All About Armonk

North Castle Daily News

Town Board Proposes North Castle Budget of $31.6 Million with Zero Tax Increase

November 19, 2015
At the North Castle Town Board’s November 18 meeting, Denise Oakley, Town Comptroller, proposed a budget of $31,609,835 which she said is roughly a 3.05% increase over last year’s actual budget.

With the increases of revenue last year and an increase in the Town’s assessed property values, the increase in expenses has been offset. This allows for a zero tax increase for the 2016 Town budget which also falls under the allowable tax cap.

The Town of North Castle’s operating budget is made up of the General Fund, the Highway Fund, the Library Fund and the Police Fund. These budgets determine the Town’s real estate taxes to be paid by the taxpayers.

Oakley presented an overview of the 2016 preliminary budget. She said, “The focus this coming year is to operate efficiently with full transparency and to provide the highest quality of services at the lowest cost to our residents with a tax rate increase as low as possible.”

The majority of the Town’s revenue is property taxes that are projected to be $11,593,324. Other projected revenues are higher than in prior years. Next year’s sales taxes are budgeted at $1,650,000; payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTS) are budgeted at $989,045; non-property tax items such as tax penalties are budgeted at $550,000; cable franchises are budgeted at $280,000; mortgage taxes are budgeted at $700,000; and various other sources of departmental income equal a General Fund revenue total of $18,391,677.

North Castle’s 2016 preliminary proposed budget for the Town’s libraries is $1,668,648. The Highway fund budget is proposed at $6,175,264. The Police Department Fund is budgeted at $8,204,845.

A majority of the budget expenses are salaries and benefits for Town employees. There is a slight increase of $683,000 in salary expenses which covers six years worth of salary settlements in public safety, as well as other union settlements.

The Town of North Castle’s 2015 total count of full-time and part-time employees is 135; this excludes the four Town Board members. The 2016 tentative budget proposes to hire five more full-time employees and to have one less part-time employee. This is one less hired employee than was budgeted for in 2015.

The 2016 tentative budget includes the adoption of five additional full-time employees that are allocated as follows:
• One additional employee for the Town Administrator’s Department
• One more employee in the Tax Assessor’s office
• An opening for an officer who will be promoted to Lieutenant in the Police Department which has 32 police officers (down from its peak in 2009 of 38 to 40 officers)
• Two more employees in the sewer and water department.

In addition, the tentative budget calls for:
• One less part-time worker in the Town Administrator’s Department
• One less part-timer in the Town Comptroller Department
• One less part-timer in the Tax Assessor Department
• One more part-timer in the Library.

Larry Ruisi, a member of the Town’s volunteer Budget and Finance Committee, presented his analysis of the 2016 budget. Last year’s expenses were $25,431,000 with revenues of $6,512,000. This year’s expenses are proposed to be $26,236,000 which is an increase of $805,000 or 3.17%. This increase was driven by salary increases.

Ruisi said year-to-year, the revenue budgets were increased to $682,000 or 10.5%. Therefore, the actual increase in real property taxes is $123,000 or 6.5%. But this budget increase is offset by a net increase of $754,000 over last year’s assessed evaluation for a total of 4,798 parcels that share the tax burden. This is the first increase in assessed evaluations since 2009. This year’s total assessed evaluation for the municipality’s properties is $117,394,686.

Based upon the home market value of $848,889, the proposed general taxes for 2015 and 2016 are equal to $3,098, which presents a zero increase in this year’s general taxes. (Note that this excludes school taxes, Westchester County taxes and special district taxes.)

There is a decrease in the New York State retirement system budget, says Ruisi. Albany dictates how much each municipality must contribute to pension benefits for the retirement system for union workers. This led to a year-to-year reduction in expenses of $110,000.

The Town Board will have a final review of the budget at its next meeting on December 9. They will continue to develop a strategy to improve the Town’s roads which included paving 10 miles this year. They may still allocate more money toward the roads this year as the Budget and Finance Committee plans to present a strategy that will further require significant expenses funded by either the General Fund Balance or debt.

However, the Town Board has projected not to use any funds from the unrestricted General Fund Balance (which is about $8,000,000) to reduce taxes in 2015-16.

Last year, the Town Board decided to operate the Anita Louis Ehrman Pool for one year. The budgeted amount for operating the pool in 2016 is currently at $330,000 with a revenue of about $200,000. These numbers may have to be fine-tuned, said Ruisi. But the operating figures are preliminary and require a further review that will be done by the Town Board in the next couple of weeks.

Supervisor Mike Schiliro said with the New York State tax cap, multi-year budget planning is needed. He sees that there is a real science to manage within the tax cap. The Town’s cap increase this year is .73 of one percent.

Schiliro concluded that North Castle is fortunate to be at zero tax increase, and just under the cap with the net increase in accessable properties and significant reserves.

Ethics Code Considered By North Castle’s Town Board

Updated November 2, 2015
The North Castle Town Board’s meeting on October 21 included a public hearing of a proposal to amend North Castle’s Code of Ethics. Three members of a volunteer ethics task force presented a drafted document with recommendations that were discussed for over two hours.

