscal reform in Albany. We do not believe this will be the case. If the governor and the legislature really favor necessary fiscal reform, they should attack the problem directly and enact real reforms that meet our needs.

Politics aside, the impact of the proposed cap on our educational system could be severe. As residents of this District well know, very little of our school budget is discretionary. Much of it, in fact, comes from state and/or federal mandates ranging from pension contributions to special education to the No Child Left Behind Act, all of which require the District to provide services or benefits but provide little or no funding to do so. With so much of the District’s budget “baked in,” the long term effect of a tax cap could be to cut those relatively few items over which the District does have control, such as teacher jobs and our excellent art, music, sports and extra-curricular programs. Long-term evidence from California and Massachusetts, two states that enacted property tax caps, shows that the caps in those states resulted in deteriorating conditions in the schools - from increased class size to crumbling buildings. Further, a cap imposed by Albany would limit the flexibility of districts to cope with other cost spikes, such as fuel prices, which have doubled in the past year. In short, the few decisions that we as a community can make - such as class size, enrichment programs, working with families and children in need - could be taken from us.

Proponents of the tax cap have said that they will work to have the state make up the lost revenue through either a reduction in state mandates or increased state aid. The package of mandate relief that the State Senate proposed fails to amount to serious fiscal relief for our district. Moreover, at a time when the state has already made over $1 billion in cuts to state programs, it is difficult to believe that those lost revenues can be restored.

As a school board, we understand and share your concerns about high property taxes. We urge you to become educated on this issue and to let your elected representatives know how you feel. We support meaningful efforts by the state to re-order its economic house and provide school districts relief from continually escalating costs, and we will continue our own efforts to bring fiscally responsible budgets to the voters of our district. But, the current proposals do not make the grade and our children will pay the price.

Sincerely,

Linnet Tse, President
For the Mamaroneck UFSD Board of Education
Harriet Barish
Janet Buchbinder
Michael R. Jacobson
Rick Marsico
Robin Nichinsky
Nancy Pierson


April Farber: Served Community, Friends & Family

by Cheryl Lewy

(August 14, 2008) April Jill Farber was an educator, community volunteer, public servant, mother, wife, daughter, listener, and doer. (See: Obituaries: April Farber.)

AprilFarberBorn in 1949, April lived in Riverdale briefly before moving to Ardsley, where she grew up. April attended Mount Holyoke College, transferred to and graduated from the University of Wisconsin at Madison as a Psychology major, received a masters degree from Yeshiva University, New York in Special Education and did post-graduate work at Teachers College, Columbia University. April worked for the Orange (Connecticut), Mount Vernon (NY), and Greenwich Public School systems as a special educator and educational evaluator; she also worked for Manhattanville College in Purchase as an adjunct professor. April was a dedicated educator who enjoyed working in the field of education and helping students achieve their highest potential both in the classroom and outside of it.

April moved to our Larchmont/Mamaroneck community in 1987 and became an active participant of life here. After getting settled in and integrating her children into the community, April herself joined in and became involved with community and civic organizations. Her father, Bernie Forrest, had been active in politics and government in Ardsley and the Town of Greenburgh and so April followed his example and interest. Always one to support ideas and information, she joined the local League of Women Voters and in 1993-95 was co-president of the Mamaroneck League. April then ran and won a position on the Mamaroneck School Board and served in that capacity for three three-year terms for a total of nine years. April chose to break the tradition of two terms because she felt a strong commitment to our schools and to making them ever better and stronger. In her capacity as a school board member, she served as board secretary and vice president, as well as serving on various committees including the Mamaroneck Avenue Task Force and Building Committees, liaison to HRC, Hommocks and High School planning councils and the Teacher Institute.

April rounded our her community involvement by serving as a School Board Selection Committee Member, a Children’s Corner Board Member, and a member of the Larchmont Temple Youth Board.

April was an exceptional woman with great interpersonal skills. She was a good listener and asked deep and probing questions. After she listened she had the ability to thoughtfully consider all sides of an issue, and ask a wide range of people for their thoughts. She then would develop wise solutions to problems whether they were academic, educational, personal or social to achieve resolutions that satisfied many and were incredibly fair and even handed for all. She treated all mankind, students, parents, friends, and strangers with a fairness, dignity and respect that was greatly appreciated and recognized by those who worked with her.

In her final work as Chair of the Human Rights Commission, Town Supervisor Valerie O’Keeffe hailed April as a “good woman” who treated all with patience, dignity and respect. April worked hard to find the right balance for the Human Rights Commission in our community. She analyzed the role the Commission should play. She even had long discussions about the meaning of the word “Commission” and how that should play into the by-laws and role that Commission should play. April also worked hard to make the January Martin Luther King celebrations meaningful and important for the Larchmont Mamaroneck community.

