Thursday, April 28, 2011

Burned: Firefighter Arrested for Arson

Every number of years a firefighter makes news by doing a heroic deed or somehow saves a life utilizing their fire service training. The most recent was the high-rise scaffolding rescue in Yonkers. More often than not, the rescuer(s) acknowledge that it was a team effort or they were just doing what any of their colleagues would have done and it’s no big deal. We know better. We know that it’s not true - everyone involved is to be commended.

So it’s hardly any wonder when we learn of a fire service member going rogue and starting fires, endangering lives, eliciting many from within the service to be more critical of the offender than those outside of it. Such is the case with Trent Bronner, the Sleepy Hollow Fire Department's most active firefighter. He was arrested on a felony arson charge for setting the major fire in Sleepy Hollow on Cedar Street. The fire was started at 13 Cedar Street and spread to a three family home at 19 Cedar Street.

In speaking with several members of the fire service, and one from the same fire company, they all had the same feelings of disbelief, shock, disappointment and loss. “I never would have thought him capable of something like this,” said the fire company member. “I wonder how many other times he did this and didn’t get caught?” he added. He went on to explain he had an empty feeling about it all that he just couldn't reconcile. We concluded our discussion with him  saying how horrible for the people involved, how scared they must have been for their lives and that they lost their homes and possessions. As expected, he thanked God that no one had been injured.

Sometimes we’re quick to rush to judgment and assume guilt when we read a story such as this. We find it hard to believe that those we put our faith in, sometimes blindly, are capable of such heinous acts. We rely on them when there’s a fire, of course, but we also rely on them at the scene of an accident, when all hell can be breaking lose. They are calm, professional, and reassuring, helping us handle one of our more stressful occasions.

We acknowledge that the vast majority of these firefighters are good, caring, serving and helpful people, contributing to their community through their service to others. We also recognize that this is really just one bad apple in a huge group of great, well-intentioned public servants. We hope that Bronner is not guilty and that the black eye he has earned himself will not tarnish the work of so many others. But as a police department member has repeatedly stated, the cops don't make an arrest until they have enough evidence. Let's hope this troubled young man can get some help.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Paul Feiner: The Creator, Owner and Implementor of NIMBY

Most public servants start out with the best of intentions. They want to help their community, friends and families. Usually, but not always, its not about doing for themselves, but for others. So it was with Paul Feiner in his younger days. Nowadays however, he's drifted for so long with his rudderless ship, he actually believes he can do no wrong! But ABG believes that couldn't be farther from the truth.

We've witnessed Feiner's Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) actions - beyond his inane babling, with the Fortress Bible Church, Westhab, Ridge Hill, Indian Point, Fairview - specifically the Manahattan Avenue community, and his anti-business with the never ending taxes, fees and permits. The list is seemingly endless. Let's touch on a few of the issues in no particular order or cost to the taxpayers of Greenburgh.

He held a “Close Indian Point” (aka NIMBY) rally at Town Hall. ABG acknowledges there are some perks that come with the position of supervisor. So, if electricity, cleaning crews and other "incidentals" were being borne by the supervisor, we'd let it go. But they're not being paid by him, they are being paid by us. He just added 2.5% onto our taxes by a state mandate, and at the last Board meeting, he led the charge to and implemented a raise in our water rates, which his Stepford Board approved. Will it ever end?

ABG will summerize the Fortress Bible (aka NIMBY) decision, where Feiner and his previous Board were found guilty of discrimination. The guilty verdict against the Town of Greenburgh, found Feiner and his Board had violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) when it used the SEQRA process to deny a church the right to construct a new building as proposed by the church. Now there's more to it, but this blog would be too long to get into all over again. We've written about this before. The bottom line for the taxpayers, again on the hook for the Supervisors illegal and immoral behavior, now that the guilty verdict was rendered, will be a minimum of $4 million to up to $8 million! Will it ever end?

The opportunity to purchase the Kings Inn Motel, in it's last iteration as a transitional housing facility for prison inmates in a residential neighborhood, was made with a wink and a nod from The Paul to Westhab. HE decided that more affordable/subsidized housing would be good for Greenburgh. But it would only be good in the Fairview section of the Town (aka NIMBY). Because so much of Fairview has this high concentration of low income housing, Greenburgh was passed over with the Housing Desegregation settlement brought against the County. The Villages love him because he'll keep the “undesirables” out of their neighborhoods and contained in Fairview. He and his board have even deemed certain areas low-income in perpetuity. This has to end.