David Simonds, the current chairman of the town’s Board of Ethics and a member of the Task Force, said that there hasn’t been a well executed ethics board in years as they haven’t dealt with any ethical situations in some time. However, Simonds did say that the town would be better served if there was a five-person ethics board, with no more than three members registered to the same political party, and two alternative members as backup. The appointment of the members would be staggered from one year to five years, with a reappointment every year.

The report emphasized that the ethic codes would not supersede any labor contracts with town employees and should not come into conflict with any other like authorities. While there might be situations where the ethic codes do not apply, the document would allow the town board to have an option to take action if there were ethical violations.

In addition, certain portions of the proposed ethics code that pertain to civil service employees, especially with a possibility of an imposed violations fine, would be referred to the town’s labor counsel for review. The initial discussion of a fine up to $2,500 fine was considered, but it was determined that no dollar amount would be set to any violation.

To understand the ramifications to levy a fine on a civil service employee outside the civil service law, it should be known before the code is adopted, said Roland Baroni, North Castle's town attorney. Baroni asked, “Wouldn’t you want to know before you adopted the code if you can impose a fine on a civil service employee?” He added that the labor counsel may conclude the way the code is applied is fine as is.

The ethics task force wanted to provide a clear “road map” to refer any ethical complaint to the ethics board. Task force member John Diaconis said the model code which was used by the committee as a reference was silent on how complaints were to be referred to the ethics board. After much discussion, the committee recommended the following referral guidelines:

1. A referral to the ethics board by the town board can initiate a preliminary investigate if there is a viable complaint;
2. Individual residents of the town can bring a complaint in reference only to elected officials, and those complaints would be at the discretion of the ethics board; and
3. On its own initiative, a majority of the ethics board can initiate its own investigation of a formal complaint that would be able to commence as a proceeding which must comply to all the regulations.

As an example, when someone files a claim, a sworn personal statement would be required to show a cause of a violation. The sworn statement is considered a verification under oath of personal knowledge.

In the event a proceeding is commenced, the ethics board shall review the allegations to determine whether there is reasonable cause to believe that a violation of the code has occurred.

The sworn statement was considered to prevent potential abuse of individuals filling numerous complaints. This consideration still allows the ethics board to dismiss any complaint they deemed frivolous without a hearing, if they determine, by a majority, that there was no violation.

Diaconis said that if the ethics board received a complaint that justified a hearing, the ethics board would then make a determination that it would convey to the town board. It would then be up to the town board to decide what to do about the determination.

Furthermore, each referral would be recorded by the Board of Ethics and assigned an index number. If it is determined that there was no violation, the ethics board would file a notice of dismissal with the town board that the case was closed. Those records are to be kept private and, in the case of a dismissal based on a determination that there is no resaonable cause to believe a violation has occurred, the complaint should also be kept private, said task force member Susan Shimer. However, the code as proposed, provides that the subject of the complaint may disclose any records provided to him. 
Dismissals for failure to establish reasonable cause are confidential and the code as drafted provides that the final determination "shall be a matter of public record and kept on a docket maintained by the Board of Ethics."

The task force highly recommended that all hired town employees, appointed volunteers and elected officials be required to file a disclosure form. The form would simply ask if an individual has any contracts with the town, which would avoid a potential conflict of interest. The disclosure form would be in writing and filed with the Town Clerk’s office. To eliminate an excessive burden, the disclosure form would not apply to seasonal employees.

The revisions discussed at the October 21 meeting will be written into the drafted ethics code. The town’s labor counsel will be consulted. And then the task force will return to continue the public hearing at a future town board meeting.

North Castle Battles Road Repair

March 5, 2015
This winter has delivered a vicious cycle of snow and ice that has melted under the applied salt brines, and then frozen again between the cracks of the roads’ asphalt. Pieces of asphalt are broken off by the scraping of the plows during this winter’s never-ending snowstorms. The chunks of tar and rock that remain on the side of the road will be seen once the mounds of frozen snow melt away. Then the proof of this winter’s brutal force that has fallen upon the 94 miles of the hamlets of Armonk, Banksville and North White Plains roads will be revealed.

Back in 2012, the condition of the Town’s roads was reported by Vanasse Hangen Brustlin (VHB) Engineering, Surveying and Landscape Architects. North Castle’s road conditions were  then rated a barely passing average grade of 65 Pavement Condition Index (PCI) in VHB’s $40,000 assessment.

Alex Greene, a representative of North Castle’s four-member volunteer Budget and Finance Advisory Committee, whose job is the analysis of North Castle’s financial data at the request of the Supervisor and Town Board, presented several funding scenarios that could finance a multi-year road pavement management plan. At the February 26 work session, the Supervisor and the Town Board agreed with Greene to seek a request for proposal (RFP) for an updated study of the roads, and to consider the funding for an accelerated four-year road improvement plan.

The essence of the plan would be to update the identification of the condition of the Town’s roads since the original VHB report. Approximately 20 percent of the Town’s roads will have been repaved by the end of this year since the 2012 report, including about 10 miles of roads in Windmill Farms. All of Windmill Farms roads will be repaved for approximately $500,000 to $600,000 at the completion of the $10 million Water District #2 Distribution System Upgrade.

The Town Board must determine how to proceed to improve the Town’s roads, deciding what grade or PCI is acceptable. The grade of 65 PCI (poor to deficient condition), on 60 percent of our roads, is unacceptable. But is 75 PCI acceptable? In the Northeast, a score of low 80’s is considered a high score. Westchester County roads are currently at 75 PCI, according to Greene.

