Category: News

VCP Letter to Scarsdale Residents

Voters Choice Party

“After 106 years of one-party rule in Scarsdale, you have a choice on March 21st!” 

Vote Row B- Voters Choice Party

Bob Berg for Mayor,  Brice Kirkendall-Rodríguez, Carlos Ramírez, Bob Selvaggio for Trustees

March 15, 2017

Dear Scarsdale Neighbor,

Can you continue to afford to live in Scarsdale?  For many of us, especially the empty nesters, Scarsdale’s crushing property tax burden makes remaining in the homes we have lived in for decades increasingly challenging, if not impossible.  Recent mayors and trustees have betrayed our trust.  Village property taxes have soared 69% over the past decade – double the inflation rate.  The Village government blows through the NY State tax cap year after year, always blaming someone else for not controlling the tax increases.   Meanwhile, our roads are crumbling.  The Village wastes millions of dollars doing and then undoing the town-wide property revaluation. This is your Village. You need to take back Village government and make it responsive to your needs.  The only way you can do this is by VOTING in the Village election on March 21, 2017 for the Voters Choice Party (VCP) candidates.

Scarsdale residents face core checkbook issues that impact the affordability of Scarsdale as well as the essential values of good governance, including transparency, respect for citizens, and open, fact-based deliberative decision-making. In recent years, successive Village Boards in Scarsdale too often have made decisions behind closed doors, acting on agendas withheld from residents and without asking the right questions. This has wasted a lot of our tax dollars. Too many years of one-party, sclerotic governance has resulted in groupthink, mandated consensus, and an endless series of poor decisions that seem to dig us deeper and deeper into dysfunction. You have the power to reverse the toxic effects of the Ryan revaluation, the inequitable treatment of taxpayers, years of breaking the tax cap with impunity, and incomprehensible decisions on major issues by voting for a fresh start.

Fortunately, this year you have a real choice between the VCP and the entrenched establishment. You get it. Just take a drive around the Village. Our Village challenges are clear: high taxes and roads with many potholes. See and hear for yourself how the candidates from both sides responded to important questions at the League of Women Voters Candidates Forum, held on March 7, on Scarsdale Public TV, Compare the openness of the VCP candidates with the others who refuse to tell you their positions on any issues that matter to residents.

We believe in the promise of Scarsdale and want to contribute our combined century of expertise in accounting, economics, financial modeling, law, municipal finance, risk management, and technology, to run Village Hall better and at lower cost to taxpayers.  Please help us reach out to other Scarsdale residents, and vote for Row B, the Voters Choice Party, on March 21st at the Scott Room in the Scarsdale Library.

Thanks so much for your support!

Bob Berg Brice Kirkendall-Rodríguez Carlos Ramírez Robert D. Selvaggio

Here’s What The Voters Choice Party Candidates Promise To Do!

Begin Relieving The Village Property Tax Burden.

We will prioritize spending, institute zero-based budgeting reviews of all discretionary items, reduce careless spending on consultants, and increase staff productivity through technology. The Scarsdale Village tax levy has exceeded the New York State tax cap every year but one since the tax cap became law in 2011.  Unlike the school budget, state law does not allow for voter approval of village budgets. The March 21 vote for Mayor and Trustees is the only way you can express your approval or disapproval of the proposed village budget, which once again is slated to exceed the tax cap. The tax cap is good budgeting discipline, not an annoyance that is overridden every year.

Our Property Taxes Need To Be Distributed Equitably Based Upon Fair Market Values.

Residents are entitled to have a property tax system based upon the fair market value of their properties and that does not cause their property taxes to gyrate wildly year over year. Residents need consistency so that they can prepare their budgets to live in our Village. Tax equity is violated when homeowners subsidize condominium residents at the luxury Christie Place because the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to reject the Homestead Tax option in connection with each of the two revaluations.

We Will Improve Village Infrastructure And Get Rid Of Potholes.

Village Hall has not conducted a road condition study in 9 years. Scarsdale’s road repair policy is to repave each road once every 30 years. That means Scarsdale repaves only 2.6 miles out of 79 miles of Village roads yearly. We need to begin an accelerated road repair program financed by low-interest municipal bonds.   