When the Ridge Hill project came about, ABG was informed that The Paul was against the size and scope of the project and was fighting it. Then we later learned that the development would impact his parents neighborhood. Ah, so it's okay to over-saturate other neighborhoods as long as they aren't yours or your parents (aka NIMBY).

He and his Planning Commissioner Madden have decided to revamp the entire Rt.119 and Central Avenue corridors within the Town boundaries. Countless “outreach” meetings with many communities, under-attended by our standards, brought back similar results from all involved: less impervious space, more sidewalks and bike accessibility, smaller buildings instead of larger ones and the list goes on. So what do these two geniuses look to do? Build a six story building for Westhab, stating it's near the Apple Farm, Pathmark (now closed), bus stops and the train station. And yet, everyone from all the communities stated they want smaller buildings. This has to end.

Speaking of the Apple Farm, these same geniuses at Town Hall wanted to have a permit fee created to charge businesses who want to have a sidewalk sale, stating the Apple Farm puts their produce on the sidewalk (not a sale). The economics of running a successful business in NY, let alone Greenburgh, are staggeringly difficult without having to charge them this fee as the businesses are already paying heavy taxes for their property. And, how many times can we dig into their pockets? The Apple Farm stored some of it's deliveries on the sidewalk. They pay rent and get deliveries often. Sometimes they just can't get it inside immediately. Councilman Sheehan's first question was if they could be fined for that? ABG notices The Paul isn't telling the Hastings Community (aka NIMBY), where he resides, to charge their businesses this fee. So why do it in the unincorporated area?  This has to end.

The list is longer than this post. Paul Feiner embodies Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY). It has to end. It can end this November. Let's keep our fingers crossed.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A City That Outsourced Almost Everything

Communities throughout America are looking at bleak futures, burdened by huge long-term liabilities and declining revenue to fund them. The Town of Greenburgh, mismanaged under various Feiner Administrations for so many years, actually spin their diatribe to try to make us believe incompetence is the norm of good government. It's like the abuse victim who eventually believes what their abuser is saying about them. In some towns and cities, the crisis means choosing between cuts to public services or massive tax hikes that will drive off businesses and families. In Sandy Springs, Georgia, they’re trying to decide where to invest their surpluses instead

While cities across the country are cutting services, raising taxes and contemplating bankruptcy, something extraordinary is happening in a suburban community just north of Atlanta, Georgia.
Since incorporating in 2005 (think Edgemont), Sandy Springs has improved its services, invested tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure and kept taxes flat. And get this: Sandy Springs has no long-term liabilities. 

This is an incredible story of Sandy Springs, Georgia—the city that outsourced everything.

Sandy Springs started off with a few advantages  It’s easier to solve problems before they occur, especially with money in the bank. The Town of Greenburgh used to have money in the bank until the Supervisor raided it to keep taxes down during this election year. The choice to outsource appears to have been an easy one.  But their experience shows why private-sector services work better than public sector services, at least in those jobs where the private sector is an option: competition forces providers to be efficient and effective.  That allows Sandy Springs to have firms competing for their business and avoids the issue of labor management for the city. Where they did not outsource was with their police and fire services.
And since Sandy Springs keeps its own money and manages it well, they are able to invest it back for themselves. Ultimately, most residents of most communities always prefer reinvesting in themselves. Maybe Greenburgh could learn something from Sandy Springs, Georgia...

Information for this story was taken from HOTAIR.COM.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Indian Point Community Forum

A forum was held at the Greenburgh Town Hall this past Monday night. Walking toward the Town Hall entrance, ABG noticed a group of people under the canopy and someone was speaking. The man speaking at the microphone was quoting someone who had said Indian Point could have a meltdown as no one can guarantee with 100% certainty that no accident, such as the one at the Fukushima Nuclear Plants in Japan, might not happen here. What he didn’t say was that the accident he was referencing at the Fukushima Nuclear Plants were the result of a double whammy of an earthquake and a tsunami. What might have been less sensational and more appropriate would be to specify that while Indian Point is relatively safe from tsunamis, the water cooling system failure is more likely to fail and a more realistic issue to address. But will that get as loud a cheer from the crowd or sell more newspapers? Probably not.