April was a wonderful mother to Alissa and David, and wife to Barry Farber. Indeed, she was a devoted mother, wife, daughter, daughter-in-law, sister, sister-in-law, aunt, and friend. She enjoyed scuba diving, tennis, biking, needlepoint, dancing and singing, calligraphy, and piano playing. April was an active tennis player and could be seen at Harbor Island’s bubble for years, at Debbie Frank exercise studio, and out and about in the community.

April lived her life to the fullest for as long as she could. She enjoyed laughing and learning, and being an active member of our community; she loved celebrations and holidays, and perhaps most of all, traveling and spending time with her wonderful group of friends and family.

In addition to her husband Barry, she is survived by her daughter Alissa and her husband Dan Restuccia; her son David and his fiancé Genna Gurkoff; her father Bernard Forrest; her mother-in-law Nettie Farber; and her brother Wayne Forrest, sisters-in-law Jean Seibel and Varda Farber, brother-in-law Neal Farber, nephew Dani Farber, and nieces Jamie Forrest and Arielle Farber.

April will be missed as a valued member of the Larchmont/Mamaroneck community. Her smile, dedication and spirit will be remembered by all and her good deeds will go on to help a large part of our community for many years.


Cheryl Lewy is the former mayor of Larchmont Village.

A Father’s Day Tribute

by Melissa Azulay

(June 11, 2008) The sun is just starting to rise over Long Island, I can see by the calmness of the Sound as the ripples of light move across the water. Meet me at the corner of Magnolia and Park and walk with me to a special place, a place perfect for Father’s Day. The dog is itching to go; she sits by the front door with her nose touching the glass.

Come with me and we’ll slip into Manor Park near the small inlet where the stone turns a beautiful gray and green as the sun peeks over the trees, generously reflecting the water. There’s a special spot here treasured by many long-timers and by one particular family. Feel the spirit, there, just beyond the tree and overlooking the water. It’s a bench aged by a decade of weather.

My love and I have been coming here for about a year. We fell in love with this place as we were falling in love with each other. There was always something about this bench that gave me goose bumps from that first spring day in 2007. We shared the Saturday newspaper and a cup of coffee from our friends at Kearns’ Deli. I thought of what it might be like to climb the rocks and dive into the water, but it was still pretty cool.

bench

Now we live here and visit the park and the bench as often as we can with our Golden Doodle puppy, LuLu. She finds the bench on her own, sitting stately on it to catch a glimpse of the Sound, even if someone is already there. When we jog at sunset, we notice there’s always someone sitting peacefully at this one special bench.

Lulu

Lulu was on that bench taking in the views at sunset when it happened. I had been trying to photograph her, when a sudden blinding light bounced from the bench’s brass plate into my viewfinder. Attracted by the light, I read the plate – and then reread it over and over slowly and carefully.

My heart skipped and I shivered as I read the inscription:

IN LIVING TRIBUTE TO MY
BELOVED HAROLD MAIT
AND TO THE PEACE WE FOUND HERE TOGETHER
FOREVER JANET

But wait, there was more. LuLu and I walked a few steps more to another bench in the shade of an old tree that shared the same southwesterly view of the Sound. This bench had two tribute plates, which left me speechless.

DAD
AS BABIES YOU BROUGHT US HERE TO SEE THE WATER
AS KIDS YOU SHOWED US HOW TO PLAY & CLIMB ON THE ROCKS
AND AS ADULTS WE WILL COME HERE TO FEEL YOUR LOVE
AND REMEMBER HOW YOU SHAPED OUR LIVES
LOVE, JOSH, JENNY & DAVID

The tributes stuck with me. I found myself both intrigued and teary-eyed thinking about a man and his family I had never met nor even heard of before.
Deeply moved, I began to research Harold Mait. I found that he was not only an adoring husband and father of three, he loved to camp and was a camp counselor, too. He was well known as “Larchmont’s finest coach” and took great pride in mentoring young athletes. He loved to play poker with his pals. I found he was a great runner and completed the Rye Derby every year. In 1997 he ran the Derby in 45:48, besting by a few seconds his time in 1996. I also learned that he died suddenly, very suddenly, at 52, just weeks after his record time at the 1997 Derby. He was buried on Father's Day, eleven years ago this weekend.

I’m sure there is more, much more to the story of Harold Mait. But maybe there is more to learn here. Maybe it has to do with the warmth radiating from Harold’s bench that provides so many of us who stop there a moment of tranquility. Maybe it has to do with stopping to think about how lucky we are to enjoy our village and our town, our parks and all the people that have made Larchmont the wonderful place it is.

You see, I believe that it was Harold’s spirit that inspired me to write this. I believe, when you read about Harold, you will think of the love of your life and remember to say everything you need to say. I think Harold would want everyone who visits his spot to live every day like it is the last, because you just never know. I believe this is Harold’s way to tell Janet, Josh, Jenny and David that his spirit and love is very strong after all this time.