VHB’s recommendations are to manage a road improvement plan at the cost of $13 to $30 million over a ten-year period. But Greene asked why wait ten years? He said the Town Board should choose a targeted PCI and consider an accelerated management plan of four years to maintain a score of 75 PCI, presented for the cost of $16 million (for illustration purposes only), with a possible financing of the project with 15-year bonds.  

Greene’s rationale is that the Town has budgeted $1.15 million per year for the Town’s road improvements. At this rate, he asked, how much are we enhancing the roads, or are we going to stay at the 65 PCI? The Town Board must determine how important the roads are as a quality of life issue for North Castle.

Supervisor Mike Schiliro said improving the road conditions is one of his top priorities because everyone uses them. Given the harsh winters, if they are not taken care of, they will only get worse.

Greene presented, as examples, some financial numbers in the millions that must be vetted out through requests for bids from paving contractors. Greene said that if the Town’s current budget of $1.15 million for road maintenance were continued for a ten-year period, including inflation, that could be equivalent to the amount of money that could be spent in an accelerated four-year period for repairing the same roads.

But the financial guidance must be more carefully reviewed after the Town Board determines what is the desired PCI and receives bids to do the job. Now is an ideal time to borrow money, said Greene, who estimates a long-term note of 15 years with likely interest rates  between 2.5 to 3 percent. But he added that the markets will dictate the percentage rates.

Greene outlined, for presentation purposes only, the cost of borrowing $16 million of 15-year bonds for a four-year road management plan to attain a PCI of 75:  

    Year one would be interest only of $572,000;

    Years two to five would each be principal and interest payments of $1.37 million; and

    Years six to fifteen would be principal and interests payments of $1.37 million.

The first five years of Greene’s model scenario would put no additional pressure on the town budget’s tax cap, said Greene, but beyond that is questionable. To determine that, he said we have to know where we are with the roads, how much of an investment is necessary to achieve the targeted PCI, and what is the financial feasibility.

Joan Goldberg, Town Administrator, agreed that a firm should be hired to update the report to see if the Town has made any headway on road repair and to see what the current road conditions are. But she said that because roads are a maintenance issue, the Town has a planned 20-year maintenance re-pavement program in place. She said that taking on the debt to do road maintenance may exceed the tax cap of the Town’s budget, especially given the collective bargaining contracts. Goldberg pointed out that exceeding the tax cap would forgo the New York State rebate under the tax freeze plan.

Schiliro said he will consider chip seal material as an alternative to asphalt for road surface. Chip seal is used elsewhere in Westchester County and is known to be a more durable surface to protect the underlying pavement. He added that more of the chip seal material can be laid down at the same cost as asphalt.

The Board intends to have an updated assessment done on all the Town-owned roads and will get out an RFP in March. They plan to put together a timeline to achieve an acceptable management plan and engage a firm by May.

Schiliro said this plan will have a positive impact on the roads, and if approved, will be in effect regardless of who is sitting on the Town Board.

The Board also has to consider if funds from the Town’s current $7 million General Fund should be applied toward road maintenance.

Westchester County and New York State-owned roads are excluded from the VHB’s report and the Town’s maintenance program.

Westchester County roads are: Bedford Banksville Road; North Broadway, by Sir John Plaza; part of Cox Avenue from Route 22 to Lake Road; Byram Lake Road to Cox Avenue past Oregon Road; Parkway Hills, off Route 22 before West Lake Drive, also known as Bronx River Extension, Virginia Road from Route 22 to before Lafayette Avenue; and County Airport Road from Route 120 to the Westchester County Airport. New York State owns all of the numbered roads in North Castle, which includes Routes 22, 433, 128, and 120.

Appointment to Ethics Task Force Causes Democratic Co-Chair to Step Down

February 13, 2015
The North Castle Town Board has appointed an Ethics Task Force to serve at the pleasure of the Town Board at its February 11 meeting. The appointed members of the newly formed Ethics Task Force are the former Town Judge Susan Shimer, John Diaconis, Jeffrey Glat and Rick Alimonti. The Task Force will serve in conjunction with the Board of Ethics.

On the Town’s website, it says that the Board of Ethics renders advisory opinions to officers, employees and appointees of the Town. “The members are required to be impartial and free from conflicts of interest in fulfilling their public responsibilities.”

Once the Ethic Task Force is organized, they will review North Castle’s current code of ethics, and the ethics code of other towns. They will then draft recommended modifications for the Town Board. This should be done relatively quick, says Supervisor Michael Schiliro. He doesn’t expect the committee’s charge to take more than several months. "The Task Force’s recommendations of how to improve the Town’s code of ethics should better serve the residents of North Castle," said Schiliro.  

North Castle’s regulations for the “Board of Ethics” under the Chapter 19-2 calls for five members to be appointed by the Town Board. One member should be an officer, town employee or appointee, "but no Town Justice, Town Attorney, or member of the Town Board shall be eligible for membership.”

Currently the Ethics Board is underserved with only four members: Chairman David Simonds, Rabbi Stacy Bergman, John Heimerdinger, and John Klem. Town Board member Steve D’Angelo serves as the Town Board Liaison to the Board of Ethics.