We Will Work To Enhance Public Safety.

Burglaries and assaults have recently increased in several areas of Scarsdale. We support our excellent Police Department and will work with it to catch and prosecute the perpetrators.  We will also work to decrease speeding on our roads and to improve pedestrian safety.

We Reject The Critically Flawed JF Ryan Village-Wide Property Revaluation.

The Ryan revaluation, the second village-wide revaluation in two years, was defective, making it legally and statistically indefensible. Expert residents have detailed the critical flaws in Ryan’s methodology and execution; even the Mayor and Village Manager are dissatisfied with Ryan’s refusal to provide the Village with his model or documentation, as required under contract. Ten months after Village Hall dumped the Ryan mess on residents, it is nowhere near resolution. If the current Board of Trustees were really intent on setting things right, why does the Board undermine its own legal position against Ryan by attacking the Article 78 lawsuit?  Makes no sense. Your tax dollars are being wasted to defend the indefensible.

We Must Straighten Out The Assessor’s Office. Now.

Ten months after the Ryan reval, nothing has changed at the Assessor’s office. The Village has hired lawyers and plans on hiring a consultant to address this problem. However, nothing has been accomplished, another example of the current Board’s dysfunction.

We Will Rebuild Community Trust Through Transparency.

How many times have you been angered when the Mayor and the Board give long-winded rationales to unanimous decisions that are not debated in public? For starters, we will propose a Residents Committee on Property Revaluation to get input on the best course of action to achieve property tax equity.

But we can’t do anything without you.  Please VOTE ROW B on March 21, 2017 — Bob Berg for Mayor, Brice Kirkendall-Rodríguez, Carlos Ramírez, and Bob Selvaggio for Trustees.

Dowload the VCP Flyer

Row B for Better Government

by Mayra Kirkendall-Rodríguez

When I started working at JPMorgan on the emerging markets trading desk in London, my French-Tunisian boss took me out to dinner to discuss whether I should be a trader or an analyst who gives market recommendations. She said “Mayra, if you are the kind of woman who could see yourself at the roulette in Monaco gambling, you should be a trader. Or are you the woman who likes to stand behind a man and tell him what to do?” Without hesitating, I answered, “I am a woman who likes to stand beside a man and tell him what to do.” Little did I know how prophetic that statement would be.

When Robert Berg asked me to be his campaign chair, I was flattered to be part of this historical moment. For the first time in almost two decades, the Voters’ Choice party offers Scarsdale citizens a full slate of outstanding individuals, Robert Berg for Mayor and Brice Kirkendall-Rodríguez, Carlos Ramírez and Robert Selvaggio for Trustees, to run against a party that was created 106 years ago and has mostly run uncontested.

Our vote finally matters in Scarsdale, because we have a choice, which is at the heart of democracy.  The choice before you on March 21st, on the ballot, are Rows A or B. The party in Row A has the experience of not running a property valuation for 45 years and then running two in two years where over $1.5 million of your hard earned taxes have been wasted. Electing Row A is voting for a mayoral candidate who has publicly stated on that ‘I agree with the decision to oppose the Article 78. I believe the path the Village is on will take us to a proper resolution.’  Row A means electing a board that has not been transparent as evidenced in the still missing 2,400 emails that could shed light on why exactly there was such urgency for the Ryan reval.

Choosing Row A is having a board that has not conducted a study of the condition of our roads in 9 years. Row A is a board that would have a concentration of three real estate professionals and no one with economics, modeling, accounting, or technology expertise. Row A is electing a board that does not have a single minority despite Scarsdale having a population that has 20% minorities.

Row A says it is the party of experience. Yet, Oscar Wilde observed that ‘experience, is what people call their mistakes.’ While all human beings have a wide range of personal and professional experiences, very few have expertise. Even fewer have expertise to run a municipality.

Fortunately, you have Row B for better government. You can elect Bob Berg, Brice, Carlos and Bob Selvaggio who are currently successful in their careers where they manage budgets, in some cases the size of Scarsdale Village’s, give portfolio recommendations to demanding investors, lead projects in technology in media, advise on complex tax and accounting issues for individuals and companies, and work on intricate legal cases.