This Father’s Day, Larchmont Manor Park will be filled with residents and visitors alike. They’ll be looking out over the Long Island Sound; they’ll be running and walking by the benches; they’ll be seated and holding hands. Some will come alone, and some will come with one or two or many. Hopefully, the sun will be shining strong enough to brighten the tarnished green tribute, just as it did for me.


Happy Father’s Day Harold Mait.


State Aid: Getting MORE for Mamaroneck Schools

by Emily Saltzman

(May 8, 2008) Last year, the contentious discussions over Mamaroneck’s school budget revealed that many residents were frustrated with their entire local tax bill and with the lack of state support . That motivated a group of local residents to create MORE, Mamaroneck Organization for Revenue Enhancement, to coordinate lobbying efforts to secure more state aid for our school district. What we’ve learned since last year is: state aid is a highly complex and political subject.

You start with math. In order to compute the amount of state education aid a school district will receive you simply calculate the following: .50 [District Actual Value per Pupil /$426,800] + .50 [District Income Per Pupil/$136,600]. Still with me?

The 2008-2009 budget just adopted by the state is $121.7 billion of which $41 billion is for education. Those are huge numbers, and it can be hard to understand why our schools receive so little of it.

In a nutshell, school aid in New York State is designed to help "equalize" expenditures so that schools in districts with less property wealth can provide a quality of education as high as that in districts with greater wealth. A district's wealth is determined by aggregate property value as well as the adjusted gross income (AGI) of its residents.

The complex formula described above is how a district's wealth is computed. Our district's Combined Wealth Ratio is three times the state average. Although Mamaroneck does receive some extra funding for our special education and English language learner populations, our property and income wealth render us eligible for little state aid, since most aid dollars are distributed, according to a report by the NYS Department of Education, "in inverse proportion to each school district's ability to raise local revenue for education." In fact, according to the Westchester Putnam School Board Association, compared to all the other counties, Westchester gets the least back for every tax dollar sent to Albany.

Of course aggregate wealth figures do not take into account the range of incomes and property wealth in a relatively diverse school district such as ours. In addition, although our relative wealth is higher than average for New York State, so are our costs. Local taxpayers do get a bit of a break through the STAR tax exemption program, but we get little help elsewhere. For 2008-2009, we did not receive any “high tax aid,” which is computed with another complicated formula that takes the tax levy with condominiums divided by AGI.

Many school districts on Long Island also have high property and income wealth but get more school aid - and the reason is politics. The New York State Senate is controlled by the Republicans, and there are Republican state senators from Long Island. The electoral success of these senators is critical to the Republicans maintaining a majority in the Senate - and extra school aid is a great way to guarantee re-election , especially in a high tax area like Long Island. Southern Westchester does not have any Republican senators. Ironically, Long Island residents seem to complain just as much about their property taxes as Westchester residents!

Although the math and the politics seemed stacked against Mamaroneck, there are some signs of hope. Elected officials are well aware of the public's increasing anxiety and frustration over property taxes. As soon as he took office, former Governor Elliot Spitzer created two commissions to examine property tax reform and local government expenditures. A final report from the Property Tax Reform Commission is due on May 22, and its chair, Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi has expressed hope that its recommendations will lead to lower property taxes.

Officials are taking the issue seriously, and the public is playing some role. Many elected officials, such as Senator Jeff Klein, Assemblywoman Sandra Galef and Assemblyman Greg Ball, have been seeking ideas from citizens to lower property taxes. Recommendations include looking to income and sales taxes to support schools, eliminating unfunded mandates, capping teacher benefits and requiring districts to share some services.

Assemblyman George Latimer answered the loud cry for help from Albany by obtaining an additional $250,000 for the Mamaroneck schools. He and other Assembly members from Westchester County are working together to lobby Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to address Westchester's school aid situation.

There is much work to do to convince state leaders that our district should get more aid, especially in tough economic times. If you are interested in joining the effort to lobby for more state and federal aid for Mamaroneck schools, contact MORENY2008@gmail.com.


Emily Saltzman is the coordinator of MORE. She works for an Albany-based government relations firm

 

FIGHTING FIRE WITH COOPERATION

by Ned Benton

(January 31, 2008) In Larchmont Village and the unincorporated part of the Town of Mamaroneck – zip code 10538 - we have excellent firefighting apparatus, many capable volunteer and career firefighters and good firefighting infrastructure. But overall effectiveness is impaired by poor inter-municipal cooperation.

Every home and business in 10538 should have excellent fire protection, but many do not. The problem is not funding – it’s lack of cooperation between the Mamaroneck Town Council and the Larchmont Village Board.