For those who regularly participate with any meeting run by Supervisor Feiner, you know that you must sit through a litany of unrelated presentations and blather prior to the meeting. He will be posturing(campaigning) with kids, entertainers, artists, poets, et al., before the real work/meeting is begun. Tonight would prove no different, with a prayer for the waters, a flutist, peace walkers and others. One exception was that this forum was not a cable televised event. Because it wasn't televised, we were compelled to attend. We can avoid the drudgery he’s transformed the Board meetings into as they are televised. Watching the televised Board meetings allows us to use our time efficiently, actually accomplishing something why The Paul plays his games. 

The Supervisor addressed the crowd briefly and proceeded to lie to them. He stated that he didn't know of an evacuation plan and what should he do, his wife and daughter do if it were implemented. It played well with the crowd. Unfortunately, we know all communities were given cases of evacuation plan booklets by the County for distribution. Most Westchester fire departments have them. Hey Paul, the Greenburgh schools are an evacuation receiving location for buses carrying kids from the Indian Point area schools. Get your decontamination teams ready...

After entering Town Hall, the three of us picked up the assorted literature spread across several tables, quickly reviewing it and forming a consensus that this was to be an anti-nuke, anti- or close Indian Point rally, not really a forum for information, and more of a political ploy for the Supervisor’s relentless campaigning. We attended in hopes of hearing two or maybe three sides of the issue to learn more about nuclear energy, Indian Point, our power grid, Entergy, ConEd, safety risks and solutions as well as the 10-mile evacuation radius.

Numerous County Legislators have drafted a bill to increase the evacuation radius to 50-miles. Momentarily forgoing how impossible this may be to implement, ABG feels it’s disingenuous on the legislator’s part to arbitrarily choose a 50-mile radius without hearing and assessing all information - from all sides. They claim that the American people in Japan, near the Nuclear Plants were told if they were within a 50-mile radius of the Fukushima Nuclear Plants, they should evacuate. Now that the defecation has hit the ventilation, and they didn’t know what they were up against, this may have been adequate advice (maybe even the best advice). In time, we may also learn it was not. We’ll see. But, it’s better to err on the side of caution.

Perhaps there are problems with our evacuation plan for Indian Point and the surrounding areas, perhaps not. What we don’t need though, is knee-jerk, reactionary, ill-informed legislators acting without real knowledge. Which also begs the obvious question; can legislators be well informed enough to make decisions as critical as these? We doubt it. There will be  impacts once they enact any legislation. We’ve thought of some of the obvious:
1) their 50-mile radius exceeds the jurisdictional boundaries of Westchester County. Fifty miles will touch numerous other counties and communities that they cannot legislate to.
2) the cost for a new study by all the same experts all over again. 
3) Why wasn’t the original evacuation study by the County, done as a 50-mile radius when the study was initially performed and pared down to an appropriate distance once the study showed or proved something? Perhaps a 5-mile radius would be ideal, perhaps 35-miles; implementation of a 10-mile radius is difficult enough, how do we implement 50-miles?
Note: When there’s an accident on the Tappan Zee bridge, traffic flow slows or stops in every direction. When Officer Ridley was shot and killed in White Plains, a tragedy not used here lightly, traffic was gridlocked exponentially from White Plains. No one minded very much once we found out what had happened, and yet, we could only imagine what would happen if an IP event had occurred. Have you ever tried to "make time" on Route 6 in Peekskill on a Saturday? Traffic crawls and any gain in this bumper to bumper traffic is considered a victory.