The town’s Chapter 19-14, “Eligibility for appointment to boards” states that any persons who holds an office or leadership position in a political party shall not be eligible for appointment to the Town’s Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, the Assessment Board of Review, the Architectural Board of Review or the Conservation Board. Furthermore, the Chapter 19-14 states that any new advisory board created by resolution for the Town Board shall fall under the same restrictions for membership eligibility to the boards that were mentioned above.

The Task Force will review the code that requires the appointment for the members who serve on the Ethics Board and their eligibility as it applies for the other town advisory boards.  

John Diaconis, co-chairman of the North Castle’s Democratic Committee for the past three years, says after he considered his soon-to-be appointment to the Ethics Task Force, he withdrew from his position as co-chairman of the Democratic Committee. Diaconis says he has stepped down because there could be a conflict of interest. He wants to serve on the committee because he is passionate about the issues of North Castle’s ethic codes and wants to partake in the recommendations of the Task Force. Diaconis says he would like to remain active with the Democratic Committee.

"The composition of the members of the Town’s Ethics Board will be reviewed by the newly formed Task Force," said Diaconis. There will be a review of the members who serve on Ethics Board in other towns, such as New Castle. Diaconis said that in New Castle, there are the five members of the Board of Ethics which is limited to two members from each of the Town’s two major political parties; Democratic and Republican, plus one Independent party member. 

Highway Department Prepared to Better Serve

Updated February 9, 2015
The North Castle Budget and Finance Advisory Committee (BFAC) had recommended that the North Castle Town Board earmark $1 million in 2015 to repair the Town’s roads. Comprised of four North Castle residents involved in the Town's 2015 budget process, the BFAC had proposed to accelerate the Town’s road paving to catch up with repairs, and then to start a normal cycle of road repair.

Their plan recommended capital improvements for the roads with a budget of $3 million over five years, but that was before the New York State impeded the tax cap. However, with the 2014 New York State pension costs flat, the BFAC is now working on a comprehensive proposal to get more roads repaired.

For the winter of 2014 - 2015, the Town planned for four new plow trucks, sought two new hires, and expanded the size of the individual plow routes, depending upon the weather reports, and when the plows are required. The Town has 22 snowplows, says Town Administrator Joan Goldberg. "The vehicles usually aren’t all running at the same time due to the age of the fleet, numerous mechanical breakdowns, and the equipment that comes into the garage for general maintenance," said Goldberg.  

The Highway Department uses two big salt and sand loaders for snowplow use. The trucks scoop the material from "the dome" in the highway yard behind Town Hall and unload it into the back of the truck spreaders that carry tons of material in order to tend to the Town’s roads in preparation of snowstorms or icy conditions. One the loading trucks in the fleet is 18 years old and requires frequent maintenance of outdated parts. The other loader truck is 12 years old. Goldberg said that the Town must have two operational loaders in case if one breaks down during a storm.

At the Town Board’s January 28 meeting, it approved the request by Highway General Foreman Jamie Norris to purchase the replacement of the 18-year old truck for $191,000 off the New York State bid list. The funds for a new truck were anticipated and adopted in the 2015 highway budget. The 18-year old truck will go out to bid, said Goldberg, but she is not sure of the amount that the truck will be sold for.

Goldberg also presented a second proposal to lease GPS equipment that was also budgeted for. The devices will be used to better manage and deploy the Highway Department’s plowing vehicles during a snowstorm. The GPS units will be used to gather information to more efficiently run North Castle’s snowplow service and to better communicate with the crew while they are plowing the roads. The GPS units can track all the vehicle’s locations, their speed and itinerary, whether or not they are idling, and if the vehicle needs any maintenance.

“This will allow us to more effectively monitor our routes so we can lay down the correct amount of sand and salt material,” said Goldberg. Up until January 28 of this year, the highway department went through 450 tons of material. The GPS would allow the highway department to more efficiently spread the material in storm conditions. Less material could be used if the sanding truck’s spinners were adjusted or if they are set too high. “The GPS will allow us to determine the appropriate amount of material that should be laid per mile, and at the proper speed,” continued Goldberg.

In addition, according to Goldberg, the GPS will assist if a driver is going too fast. When a plow goes too fast, the snow may not optimally be removed, and therefore that requires the use of more sand and salt. The GPS will also allow the highway general foreman to more easily reroute plows if a driver is out, if a driver has finished his route and can assist plowing on another route, or if they should receive a call regarding icing conditions they would know which driver to contact.

The Town Board approved the proposal to lease the GPS units for one year from Vehicle Tracking Solutions, rather than purchase the equipment. Supervisor Michael Schiliro says he likes the concept of having the GPS units and prefers trying them out on a lease before purchasing. The cost is $30 per unit, per year for installation, training, repair, removal, and software updates. The Highway Department will lease 50 units at $1,500 per month, or $18,000 yearly. Goldberg says the contract is being excuted and they expect installation within 30 days of signing the contract. The Town will have the option to renew the lease yearly for four years at the same rate.

Town Board member Barbara DiGiacinto said that last winter, there were a few incidents in North White Plains where a new driver unintentionally missed plowing a road; the driver was almost back to Armonk when he received the call that he missed plowing a road. She said she can see the value of the devices.