In a world of geopolitical risks and domestic policy uncertainty, diversity of skills and expertise is critical. Scarsdale needs people who work managing risks that can arise from uncertain economic, political, legal, and market forces.

The VCP candidates have skills and expertise that are applicable today in our village. For example, there has been rising concern in Scarsdale about crime. The VCP candidates want to work closer with our police discussing the use of technology and data to prevent crime and to make our residents more alert to help them protect themselves. Both Carlos and Brice have worked on a wide range of technology issues and Carlos has served as a volunteer in the Village’s technology committee.

The VCP candidates have an incredible amount of expertise to identify and manage challenges in budget designs and audits. Carlos is an accountant. Brice has helped manage a budget of about $50 million in his media and technology company. Bob Selvaggio has a PhD in economics and is an expert in municipal finance, which means that he understands the challenges that pensions, healthcare and post employment benefits pose to our village. He also knows how to analyze various options to finance paving our roads and improving our infrastructure. Robert Berg has an MBA and has regularly attended both Village and school budget meetings.

VCP candidates also have foresight as evidenced by the fact that Robert Berg told the Village in 2015 that it should not conduct the Ryan reval or it would be a train wreck. Here is a man who was not even affected by the Ryan reval and who has a deep sense of empathy for residents who are the unwitting victims of the unsupervised Assessor.

The VCP candidates and their supporters have been working hard to earn your vote. The VCP stands for fiscal responsibility, cleaning-up the unsupervised Assessor’s office, confronting the infrastructure challenges before us, and making Village Hall transparent.

Two months into working with the Voters’ Choice Party candidates, I know that I am standing by the right men. Only if choice and democracy return to Scarsdale can there be the transparency and accountability that the discipline of competitive elections brings. 

Mayra Kirkendall-Rodríguez is the Voters’ Choice Party Campaign Chair and lucky wife of Brice.

Ryan Reval: “Pendulum” is an Understatement

by Brice Kirkendall-Rodríguez 

July 14, 2016

Last week the Village of Scarsdale released a distribution chart on its website that showed percent change in total assessed value as stratified by neighborhood. In aggregate it appeared to show only modest differences in the valuation changes by neighborhood. However, that approach masked the substantial changes that have occurred with the J.F. Ryan revaluation at a more granular level. In multiple presentations to the Scarsdale Board of Trustees, others and I have pointed to the ill-conceived and unexplained decision to use a square root model for determining base home values from which multipliers are then applied as modifiers. Use of a square root model suggests that homes of 8,000 square feet should only be valued at twice the price of a 2,000 square foot home. This appears to be an industry assumption in mass appraisals and its economy of scale assumptions may be accurate when valuing commercial real estate or even many other residential markets. However, it is quite likely that Scarsdale is poorly suited to broad industry assumptions. Our housing stock spans over a century and there is an order of magnitude difference in the prices of our least expensive homes and those at the top of the scale. Furthermore, the tear-down phenomena that is easily observed here is not common in most U.S. communities or even many neighboring communities.

In an effort to better illustrate the effects on Ryan’s use of a square root model on total assessed value in Scarsdale, I decided to recreate the same chart furnished by the Village of Scarsdale but stratify it by home size instead of neighborhood. I took two additional steps not present in the Village of Scarsdale chart to eliminate data noise and improve clarity. First, I excluded homes that have changed in size from Tyler to Ryan. This eliminates valuation changes that would be expected with the application of any revaluation approach. Second, I highlighted the segment of homes that experienced no valuation change (0%). While the mass appraisal industry only attempts to be accurate to +/- 10% of home value, I think it is important for readers to see the exact position that differentiates valuation increases from decreases.

On April 21 of this year, John Ryan told the Board of Trustees that his goal was to create a uniform result. I say with great sarcasm, “mission accomplished.” The result of Ryan’s model is a uniform redistribution of tax burden based on the size of your home. We have a highly educated citizenry, and I suspect that no one here believes that this neatly staggered redistribution reflects the actual effects in nature of a more nuanced real estate market. As the chart above clearly shows, owners of homes less than 2,175 square feet have an almost 80% probability of being assessed upward and more than half of these home owners saw their valuations increase in excess of 10%. At the other end of this scale, more than 70% of homes greater than 4,400 square feet have been assessed lower.