Ignorance is not always bliss. Our community leaders owe us better performance and realistic, not shrill, discussions and information about both (or all three) sides of the story. Supervisor Feiner did what he does best. He campaigned, and this is not what this should be about. Honest and open discussion, real information, presented with little or no bias is what the electorate deserves. We're reminded of the saying a local politician and community leader has used, VOTE. It stood for Voice Of The Electorate. We need a clear voice for, and a voice of, the electorate. After all, isn't that what it should be about? ABG believes so.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Greenville Fire District Leaders Outraged at Feiner's False Statements

A Letter to the Editor of the Scarsdale Inquirer from Robert Bruckenthal, the Greenville Fire District Board of Fire Commissioners Chairman, along with his entire board, highlighted erroneous statements made by Supervisor Feiner and Edie McCarthy, the Town Assessor. In and of itself, any letter to any editor usually elicits no more than a yawn, as residents discuss poor cable service, their missed garbage pickup, etc. This time was a bit different.

The Town, under direction of the Supervisor, and we must assume his Deputy, a convicted felon, was improperly seeking to engage the services, illegally, of a consultant to study local fire services (and persuing grant proposals of same) without informing the Greenville Fire Chief, Daniel Raftery. Feiner insisted that Chief Raftery met with Linda Cooper regarding a study to be done by her company. No such communication or meeting ever took place according to Chief Raftery. Hmmm.

About five weeks earlier, as reported by ABG, the Town Assessor received notice of a new surcharge Greenburgh was to be saddled with, resulting in another tax increase to the tax-beleaguered Town residents. This tax increase will affect all local municipalities as well as fire districts, of which there are three, and school districts. The Greenville Fire Commissioners in attendance that evening also denied receiving any notification of this from the Town, in particular the supervisor and/or tax assessor. Then the tax assessor tried to “cover” and said she may have notified the districts’ secretaries. Lisa Georghegan, the GFD secretary, stated that this was not true and she hadn’t received any communication or notice of a tax increase.

ABG would like to quote Mr. Bruckenthal’s letter, obviously, out of context, to highlight what ABG believes is the real issue directly from the Feiner Playbook. “We reiterated at the meeting that fire services do not fall within the town’s authority or scope of operations. Thus, while we all support efficiency in government and encourage efforts by the town to find savings, it is curious and improper that the town’s first instinct is to look outside its own operations to the sovereign municipal fire districts, to find savings. We again urge the town to focus on cutting costs within operations it actually knows and controls. Is the Town so well run that it needs to look outside its own bloated operations to find tax savings efficiencies? If the town wishes to support studies, whether by citizens or paid third party consultants, we suggest it focus its analysis on getting its own house in order.”

Well said. At ABG, we recognize and highlight the inefficiencies as we come across them. We wish we had nothing to report, but sadly our supervisor, unskilled at actually running anything but the campaign for his next election, is slowly grinding our once thriving town into an abyss, a black hole that is swallowing up the businesses and good people, leaving those who can no longer afford to leave. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Still In The Neighborhood

A&P Store Closing image is not the actual Greenburgh store scheduled to close.

Where will you purchase your food now that two supermarkets in Greenburgh, the A&P on Rt 119 and Pathmark on Central Avenue, are closing come April 15? Councilwoman Sonya Brown, the internal thorn in Paul Feiner's side from within his handpicked the Town Board, held a community meeting at the Union Baptist Church on Manhattan Avenue. The Paul wasn't there. ABG is sure the other handpicked Board members were instructed not to attend or face the consequences. There, the Heyman Realty company's representative answered a few questions about their A&P tenant leaving on April 16. Pathmark closes on April 15. Neither Brown nor Heyman offered any tangible information to the public. In fact, the public offered more information than the realty representative. That's the problem with politicians who have never worked in private industry. They have never had to think outside the box, only talk about it.

Last week residents received a form letter from the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P ), located in Montvale, NJ. It said that they are still in the neighborhood. They are. They're in the same shopping center as the Cinema 100 and Pizza & Brew between Dobbs Ferry and Hartsdale Roads. They've been there for years. ABG won't shop there because they only have a few registers, causing for longer lines and increased waiting on line. We don't feel its right to wait on line for as long as it took us to shop! They also don't have the variety of goods we prefer. Ironic that that's the A&P that should be closing, but it's not. And, it's not as large as the Rt 119 A&P. So the argument that food store companies are only looking for 60k square foot/bigger spaces as compared to the Rt 119 A&P's 40k square foot space loses some of its persuasiveness.