Armonk Children's Library
Wampus Brook Park South

North Castle's Capital Improvements

January 31, 2015

Wampus Brook Park Gazebo
The Town Board will rebuild the Wampus Park gazebo as it was originally built in 1967. The plan under consideration is with an American Disability Act (ADA) ramp with an aesthetically natural look of grass and bricks to match the setting of the park. The Town’s municipal insurance will cover the entire project, including the ramp. The plan is to enhance the structure with speakers and lighting, and to use current Astec durable and low-maintenance building materials. The project will go out to bid and spring construction is anticipated.

Wampus Park South
Building Wampus Park South is still in the basic engineering studies phase. It appears to be more expensive to create a park there than was expected. The Town’s Recreation Fund is more than $400,000. This fund will be used to develop the new park. Phase 1 of the engineering studies is to review of the wetlands in the area. The North Castle Forward program that will be released soon includes several questions for the community’s input about the preferred uses for this park.

Community Park
The building in North Castle’s Community Park, located at the end of Business Drive, is to be demolished. This was recommended by the Recreation Advisory Board and the Town’s engineer. Joan Goldberg says, “We anticipate under $100K for all expenses relating to the removal of the building, including asbestos abatement.” The abatement of asbestos found in the cement of the roof and in the boiler should take a week to remove. A temporary fence will surround the property, and all precautions will be taken with a monitoring company checking on the work of the abatement company. Future use of this location is a possible programming space for both recreation and the Library, or perhaps a joint venture for another recreation facility like the tennis and soccer bubble of Armonk Indoor Sports Center.

Miller House
The Town Board followed a process, with necessary improvements of Westchester County’s Park where the Miller House is located. The Town Board adopted a Resolution on July 23, 2014 that called for the immediate repair and restoration in its current location, by its owner Westchester County. The Town Board made that decision based upon the recommendations of the Elijah Miller House Committee and the Friends of the Miller House. Subsequent to the July 2014 meeting, Town Board member Barry Reiter; John Diaconis, representing the Friends of the Miller House; and Kerry Kasak, representing the Elijah Miller House Committee, recommended to repair the Miller House in its current location.

At a July 30, 2014 meeting with Kathleen O’Connor, Commissioner of Westchester County Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation, said the time has passed to move the house and yet, the house may not survive a move.

Repair at the current location is not the perfect solution, said Super Mike Schiliro, but this is believed to be the most optimal location because there is nowhere else that is practical to move the historic building. Based on the recommendation, which was well received by the Board, the Town is waiting to hear from the County for the next step of restoration. 

“With the death of Dorrie Watson, our beloved Town Historian, who had worked tirelessly over the years to see the restoration of the Miller House,” Schiliro said, “there will be a significant effort to make sure her wish come true.”

Children’s Library Room
The Armonk children’s library room is undergoing an interior redesign with a more open and airy look of a vibrant garden with bright flowers and trees of a meadow-like setting. What remains to be done is to lay new carpet, hang new light fixtures, and set book cases with built-in seating. The space is lined with hands-on interactive toys. The furnishings will be determined on how the adults interact with the children in the new space. In two weeks, Megan Dean, Head of Children Services, expects the area to be up and running, and finished by March.

North Castle Town Comprehensive Plan
Supervisor Schiliro Discusses North Castle’s Comprehensive Plan

Updated January 23, 2015
The Town Board has decided to move forward to update the North Castle’s Comprehensive Plan. The most important thing that the North Castle Town Board is responsible for is the zoning changes that impact everything in the Town.

Zoning decisions live within North Castle’s Comprehensive Plan. The master plan speaks about zoning of the Town and how the retail parts of the Town's three hamlets are to be developed.

If the politicians can keep politics out of planning, and if the Town Board commits to a budget that would be drawn from the General Fund Balance, work on the North Castle’s Comprehensive will move forward. There’s much time to be dedicated to the research of the planning of the three hamlets; it can take over two years to produce the entire document.

The 1996 Comprehensive Plan has been used for 20 years. If you amortize the cost annually, there could be an estimated $15,000 a year for the right blueprint for the decision makers to have the correct tools to make zoning decisions. The age of a Comprehensive Plan does not dictate when the Town’s master plan is outdated; rather, since that plan, the Town’s demographics have changed, and thus a new plan at this time is appropriate. A Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee has not been seated yet, but is expected to be established at the Town Board’s January 28 meeting. The committee will include a member of the Planning Board, the Town Board and the Director of Planning, plus up to nine volunteers.

Adam Kaufman, the North Castle Director of Planning, has secured a grant of $7,800 to cover the expense of North Castle Forward that is on schedule to launch in the next few weeks. North Castle Forward is an on-line tool that municipalities are using to solicit feedback from the Town’s residents on a variety of issues that will guide the decision makers. “The grant was provided by the Hudson River Valley Greenway,” says Kaufman. “The grant is a matching grant, so we will need to expend at least $7,800 on the update to the master plan.”

Schiliro is supportive of public comment and input. Nevertheless, he is an ardent believer in not governing by polling because you shouldn’t legislate to a poll result. Specifically applicable to the Comprehensive Plan, North Castle Forward is a way to receive feedback from residents as the process of the Comprehensive Plan moves forward.

