What is this election really about?

by Phil Maresco

What is this election really about? Is it a referendum on Ryan? What about the Village government? How about development? Well, they’re interconnected and there’s an 800 lb. Gorilla in the room. First some facts, and I’m not talking “alternate facts”!

Before it was done, the Ryan revaluation was described in public meetings by Trustees as a “tweak” of property valuations to “FIXoutlier properties” of the 2014 Tyler re-valuation.  What Ryan did was not a tweak, nor did it fix the outliers, but was a new revaluation that completely invalidated the expensive and professional job done by Tyler Technologies which Ryan was paid to oversee and by all published accounts, approved.

During the Tyler revaluation ~95% of residents allowed dozens of different professional and unbiased appraisers into their homes. These data were then returned to homeowners, and details refined in face to face meetings during the extended and professional process.

The Ryan revaluation supposedly used a ‘model’ based on a square root formula. He changed some of the data collected by Tyler’s in home inspections and face to face meetings – after his “drive-by” inspections. His formula added other data factors not included in the Tyler assessments and that made it appear more complex. His alleged model although described was never delivered nor can it be replicated.

Scarsdale has numerous residents so disappointed by the deaf ear of Scarsdale government regarding the unprofessional conduct exposed and flaws in the “model” used by Ryan that they brought an Article 78 Action which is still pending. Most involved were hopeful if not convinced that the Village would not defend Ryan but use the Article 78 to seek a legal ‘compromise’ rather than waste more of our hard-earned tax dollars nor admit fault for allowing the entire process to proceed without adequate qualified professional supervision. Those are facts.

Especially disturbing to me is the fact that the Village did not provide residents with the new assessment values in a timely manner. There were neither “preliminary valuations” nor ‘face to face’ meetings as during the Tyler process. The data was just published, and the only recourse provided was formal and costly grievance.

Village counsel has stated repeatedly that they have no legal right to interfere with assessment decisions; their hands were tied by “state law”. They said that to “invalidate” Ryan could be construed as ‘politically motivated’.  I’ll juxtapose that position in a moment.

Although true, their response didn’t address the most disturbing concerns revealed in the Ryan “train-wreck”. Residents wanted reassurance from Trustees that the Village would get to the bottom of the process that allowed the mess; we wanted reassurances of action and that there would be another transparent validated professional revaluation process, as many thought had been done during Tyler. No such reassurances were made.

To juxtapose the Village position and that’s the 800 lb. Gorilla in the room; was the second revaluation and Ryan’s method of revaluation politically motivated?  Whose idea was it to use the formula which was warned against by the NYS Office of Real Property Assessment in an email inquiry revealed ONLY AFTER a Freedom of Information request?  We STILL don’t know because the Village government has not allowed the “freedom of Information” release of over 2400 more email communications between the parties during that time period.

So I ask, who benefits most from Ryan’s revaluation?

The first to come to my mind are the many Real Estate Development companies operating in the Village. They are reaping millions in profits from the current development frenzy in Scarsdale. They will clearly benefit from the recent Ryan assessments that reduced assessment valuations on the largest homes on Scarsdale, coincidentally similar in size to those currently being built throughout the village. Who are their political allies?

I would imagine (I have not looked at the data) that almost every ‘teardown’ doubles the assessed value of the home that is rebuilt. The assessed value could increase by more if two homes replace one as was just done at #6 & #8 Hamilton Rd.

Such development should be lowering our individual tax burden by increasing our tax base. But our Assessors office with Mr. Ryan’s assistance and BOT approval actually SHRANK the Taxable value of all property in Scarsdale Village to less than 89% of what the NYS office a real property assessment believes it is worth? -As Vizzini would say, “Inconceivable!” That means your taxes will increase by more than the village budget annual percentage, unless your assessment decreased.

Instead of  giving that “tax-base” growth-benefit to the good homeowners of Scarsdale for being responsible neighbors by maintaining their homes and creating such a desirable community to live in, the current Village assessment policy (by backing Ryan’s method) is giving that growth in our tax base “benefit-money” to the developers.

Our current assessment policy seems to be a “jobs-program” for local developers, and it’s fueling the pace of ‘development’.