To entice the area residents to shop at these other locations, they're offering $5 off a $50 purchase each week for the month of August. The coupons are only good at other A&P's, not the ones that are closing. Nowadays, that's won't pay for the gas needed to get there and back. Do something worthwhile for us or not at all, just don't insult us. Stop and Shop is an equal distant away for us by car. And that's the real issue here. People without a car or access to a car are stuck. The rest of us? We go to Stop & Shop and once we're gone, you'll be hard pressed to get us back. We're the example of the shopper who doesn't complain, we just don't come back. Retail 101.

We should add that several of our staffers used to work for the famous tea company's distribution center in Elmsford during our respective college days. It's how we all know each other. Back then, to break the unions and reduce theft (it was rampant), they closed the center and moved their operation to New Jersey. It hurt them in a lot of ways, but they had a goal. They would later enter bankruptcy and emerge anew. ABG is not sure how often they can be in Chapter 11 before the you-know-what hits the fan and they submerge for good, never to resurface again.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

UnClogging Our Roads

Supervisor Feiner's recent post on his blog, from a Tarrytown resident, was bemoaning the difficulty of driving on the Saw Mill River Parkway at night due to the lack of lighting on the parkway, faded dotted lane dividers, no reflectors and the side curbs were not painted. These are all valid concerns that haven't just materialized overnight. 

ABG's concern, however, is why a Tarrytown resident would seek remediation from the Town of Greenburgh supervisor instead of his own village or county representatives? As is Feiner's hallmark of posturing on issues that are of no consequence to him, he is continuing to pursue this issue even though it is outside of his jurisdiction, purvey, responsibility and ability to solve these problems - if it is determined to be a problem.  ABG believes that since there is no part of the Saw Mill River Parkway in the unincorporated Town of Greenburgh, that the supervisor should have deferred the letter-writer to his respective village's mayor and gracefully bowed out from the issue. It may simply be that all these issues are on the county's repair calendar. 

A recent USAToday article entitled Communities Work to Unclog Roads, discusses what is being done to reduce traffic congestion in Atlanta, GA. The gist of the story is not about increasing the capacity of streets, but reducing the amount of vehicles on them. They discuss car-sharing. At ABG, we've tried to coordinate with colleagues from Nyack as we drive to our office. Not only was the coordinating of schedules incredibly difficult just to start, but if one of us had to change their schedule at the end of the day to stay longer than planned, or even the need to leave early, etc., made coordination so difficult, we stopped it. The article also cites Microsoft  for providing a bus for their employees. That's great if you have that many employees and they are situated close enough to participate.

High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes, in which single-occupant vehicles pay a toll to use certain lanes of the highway are seeing an increase, according to Jack Finn, the Senior V.P. and National Director of Toll Services for an engineering and construction firm based in Kansas City, Mo. Here in Greenburgh, I think most of us realize that charging for services provided for by taxes may be illegal - i.e. The Paul's idea to charge $300 per year for backyard garbage pickup. Beyond that, what happens once everyone realizes they can purchase space in an open lane? Obviously, they will. Then that lane will become congested and the previously free although congested lanes will still be free and now be moving. You've solved nothing.

Another interesting twist is the use of GPS navigation systems to avoid a jam. The problem here is that while you may be alerted of an issue up ahead, there may not be a convenient place for you to exit, allow you to continue to your location or will cause another jam traffic at the exit due to everyone's GPS notification. All of this brings me to the dilemma Greenburgh residents suffer at each rush hour. And, you've solved nothing.

Proposals have been made to Super-Size the Tappan Zee bridge, add separate bus-only roadways alongside the I-287 corridor, using imminent domain to remove all necessary homes and properties to construct an elevated bus roadway. Assuming this all moves forward, we will see buses exit onto Rt 119 alongside I-287 Exit 5 every five (5) minutes. You won't need to worry about pollution as these are electric buses. No air conditioning at your home due to a brown out? They were given priority power access to charge all the buses. So, hop on a bus to Nyack or Port Chester and chill.

The traffic increase due to the construction, added buses, etc., do nothing to alleviate the existing congested roadways. Yet we see approvals by the Greenburgh Town Board for Avalon Green 2 on Taxter Road off of Rt 119, a doubling in size with new additional condominiums. We'll see another increase with the approval by the Greenburgh Town Board for new condominiums at the old Union Carbide site near the Tarrytown lakes, with the requisite increase to the already congested daily traffic. And where will these people be driving to? Some will disburse north and to other points. But most will hop onto the Saw Mill River Parkway or down Rt 9A to I-287. Once there, traffic will bog down even more. Why isn't the supervisor dealing with this? Because it is a real issue for constituents! He's learned to stay away from and not discuss anything that he has control over.