The two boards are meeting on February 4th to discuss inter-municipal issues, but fire protection is not on the agenda. We have already heard the following excuses: 1) It’s been that bad for a long time. 2) The other government has the fire department problem. 3) The other board has to ask first. 4) The firefighters don’t get along. 5) We need a state-funded study. 6) A study will take years. 7) We’d rather cooperate with another community.

Like Saint Augustine who once prayed “Give me chastity and continence, but not quite yet,” members of both boards claim to be in favor of fire department consolidation – but not quite yet.

Town Supervisor Valerie O’Keeffe and Councilman Ernie Odierna agreed, during last November’s Town supervisor debate, that consolidation would be a good idea - but Larchmont would have to ask first!

The obvious answer is for the Town of Mamaroneck Fire District (TMFD) to provide protection for all of 10538. Apparatus would respond from the nearest firehouse - Weaver Street and Larchmont Avenue - improving response times and delivering more paid and more volunteer firefighters – including consistent incident command - for every fire at every location. Savings in personnel and equipment costs could be achieved for both communities.

Let’s Face Facts About Fire Protection

If local leaders would candidly assess the facts, they would admit that each community – particularly Larchmont - has dangerous flaws in fire protection. The problems are obvious and serious.

Apparatus Delays: While both departments can deliver apparatus to most locations quickly, the glaring exception is the slice of Mamaroneck on Pryer Manor Road and in Dillon Park. TMFD apparatus drive from Weaver Street’s firehouse, over I-95 and across Larchmont, losing 2-3 critical minutes compared to immediate response from Larchmont’s firehouse. Delays are a serious risk for residents of those neighborhoods who pay for first-class protection and receive a delayed response.

Firefighter Delays: TMFD can deploy dozens of qualified firefighters, thanks in part to the mass of volunteers resigning from LFD and joining TMFD. But LFD’s roster of volunteers meeting minimum alarm response standards has dropped from almost 30 a year ago to just 8, which does not assure sufficient manpower to safely respond on its own.

While the mayor may be satisfied with the response to the recent fire at her home, LFD has consistently faced more serious fires, and the handful of paid and volunteer firefighters available cannot simultaneously command an incident, operate apparatus, connect and stretch hose, set up ladders for ventilation and rescue, search for building occupants and provide a rescue team. LFD cannot assure consistent compliance with basic safety and firefighting standards.

Dispatching Delays: It stands to reason that a single fire district could dispatch all of the apparatus and firefighting personnel needed at a fire more quickly than two separate agencies. We would skip the minutes it can take for the first department to invite the second department to help.

Mutual Aid Arrival Delays: New Rochelle can deliver aid to Larchmont in about ten minutes, as illustrated in the New Years Day fire. But during those critical first 10 minutes - when small fires must be contained, and victims of larger fires must be rescued - LFD alone cannot deliver the essential elements of an effective response.

Lack of Incident Command: LFD is now operating without deputy chiefs and must often rely on whoever is the ranking firefighter at the scene to coordinate teams of firefighters working in different locations, assess fire progression, call for additional assistance and initiate rescue operations if needed. Until enough qualified firefighters are at the scene, the ranking LFD firefighter faces unsafe command choices: join the initial attack (and forego coordination of the entire attack) or delay firefighting until aid arrives.

Regional Emergencies: Larchmont’s handful of firefighters cannot provide the scale of response needed in major storms or other widespread events. Mutual aid doesn’t work when neighboring departments are overstretched responding to their own emergencies.

Cost: Even before hiring a paid fire chief, Larchmont’s firefighting personnel costs (according to 2005 Comptroller data for NY villages) were the fifth highest per capita and second highest per square mile. LFD spent $400,000 more in firefighter salaries than TMFD, which covers 40% more property. Hiring a paid chief boosts LFD expenses, as would adding extra firefighters or deputy chiefs.

Let’s Cooperate With New Rochelle?

Mayor Feld wants to consider another option – joining a mega-district that would include New Rochelle, Mount Vernon, Eastchester, Pelham and Pelham Manor. But our property tax share of the mega-merger budget could double what we are paying now in 10538. And what about response time - would it still take ten minutes for essential aid to arrive from New Rochelle?

Supervisor O’Keeffe has already taken a public stand against this type of merger plan. Larchmont’s leaders should be able to promptly make a similar assessment.

Cooperate … Now

On February 4th, the Town and Village leaders should face facts and admit that consolidation of fire protection is in the immediate interest of both communities. They should formally agree to begin taking concrete steps to enable TMFD to serve both communities while continuing to station firefighters and apparatus at Weaver Street and at Larchmont Village Hall.

If they need a model for leadership, they should look to the chiefs and members of the TMFD. In the face of provocative public comments, they have conducted themselves with the utmost professionalism. That is one more reason why placing fire protection for both communities in their steady, experienced and professional hands is the best choice.



Ned Benton chairs the department of public management at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and is a former Village of Larchmont trustee and former LFD volunteer firefighter.