Developers obviously pay themselves a salary for years during the construction process. Development not only grows the tax base, but also benefits our Village budget through permit fees collected by the buildings department that go directly into the Village budget. We need development, but our assessment policy effects development- there is a connection.

The current BOT has admitted that Ryan didn’t deliver- but he didn’t deliver on their watch, they can’t wash their hands of his work. The admission was not reassuring –and response, just as disturbing as the flawed revaluation.

Why a second revaluation so soon and so different from the first? Why was it done in secret– and not monitored or checked before submission to ensure its validity? ESPECIALLY- Why was an indefensible process that has been publically admitted a mistake, validated by the Assessor?

Even though the Assessor’s office & Board of Trustees BOTH admit by their words “hiring Ryan was a mistake” and “it wasn’t what we were expecting”. We see the truth of those words by their actions.

So I ask, is Ryan the scapegoat for the Assessor’s office? Is the Assessor going to be scapegoated by those who really pushed for this revaluation – after Tyler put a ‘speed-bump’ on the ‘autobahn’ of development tearing through Scarsdale village?

Did our Board of Trustees and highly paid Village Manager just stand by like “deer in the headlights” as they were hit by the oncoming Ryan/Albanese ‘train’; were they really victims? We will not know until the emails are released, and an investigation shows what happened.

Rather than side with the outraged, release the emails and take actions to get to the bottom of the issue, the current Board of Trustees is hypocritically defending against the Article 78 action.

Rather than direct the Village Attorney to engage the Article 78 attorney to seek a settlement, they would allow Ryan’s work to remain by having the Article 78 dismissed on a technicality? And as a show of their displeasure and determination to save us from being “taken” by Mr. Ryan (who may actually be a victim himself, and just did what he was told) the Village has refused to pay Mr. Ryan his final contracted payment. How 1984-esque? If he really broke his contract- direct the Assessor to reject his work! Who would sue them if that had been done?!

Are they “stonewalling” till after the election, hoping this will all blow over with a new Board of Trustees? Will they escape an exposure of the process requested in Article 78 by the motion to dismiss on technicality? I hope the Judge denies that motion.

We know for a fact that Scarsdale Village is no longer assessed at 100% according the NYS Office of Real Property Assessment. We will all soon see the financial cost of the revaluation when our County tax bills appear. But the cost to Scarsdale is greater than can be measured in dollars.

The Ryan revaluation has also cost our Village government its confidence and credibility.

This election is about transparency and accountability, not our current AAA bond rating or the cost of health insurance. The next Village Board should get to the bottom of the entire Ryan affair; working with a resident committee tasked to oversee an immediate village-wide revaluation. It should be based on the data collected by TYLER to extract some value from what was paid to them, and NONE of the Ryan data and changed during his “drive-by”.

We must learn from what has been omitted, – transparency.

The next revaluation should be done slowly and include local real estate brokers, and local Bank assessors who are regularly used to determine property values in Scarsdale. The data & methods used should be examined publically and validated by several local modeling experts to ensure fairness and accuracy. There should be adequate time to come to fair and fully assessed values- so fairly achieved that the goal should be NO GRIEVANCES filed that first year! We should aim high, we can accomplish it, and it will be a healing process.

In order to do this we need strong advocates as our Mayor and for Trustees. We don’t need to gloss over the events of the last year with “steady as you go” platitudes and status-quo politics from the ‘next-in-line’ longest serving Village volunteers. That is why I’m supporting Bob Berg and the Voters Choice party; I believe they will be stronger advocates watching all financial expenditures closely, and they have pledged to govern transparently. Candidate Berg has specifically suggested more open collaboration and cooperation between the Village government and school district where the “lions-share” of our tax dollars go. There will be no back room deals or secret emails.

In my opinion this is the way to heal the damage that has been done to Scarsdale Village. The Village Trustees can NOT allow deceptive practices to be rewarded. We must learn from both revaluations. I predict that Scarsdale’s next revaluation process will become the “gold-standard” model for use by municipalities.

Ryan’s revaluation was clearly a mistake, but like Titanic, less damage to our Village would have been done if the iceberg were met “head-on”. By trying to deflect its harm, the current Village Board of Trustees may ultimately go down with their ship.

Sincerely,  Phil Maresco  Ferncliff Rd

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