Businesses are investing in North Castle and they are succeeding; if the businesses do a good job, people will find them. Part of the Comprehensive Plan is to enhance the business districts, to make them attractive. There is opportunity for new businesses, and the free market will determine who is successful, who is not successful, and what people's preferences are. Zoning changes and provision of infrastructure are the responsibility of the Town Board.

Professional recommendations of an updated Comprehensive Plan for all three of North Castle’s hamlets will outline how more business can be attracted, how to maintain good business practices, and how not to let development get out of control. Each of North Castle’s three hamlets of Armonk, North White Plains and Banksville is different.

The latest additions to Armonk are Armonk Square, CVS Pharmacy and the Bristal Assisted Living. Armonk Square appears to be a successful development in the center of Armonk. The development has been fully assessed while it was phased in as they completed their construction. CVS Pharmacy has opened as the Planning Board and ARB worked on the design.

The Bristal Assisted Living is a good re-purpose of the Business Park. It’s a project that doesn’t impact the schools. They are good corporate neighbors who are supportive of the community, having paid for the replacement of the Armonk Eagle. Its residents are consumers, and their families visit and eat at the restaurants. The question remains: What will be done on Route 22 to make it safe for the visitors from the Bristal to walk to town?

North White Plains residents say that they want help to improve their downtown area that is the corridor on North Broadway. North White Plains’ business area has seen some recent investments, such as:
• North White Plains’ businesses have invested in the new shopping center at 731 North Broadway;
• The Townhouse Diner at 720 North Broadway in North White Plains has been renovated; and
•  A retail/office building is once again under construction where Motor Classic was located at 868 North Broadway.

Banksville’s business section has become idle; it’s not as vital as it was.

Westchester County is preparing the Base Studies for North Castle’s Comprehensive Plan update. “The Base Studies will include items like regional context, land use, population characteristics, transportation, natural resources, recreation, open spaces, public infrastructure, commercial development, residential development and current zoning,” said Kaufman. “Having the County develop and deliver such base studies for the Town will significantly reduce the cost of the plan’s preparation and help to sharpen the focus of where the planning efforts need to be directed. The Town will take the base studies and move right into plan development and the consultants will not have to spend months creating it themselves,” added Kaufman. He expects the Town’s savings to be significant since Comprehensive Plan updates are expensive. Once the basic studies are completed, the Town Board will determine if they want to send out Requests for Proposal. Once they have some bids, there will have a better understanding of the costs involved.

The 1996 Comprehensive Plan described North Castle’s three retail hamlets not as hubs, but rather the downtown of the hamlets were specifically designed to serve the population of that area of the town. That doesn’t mean they won’t attract people from out of town, but the Town Board is not looking to design business districts that will attract a Walmart or a K-Mart. DeCicco’s Family Market was sized to serve the people of this town, yet they are also drawing people from Chappaqua and Greenwich. DeCicco’s must be given credit for being attractive enough to draw people from other towns, as does Hickory & Tweed, many restaurants, LaMer Seafood and Village Prime Meats. That’s a good thing, but the hamlets were not designed as destinations because the town’s infrastructure, by decision, was not built to be a city such as Mount Kisco or White Plains.

Supervisor Schiliro on Downtown Armonk Parking  

January 15, 2015
Halfway through his first two-year term, North Castle Town Supervisor Michael Schiliro says there are still many decisions ahead to be made during his administration of the North Castle Town Board. Schiliro sat down with All About Armonk to review his to-do list. At the top of his list is Armonk parking.

One of the necessary enhancements for downtown Armonk is parking. Armonk’s Main Street retailers were struggling through the economic downturn, but now they are seeing a modest increase in sales with the revitalization of the downtown Armonk hamlet. There have been several work sessions on parking in Armonk and a decision has to be made to improve the shopping experience for people who are coming to the area. With private sector business investments in North Castle, the Town needs to solve the parking issues so that the stores can thrive and increase both their customer base and job opportunities.

The Town Board has identified locations and pursued specific opportunities to alleviate issues with long-term parking and shopper parking at the Hergenhan Recreation Center, Verizon lot off Kent Place near the Library, the Armonk Shopping Center where CVS Pharmacy is, and in front of Town Hall. The standard industry rate to construct a parking spot is between $10,000 and $12,000. Therefore careful consideration is necessary by the Town Board.

The Town is working with Kellard-Sessions, the town engineers, to continue the work of previous Town Boards for additional parking near the Hergenhan Recreation Center. The parking lot to the right of Hergenhan Center and adjacent to Wampus Brook Park is under consideration to be repaved and reconfigured to add an additional four spots. They are  working through some issues of landfill that affect the expansion of the parking lot behind Hergenhan Center. The town board approved going ahead with a test excavation of the lot which revealed some issues that resulted in what would be a more complicated construction project. The Town must do a cost-effectiveness analysis to expand another 24-to-28 parking spots there.

The concept is to make these peripheral lots long-term parking for the employees of local businesses. Some of the business owners are in favor of paying fees for them; such long-term parking in these lots would free up the closer parking to the stores for their consumers. Designated parking spots can cost businesses anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000 per spot. If the renovation of these parking lots are done, it’s most likely to be paid from the General Fund Balance that is currently in the $7.6 million range.

