Gazette Ceases Publication: Donates Archives to LHS


In 2010, the Larchmont Gazette ceased publication. In 2011 the publishers donated all contents to the Larchmont Historical Society, which will continue to make the Gazette archives available online.



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Tri-Muni Task Force: Mergers, Outsourcing Could Save $1M

Eschewing the ideal for the feasible, a tri-municipal task force looking into shared services for almost a year, unveiled seven major recommendations this week. The group says the initiatives could improve services and save the Town of Mamaroneck and Village of Larchmont as much as $1 million. Suggestions range from the mundane (use the same radio pagers) to the ambitious (a possible merger of fire departments).

The 28-page report from the Tri-Municipal Shared Services/Consolidation Study Group proposes major changes to the police department (a joint Town-Larchmont Village detective unit), fire department  and assessor’s office (tri-municipal consolidation and possible privatization). There are more modest proposals for parking (consolidation of Town-Larchmont parking permitting) recreation (tri-municipal committee and shared offerings); and technology (a joint committee).

Access the Consolidation/Shared Services Report

There are also five recommendations for cutting costs, including: not filling staff vacancies; increasing employee contributions for medical coverage; negotiating union contracts with greater flexibility on staffing; sharing specialized staff and equipment across municipalities; and coordinating work plans (on road paving, for example).

In addition to a chairman, the task force had a board member and resident from each municipality.

Unions and Local Control Are Hurdles

Upfront, the report concedes that an ideal government for a community of 36,000 residents living in 9 square miles “clearly would not be three governments nor as many municipal employees.” However, the group declines to recommend – or even study – a “wholesale merger,” largely because of difficulties presented by “nearly a dozen of these problematic multi-year contracts” with public employee unions.

Elsewhere, the report also cites the unions as obstacles to efficient staffing and other reforms at the local or state level. “While it may seem a pungent overstatement, some say that in matters important to them, Albany is a wholly owned subsidiary of public sector unions.”

Asked if it were accurate to characterize the report as “anti-union,” task force chairman William Dentzer, said, “That’s fair.”

“It comes from the reality of New York State laws,” he said. “As a Democrat not running for public office, I can say that. We want the public to understand the power of public sector unions in Albany as the source of the problem.”

The task force also bows to the political realities inherent in any merged or combined function – the three political boards would have to agree to give up some measure of independent control. The group finesses this issue, in a number of instances, by recommending tri-municipal governing boards, similar to the Joint Sanitation Commission now overseeing garbage collection in the Town of Mamaroneck and Village of Larchmont.

However, getting the governments to give way will still be difficult, as became apparent at the Town of Mamaroneck’s work session on Wednesday, March 17. Board members had concerns with many of the recommendations, and Town Councilwoman Phyllis Wittner took particular umbrage at the report’s specific proposals over which individuals should lead a combined detective unit (Larchmont Police Chief John Poleway) or potentially merged fire department (TMFD Chief Sean McCarthy, a volunteer). Nevertheless, Ms. WIttner told the Gazette “We will take a hard look at the recommendations and see what can be implemented.” Of course, she observed, the other boards will also be taking a hard look.

Despite the various real and serious roadblocks to change, the report nevertheless presents a number of ideas which the task force believes stand a chance of surviving both union and political challenges.

TOM-VOL: Joint Detective Task Force

In proposing a bi-municipal detective unit, the group skirted the emotionally charged  all-out merger of the Mamaroneck Town and Larchmont Village police departments. It also leaves out Mamaroneck Village, because of that department’s coverage of parts of Rye Town.

As suggested, patrol officers – responsible for “day-to-day duties of policing” – would remain tied to their respective departments. Detectives, however, would move to a stand-alone investigative unit under Larchmont Police Chief John Poleway – described in the report as “an innovative leader with an advanced degree in management.”

Ultimately – after further study, retirements and renegotiation of contracts –  the new unit would probably be able to operate with two fewer detectives, for a savings of $300,000 to $450,000.

TOM-VOL: Begin to Think Like One Fire Department

Mamaroneck Village, with its all-volunteer force is not included in recommendations on fire service. The task force begins with suggestions for modest collaborations, like having the other two departments use the same radios and paging system (county-wide 60-control) and having them both departments respond automatically to calls in a designated area.

The group then acknowledges the imminent retirement of Larchmont’s career chief as an opportunity to eliminate further inefficiencies. One option would be a merger of the two departments, under the governance of two fire commissioners, one from each municipality.

This would be a gutsy choice, given the predictable opposition of the unionized firefighters and the wrenching transition the Village of Larchmont endured when it shifted to a career chief in 2007. However, Larchmont’s newly elected mayor, Josh Mandell, is both a volunteer firefighter, the current fire commissioner and an author of the consolidation report. His participation suggests there would be openness to such a radical change – at least on the part of Larchmont’s board.