When you see where 0% falls on the above chart you observe that there is a 50% difference in the proportion of increases versus decreases when comparing the smallest and largest quintiles of Scarsdale homes. This profound separation of winners and losers purportedly reflects market changes in just the last two years. However, such a stark redistribution was not even true with Tyler’s revaluation based on 40 years of change. To prove this, I went back to earlier data for the same population of homes and examined the actual effects of Tyler.

The above chart does show greater valuation changes in the larger end of the Scarsdale home market. However, the position of the 0% change line is remarkably consistent for all but the largest quintile. Overall, 15% separates the balance of winners and losers between the quintiles with the greatest separation. This is a far cry from the 50% separation now present with Ryan. With Tyler, the majority of the community saw increases in assessed value regardless of home size. This is not surprising considering that the stratification of home value differences even among similar properties would be significant after not having conducted a mass appraisal in 40 years.

The greatest weakness of the Tyler model is the apparent overemphasis on increases on the largest homes. Some of this may have been warranted and some may have been overly exuberant as has been discussed at length two years ago following Tyler. However, nothing in the Tyler chart presented here suggests a giant giveaway to smaller homes that must now be corrected by Ryan.

When you study the combined effects of Tyler and Ryan, you find that the influence of Ryan’s square root model overwhelms everything else.

The net combined effect of Tyler and Ryan is a total assessed value that disproportionately shifts the burden to smaller homes. This is the same effect achieved with Ryan alone which suggests that Ryan represents more than just a return to pre-Tyler valuations. Ryan leaves us in a position more extreme than before or after Tyler.

While I think it is poor public policy to rely on the cost and emotional distress of a formal grievance process to fix errors and omissions in a mass appraisal, at least Tyler’s over-statement of values for some high-end and other homes could be and probably were corrected with grievances. Ryan has extracted so much value from the Assessment Roll (I estimate as much as a half billion dollars) that a correction for overvalued homes through grieving the Ryan reval will leave Scarsdale with a significantly lower total assessment than we had a year ago. This will mean that homeowners largely unaffected by the Ryan reval will nonetheless be obliged to pay an increase in taxes that exceeds the percentages approved by the Board of Education or the Board of Trustees.

Where do we go from here? It is unlikely that homeowners already burdened with the costs of a grievance process will spend even more money on a legal challenge even if it would be justified under the equal protection clauses of the U.S. and New York State Constitutions. We could wait for another revaluation, but what Board of Trustees will be brave enough to propose it? Will Scarsdale fester with the disaffection of large swaths of its electorate that will defend themselves against even more tax burden by voting against upcoming bond initiatives and annual budget increases? While Scarsdale has historically been very supportive of the resources needed to fund our excellent schools, municipal services and public employees, there is precedent for a no vote campaign and a patently unfair distribution of tax burden makes the community ripe for this kind of response. I urge the Board of Trustees to reconsider their position against independent analysis of the Ryan revaluation. Given that J.F. Ryan received no oversight and submitted his results too late to allow for an informal period of public review, an independent review seems the least the Board could do to reassert itself into oversight of this process.

Brice Kirkendall-Rodriguez

Fox Meadow Road, Scarsdale

We Will Vote for the VCP

by Howard and Frieda Weitz

Change. Why does that word send shivers down the spine of so many people? But change is inevitable. People’s views change, social values change, and governance necessarily adjusts to these changes. So why is it so shocking to many people in Scarsdale that four extremely capable citizens seek to use their abilities in betterment of our Village?

As 50-year residents of Scarsdale, we have continually, up until last year, made the assumption that our Village runs like clockwork under its one-party system. As complications of finance, taxes and infrastructure escalated, we realized that by adopting a two-party system, the challenge to the status quo attitude of our Board of Trustees is a benefit to our Village. That is why we welcome and will vote for the VCP and hope they are successful in this election. ”

Howard and Frieda Weitz have been Heathcoate residents for five decades.