Plans for parking in front of Town Hall have been considered to expand the availability from seven spots to 14 spots. The Town’s engineering consultants have sketched the proposed parking area. Instead of parallel parking, the parking would be diagonal. The estimated cost of $81,500 is significantly more than expected and the board is considering if the cost per space is feasible. In addition, they must consider the visual effect such a reconfiguration would have on the site.

The other locations that remains of interest for more parking downtown is an acre of Town-owned property behind Kent Place. The board has identified a number of barriers, specifically cost and environmental constraints to develop this property and are working toward other solutions.

There is another one-acre availability at Verizon's lot, adjacent to the library, that has been discussed to be used as public parking for years. The Town has conducted several meetings with Verizon and their real estate designee. Unfortunately, the Town and Verizon are currently at an impasse. The longest lease term Verizon would extend is five years, with the ability to take back the lot within 180 days of written notice. With an investment in the millions on the part of the Town, the assurance of return on the investment would need to be a significant amount of years ranging several decades to use this possibility as public parking.

Last, the Town has worked with CVS Pharmacy contractors who have already completed the one-way parking lot access from the Hergenhan Recreation Center to the Armonk Center parking lot. The Town is exploring the possibility of CVS Pharmacy to construct a sidewalk from the entrance way on Maple Avenue to the shops, namely CVS Pharmacy, Made in Asia and Fernando’s Pizzeria.


Guy Mezzancello Sworn in as North Castle Town Board Member

January 3, 2015
A warm round of applause was given by 50 family members, friends, local dignitaries and townspeople who gathered at North Castle Town Hall on the chilly evening of Friday, January 2 to witness the swearing in of Guy Mezzancello as a Town Board member.

Mezzancello won the special election on November 4, 2014 to fill the seat of Michael Schiliro to which José Berra had been appointed; Mezzancello won by a mere 22 votes in a contest which waited weeks to be verified.

The Honorable William J. Giacomo administered the oath of office to Mezzancello, who swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America, and the Constitution and laws of the State of New York, and the charter and the ordinances of the Town of North Castle. “And I will to the best of my ability undertake my duties as councilperson for the town of North Castle.”

Republican Mezzancello’s term will finish on December 31, 2015 and is the last year of now Supervisor Michael Schiliro’s term. Mezzancello ran against Democrat José Berra, who was appointed by the Town Board to fill Schiliro’s seat last year. Mezzancello thanked Berra for a civil and clean campaign.
During personal remarks, Judge Giacomo said it’s always a pleasure to swear in officials, but this evening was special for him because Mezzancello is a personal friend. Mezzancello’s dedication to the town will benefit everyone, said Giacomo, as did his dedication and service as Commissioner of the Armonk Baseball League (ABL), where the two first met. The ABL facilities grew under Mezzancello’s leadership to a respectable organization in New York State. The local little league maintains a strong presence and has traveled to the Cooperstown Tournament in Cooperstown, NY annually. The Clark Little League Baseball Field in Lombardi Park was also spearheaded by Mezzancello and is second to none.

At the Town Board’s first, and sure to be its shortest meeting of the year, Supervisor Schiliro and Town Board member Barry Reiter said their families also benefited from Mezzancello’s work with the children’s athletic programs in town. They welcomed him and said they look forward to working with him.  

Mezz, as he is known, thanked everyone for their support, especially Anita Cozza, chairwoman of the North Castle Republican Town Committee, who, he said, had faith to endorse him as the Republican candidate. “It is a privilege to serve on the board. It was a long undertaking, but with the help and guidance of friends and family, it has come to fruition for me. I will work as hard as I can to keep this town where it is today, a healthy and great place to live.”  

Town Board member Barbara DiGiacinto welcomed Mezzancello and said she looks forward to working with him and thinks he is “going to be a definite asset to our town.”

Schiliro, as well as Michael Smith, County Legislator, thanked Jose Berra for his service to the board.

Smith asked Berra, “It’s not as glamorous as it looks?”

Berra responded, “It’s glamorous, but it’s much more gratifying than glamorous.”

“We had two qualified and talented individuals running to represent the town of North Castle,” added Smith. He further thanked Mezzancello for his community service and wished him that “at the end of when your public service is done, you still have the passion and the vision that you have now and that you keep that consistent all the way through.”

David Buchwald, State Assemblyman, congratulated Mezzancello in joining “a fantastic local government, a part of democracy that is closest to the people. It’s a tremendous privilege to be part of a great team responsible for all of the people of North Castle.”

Town Board Makes Modest Changes to Approve $30.67 Million Budget  

December 16, 2014
The North Castle Town Board unanimously approved the budget of $30,673,598 as the 2015 Town and Special District’s budget at the December 10 Town Board meeting. The “average” North Castle home of $800,000 will see an increase of $72 in general taxes from 2014.

The tentative budget was projected to be a 2.97% increase over last year’s budget. Supervisor Mike Schiliro’s adjustments reduced the tentative increase to a 2.4% tax rate increase over the 2014 budget.

Supervisor Mike Schiliro proposed a few changes to the uncontrollable sources of revenue in the mortgage taxes and the Town’s share of Westchester County sales taxes that he says have been managed tightly over the years. These budget lines are subject to the economy.