The group considers, and largely rejects  an analysis of the two  fire departments by *Ned Benton, a staunch critic of hiring career chief and advocate for consolidation of Larchmont and Mamaroneck Town’s fire service. Responding to the group’s suggestions, he said: “While I stand by the findings of my report, I also commend the Study Group for moving both departments toward unified response and command.”

Tri-municipal Merger and Privatization of Assessor’s Office

Larchmont already uses the Town of Mamaroneck’s assessor. The report suggests Village of Mamaroneck could also rely on this office for most of its assessment functions. It also recommends outsourcing the functions to the private sector.

The task force does not assign a dollar value to potential savings but assumes that using non-unionized employees would be cheaper.

Consolidate Parking Permit Issuance for Larchmont and Mamaroneck Town

The group did not think it would be possible to consolidate all clerk functions for Larchmont and Mamaroneck Town in one office. However, they did think it would reduce “volatility” in the workload of both offices if all parking permits were issued in one place.

Tri-Municipal Joint Recreation Committee and Technology Committee

Merging recreation across the three communities is not expected to reduce costs, but could “reach more eligible residents and offer a larger menu of program options.”

Creation of a tri-municipal joint information technology committee might generate savings at some future date, but its intended purpose, as recommended, would be to advise the governing boards on possible improvements.

Where’s the Money?

Although the report says the municipalities could save as much as $1 million through mergers, outsourcing and other measures, most of the recommendations do not come with dollar tags attached.  As the recommendations get digested by the public and the elected boards, those ideas that gain traction will likely get further study and be subjected to more detailed financial analysis.

*Judy Silberstein is married to Ned Benton.

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5 comments to Tri-Muni Task Force: Mergers, Outsourcing Could Save $1M

  • Ned Benton

    I commend the Study Group for asking the right questions about fire service consolidation, and making recommendations that would move TMFD and LFD toward unified response and command.

    Perhaps the most important recommendation in the Consolidation Study about the fire services is #3 on page 14, encouraging TMFD and LFD to “think like one department.” This advice should also apply to the Town Council and Village Board approaches to major decisions about the fire services. The strategic vision of integrating TMFD and LFD into a unified fire service should be a primary consideration for every major decision.

    A realistic short-term goal may be to advance how TMFD and LFD, organized as separate agencies, can function as a unified service. Beyond the short term, however, it is essential that the two agencies not just respond as one. They must eventually be consolidated to achieve meaningful efficiencies.

    How inefficient is Larchmont Village’s current fire service structure? The NY Department of State administers the “Local Government Efficiency Grant Program” and prioritizes extreme situations for special funding. Larchmont qualifies under one distressing criterion – spending more than $189 per capita for fire protection. Since Larchmont spends more than $300 per capita on fire protection, we qualify for “high priority” consideration. In fact, according to the most recent NY Comptroller local government finance statistics for 2008, Larchmont Village remains in the top 10% of NY villages for per-capita spending on fire services. Doesn’t this tell us something?

    While I am in general agreement with practically all of the recommendations about fire consolidation in the report – as far as they go – I want to briefly respond to what I consider to be an important misunderstanding of my study of consolidation of LFD and TMFD. My report can be accessed here:

    http://nbenton.us/LFD10538.pdf

    In the Consolidation Study Annex on page 15, in the first paragraph, the report claims that my study recommended that Larchmont’s fire house be “largely or fully abandoned.” This is not accurate. My study always assumes that, after consolidation, TMFD would station firefighters and apparatus in the fire station in Village Hall. For example, on page 11, the study states: “Some of the space in the apparatus area of Village Hall would continue to be used for the firefighters and apparatus stationed there by TMFD.”

    While this represents an inaccuracy in the report, the good news is that my study and the Consolidation Study are actually in agreement that any solution should always include some firefighters and apparatus responding from Larchmont Village Hall.

  • Jim Sweeney

    This promised study certainly was a long time coming and is long on wind and little on substance. It appears they are willing to tinker around the edges of Fire Department consolidation and less willing to tackle the issues head on. This of course would take REAL LEADERSHIP. It remains to be seen if the new VOL administration and the current TOM Council have what it takes to make real meaningful operational and fiscal improvements in the provision of fire services in 10538.

  • Anon E Mous

    Mr. Benton is correct in what he says, and was so when he said it in the past.

    And sincere thanks are certainly due to all in the ’study group’ for their efforts. But on first pass, the report fails, as the group’s members appear to have acknowledged the difficulty of real change at its start, rather than confronting the real issues with which our communities must deal. The consequences of failure are grave.

    Yes, Mr. Sweeney, the need for ‘real leadership’ in our municipal governments and in our school district are all too obvious and its absence all to costly.