Why We Are Supporting the Voters Choice Party

by Phyllis and Melvin Leitner

We have been residents of Scarsdale for over 42 years and plan on staying in this wonderful community that has brought us and our family much happiness and pride, despite the fact that our taxes remain one of the highest in the country.

When our children were young, we were very involved with volunteering for school activities and engaged in local activities.

But, until now, we have not been active politically. What has “shaken us up” has been the latest unnecessary and capricious revaluation of our homes. It appears that we, and others in more modest homes, have been given tax increases, while many of those whose homes and properties are valued in the multi-millions have had their taxes decreased. The government in power has chosen to ignore and resist any of the peoples’ objections to this incompetent revaluation.

The Voters Choice Party has given us hope that with its philosophy and pragmatism, we would have a government in Scarsdale that would represent all the people and consider those of us “empty nesters”, many on fixed incomes who make great contributions to Scarsdale, both financially and voluntarily.

We are hopeful that a new administration, which promises to be more fiscally conservative and transparent and inclusive of the general populous, would serve us well.

That’s why we are voting for Bob Berg for Mayor, Brice Kirkendall-Rodriguez, Carlos Ramirez and Robert Selvaggio for Trustees.

Phyllis and Melvin Leitner have lived in Heathocoate for over four decades.

Why We Support the VCP

By Linda R. Killian and Mary Beth Gose

As long-time residents of Scarsdale, we cannot recall such impairment in the functioning of municipal government. Due to a loss of faith in the Board of Trustees, Scarsdale faces critical questions of governance that must be openly discussed before we can return to being a well-run village.

Unfortunately, this cannot be addressed by candidates representing the Citizens Non-partisan Party (CNP) because they refuse to confront and discuss the issues in public. As a result, we plan to support the new Voters’ Choice Party (VCP), represented by four experienced professionals who are committed to an open, transparent government that involves the residents as stakeholders in developing solutions to local problems. Not only do these candidates welcome input from residents, they are unafraid of accountability, which, they believe is critical to a healthy, balanced government.

As long-time supporters of and participants in the CNP system, we did this after much reflection. We became convinced that the CNP has become so institutionally inbred that it is impervious to reform and tone deaf to the concerns of too many Scarsdale residents. Last year, we both served on the Procedure Committee, which considered a laundry list of proposed reforms intended to improve its process for nominating candidates to the Village Board. Nearly each one of the reforms put forth was rejected, in particular the important reform that would allow candidates to talk about their positions and thinking on local issues.

This was unfortunate, because over the last four years, the Board of Trustees has made several significant decisions that have eroded the confidence and support of Scarsdale residents. Starting with the two votes to give the residents of Christie Place a tax break subsidized by all the rest of us, the Ryan reval debacle, taxes that escalate at twice the rate of inflation and most recently the vote to use Scarsdale taxpayers’ money to litigate against Scarsdale taxpayers suing over the Ryan reval, the Board of Trustees seems to be stubbornly digging itself deeper and deeper into defending and supporting entrenched positions, without an open self-assessment and review of those decisions.

In recent years, there have been too many public hearings on contentious issues that are followed by immediate votes by the Board of Trustees and their reading of prepared statements that skirt the real reasons for their votes. They avoid responding directly to the views expressed by residents during the public hearings.

Voting for VCP candidates doesn’t mean you reject the CNP concept. Retaining our unique non-partisan system, particularly if it is reformed, may be in the best interests of the community and heighten resident participation, which is the foundation of a healthy, balanced CNP. In fact, the original 1930 Non Partisan Resolution has been amended more than 40 times to accommodate changing times and needs. The occasional contested election and outbreak of democracy focus us on what’s important for our Village.

Public and private boards of directors should undergo periodic self-assessments to evaluate their effectiveness, policies and procedures. The emergence of the Voters Choice Party gives voters a choice between their candidates and their positions on issues and the silent CNP candidates. March 21 will be our opportunity for Village-wide self-assessment. We strongly urge all registered voters in Scarsdale to actively participate by voting.