Between the increase in construction and overdevelopment throughout the Town, the County and the State's own increased developmental plans are adding to the slow death of our beloved communities. Flooding, traffic, rising taxes (87% this year - thank you Paul), people fleeing the area, businesses closing daily, what fertilizer you can use, revaluation and of course consolidation, all points to one fact. The time for a change is now. It's time for Supervisor Feiner to retire. If he won't voluntarily resign, we'll have to make the decision for him come this November.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Overcrowded Housing Costs Us More

Supervisor Paul Feiner has created a sanctuary Town with Greenburgh and it's getting worse by the day. It manifests itself it several ways. The multiple families living in single family homes are costing us more than just crowded housing conditions. The Journal News ran a story of an underage drinking party in the Fulton Park neighborhood, hosted by a sixteen year old who gave his address as 21 McKinley Avenue in White Plains. Why? Because his parents own the house but its rented out, and overcrowded with at least four families living in a single family home. In fact, an agency refers prospective tenants to the location!

This isn't the only home in the neighborhood that is perverted this way. Some will say it's not so bad. After all, everyone needs a place to live. ABG agrees, they do need a place to live. We have numerous apartments throughout the Town and in other neighborhoods for rent. They should live there. We're not speaking of families who move in because they've been hammered by the economy, had a loss to due a fire, or were getting out of an abusive relationship. They are welcome to move in until they can sustain themselves. So what's the problem?

We pay the Town water bill based on usage by the gallon per year. The money appropriated in our budget year after year is based on the mean average ratio of water usage to single-family and multiple-family homes, commercial usage and a few other minor factors. When four families live in a single-family home, the unofficial water usage quadruples for no “apparent” reason. After all, the Town cannot prove increased water usage through billing. More importantly, when we go over the agreed to amount of water by even one gallon, our cost per gallon goes up exponentially.

We pay the Town refuse bill by the pound. After the sanitation employees pick up your garbage, and the truck is filled, its next journey is up to the Peekskill process plant where the truck is weighed by tons (and pounds) and the garbage is off-loaded and incinerated. Cha-ching! Four families living in a single-family home generate four times more garbage than say a family of three or four people living in a single-family house. Add to that the non-garbage trash that multi-household groups generate. Since it fills up our garbage trucks faster, they make more trips to the Peekskill plant, ultimately paying more for garbage incineration.

We pay school taxes base on the square footage of our homes. Four families living in a single-family home may have an average of one to four kids for which our taxes are paying for schooling. Obviously, the number can always be lower or higher. But the number of teachers we hire and classes we maintain is based on the size of the homes and apartments we have in our Town. The amount of kids registered to attend the schools is another factor. We have seen a burgeoning growth in enrollment and our school taxes are ever-increasing because more children are attending school than we can tax for and afford. This also begs the question of how the school district utilizes all the monies gained from students who attend private and parochial schools?

We pay for overcrowding with safety violations and safety concerns for both the residents and the first responders. Across the street from ABG is another of the room-rental single-family homes. The police are there with regularity. One of the cops told me he was momentarily disoriented after entering the multi-occupant basement/garage apartments and pursuing the perpetrator. Once he was out and arrested the man, I asked him if he was going to contact the building department about the illegal apartment. He told me he was not allowed to. What!? If there had been a fire, God only knows how many people might not have been found and perished as well as what might happen to our firefighters.

All of the above illustrates why larger homes, in general, pay higher taxes than a smaller home. It also illustrates the fundamental problems we're having with our ever-increasing taxes, which are becoming unsupportable in our Town residents by ignoring the overcrowding problem throughout our Town. Supervisor Feiner suggested changing our building codes to allow people to rent out rooms because this would be easier to do than correct the problem. This would be a big mistake! It's like saying we'll raise the speed limit since we can't enforce the law against speeding. This situation must be corrected - and soon. We need to address this before someone loses their life.