    The committee set too limited goals, already been criticized for exceeding its charter, discussion’s occurring about whether that committee or another committee should pursue further study, and the report is being considered by three boards. Nonsense.

    The choice between success and failure is now ours, whether we choose to accept it or not.

    President Kennedy said: ‘We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.’

  • Paul Winck

    From my experience on the Town Board at the time that the Police Department consolidation study was issued, I wanted to offer a couple of comments.

    First, in future discussions of consolidation, I would hope that potential tax savings would be expressed in the same way that the municipalities describe their tax increases; by showing the savings for an individual homeowner with a property at a particular assessed valuation. The town often used a home with a $20,000 valuation as a guideline, which allowed homeowners to scale the cost/saving up and down based on their individual valuation. This is particularly important when talking about changes that effect both the Town and the Village, because the savings for each proposed change could be very different for Town and Village residents depending on which budget fund(s) are effected by a particular change. Town and Village residents, like everyone, think in terms of cost savings and services; knowing the individual impacts of these changes would make for a more informed choice by residents.

    Second, I regret the Study Group’s decision not to consider larger scale consolidations because they viewed them as unfeasible because of ‘political realities’. There is no serious question that only large scale changes will yield any significant amount of tax relief. In the presentation of the 2010 Budget the Town Administrator pointed out that the total cost of all services for Town residents is $440/month, or $4800/year, and, as the Study Group points out, 60 per cent of the government budgets is personnel. You simply can’t dent that cost number without large scale personnel changes. I recall that when the New York State Department of Criminal Justice Services produced its police department consolidation study several years ago the savings from that one consolidation alone was in the neighborhood of a million dollars (the same as the total amount of savings from all of the changes proposed in the recent study. Back then, when times were better than they are now, the residents I spoke to were very clear that they would not give up their individual police departments for a savings that would have been, perhaps, a couple of hundred dollars per household. Given the changes in circumstances over the last couple of years I don’t think it is unreasonable to put that issue—and that saving—up for discussion again. Among other reasons for considering it, it is a lot easier legally to eliminate a service than to take smaller steps that result in collective bargaining issues. For example, although I wouldn’t advocate this as a solution for Larchmont/Mamaroneck, the Town of Putnam Valley chose to dissolve its Police Department several years ago (leaving policing to the County and State Police departments) and did so without a serious legal challenge. Other municipalities in Putnam County have followed suit, also with success.

    And there are other significant changes that could be discussed. There is a very substantial labor savings—perhaps one-third of personnel costs- to be had if the Joint Sanitation Commission required curb side pickup of trash. Certainly, there would be issues: perhaps a loosening of the time limitation of when trash cans can be put out for collection and must be removed from the curb after trash collection, and some way of assisting residents with disabilities for whom the new requirement would be a burden, but, again, if it will save residents a significant amount of money in taxes it does not seem unreasonable to put it up for discussion.

    Finally, here’s an old chestnut that, finally, ought to be brought out into the light and discussed as part of the issue of consolidation of the Police Detectives. Both the Town and Village Police Departments have a detective who spends a significant amount of time on DARE matters, visiting class rooms, attending graduations and engaging in other community activities. Further, the budget I found on line on the Town’s website indicates that the Town budgets $5,000 for DARE matters in addition to personnel costs. The plain truth is that DARE is a feel good program that does not work. There is no reliable information that shows that it does. See, for example, this Alert from the National Institutes of Health (NIH): http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa34.htm. Further, in a February, 2004 recommendation from the National Advisory Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the Council said: “Educational approaches should be evidence based, and programs shown not to work should be discontinued. For example, DARE should not be continued, and the resources should be refocused on programs demonstrated to work. Availability of services to accommodate clinical needs should be expanded.” Although it deserves points for political resilience, one would be hard pressed to find any scientific support for the D.A.R.E. program. While the Town and Village considers detective head count, it would be a good time to review whether this expenditure of detective time is worthwhile. There are better programs out there.

    Larchmont and Mamaroneck residents expect, and receive, a high level of services from local government. That high level of services is evidenced by the obviously well considered job done by the Study Group. When economic times were good (which, thankfully, was the case when I served on the Town Board. I bet it’s less enjoyable to serve now), residents were quick to oppose almost any diminution of services. Well, times are not so good now, and to my thinking at least, that makes it a good time to let the voters reconsider where they stand on some of the larger savings that may be available. My hat is off to the Study Group. In Tucson, where I now live, the dimwits who run our governments, both state and local, spend more time worrying about imaginary threats to the right to bear arms than they do about a budget deficit that is likely to cause widespread hardship, and they couldn’t even imagine the level of local services that are provided in Mamaroneck. Believe me, you’ve got it better up there.

    Paul Winick

  • lance sterling

    You have to start somewhere – we do not need all the cops in a small area

    lance