Schiliro proposed two changes in revenue and two changes that were made in expenditures from the tentative budget of $30,719,370. In the preliminary budget, the mortgage tax revenue was budgeted for $650,000. “For years, we’ve been tracking a little higher than that, about $810,000,” says Schiliro. He recommended an increase of $25,000 to the Mortgage Tax revenue line, for a total of $675,000.

The sales tax was budgeted at $1.5 million in the tentative 2015 budget. The 2014 budget shows revenue of about $1.7 million, although the final amount of this year’s sales tax revenue is not confirmed yet. “I feel that there’s a little room,” says Schiliro. He recommended to raise the sales tax revenue line to $1,550,000, or $50,000 higher.

The principal and interest numbers were presented as a five-year term for a $250,000 bond that the Town Board approved to purchase a conservation easement of the 73-acre Levene property in North Castle’s Mianus Gorge area. Schiliro would like to see a longer bond commitment for the purchase, in the range of 15 to 30 years. $105,000 was budgeted in that expense line for 2015. Schiliro reduced that line by $30,000 to $75,000, to compensate for a longer bond to be issued with a reduction in interest expense, and possibly more of a reduction, depending how far the bond is stretched.

The Banksville Fire Department had an adjustment in their levy that reduced their budget needs, says Schiliro. That reduced the Town’s budget expenses further by about another $17,000.

Schiliro says, “Even though we are adding new tax assessments to the town, there are always tax certioraris that offset presenting a net reduction in the tax assessments.”

“We are still under the cap by a fairly good measure,” says Schiliro.

“By about $250,000,” adds Town Administrator Joan Goldberg.

“Budgeting is a 12-month process,” says Schiliro. “The Department heads have worked hard to put their budgets together.”

Goldberg says Schiliro’s proposed changes are reasonable. But her concern is that the lower you are under the tax cap, the more limited the budget increases are in the future. The North Castle Police Department is without a contract as it has been for four years. The Department’s budget is almost $8 million and Goldberg says the contract will have to be dealt with in 2015. The implication is that with a negotiated contract there could be a significant increase in the Police Department’s 2016 budget.  

Schiliro says he plans future budgets about five years out to be sure there is room for increases in contracts and inflation.

The Town’s General Fund is strong at $7.5 million and allows the Town Board to consider needed infrastructure and capital improvements. “We have the luxury of entertaining that,” says Schiliro, “where we couldn’t in the past, especially during the recession.” His top priority is the significant expense of road improvements, which the budget committee is currently reviewing as it prepares its recommendations to the Town Board.  

Town Board member Jose Berra says, “I like to see no increases in taxes or even decreases, but what is important is that this budget is conservative, thanks to fiscal restraint of the last few years, and that should allow the capital expenditures to be funded in an intelligent way.” Being cost-effective is the way to save money; borrowing in the current cheap environment will get us better roads faster. The Town Board should continue to exercise constraint in ongoing expenditures to strike a good balance, Berra concluded.

North Castle’s Town Board Presents Tentative 2015 Budget of $30.7 Million

December 5, 2014
During the final budget work session on December 2, the North Castle Town Board presented a tentative budget for 2015 of $30,719,370. The Town Board is working with Town Administrator Joan Goldberg and Town Comptroller Denise Oakley to finalize the 2015 budget. This budget will be presented at a public hearing at the Town Board’s December 10 meeting. By law, the budget must be adopted by December 20, 2014.

For an “average” North Castle home worth $800,000, 2015’s property will be $89 higher then they were in 2014.

The General Government budget will be $17,831,649 or 58% of the Town's budget.
The Highway Fund will be $5,960,811,
The Library Fund will be $1,668,648,

The Sewer Districts Fund will $1,816,943,
The Water Districts Fund will be $2,544,974, and
Fire Protection 1 Fund is $913,606.

The Sewer Districts, Water Districts and Fire Protection Funds are independently taxed by the individual districts.

Supervisor Mike Schiliro says that the primary financial concern of the Town Board is the condition of the Town’s roads. “We have to work hard to get the roads to the level where they should be,” says Schiliro, “but the tax cap forces the road improvements to be done in chunks.” The Town Board is waiting for a recommendation from the Financial Task Force, which is made of up volunteer residents who are savvy in finances, about how to maintain the roads over a period of time and how this should to be paid for whether from borrowed money or out of the General Fund Balance.

The preliminary expenditures for general road repairs is $1.4 million of the Highway Department's tentative 2015 expenses. Town Administrator Joan Goldberg says, “If that number can get to about $2 million per year, we’ll start to see a significant improvement in the roads without having to absorb a debt payment into the tax levy.”

The current General Fund Balance is more than $7 million, which is over 30% of the general budget. A portion of the fund balance has been dedicated towards capital expenditures for the Town’s infrastructure. Specifically, $330,000 has been allocated toward future capital projects such as roof replacements and the engineering involved with the repair or replacement of the School Street Bridge. Another $65,000 is under consideration for a new passenger bus for the senior recreation programs.

The 2014 budget was under-spent because of a lack of hiring certain personnel this year, says Goldberg. There is also approximately another $500,000 from this year's taxes on mortgage and from North Castle’s share of County sales taxes that will go towards 2015’s fund balance. Schiliro says the fund balance provides a cushion to cover any budget line shortfalls.