Sunday, January 19, 2014

Double Jeopardy in Greenburgh, Taxing Residents Twice

An interesting occurrence transpired Thursday night at the Zoning Board of Appeals meeting at Town Hall. The docket saw some nine cases scheduled for review by the Board. Pockets of people were in attendance, probably sitting in groups of support for or against each case. The Fulton Park Civic Association and others were there for their neighborhood’s cause, specifically, the expansion plans for Deli Delicious and the major changes sought to the property. But that’s not what this post is really about.

It’s believed by most that the deli has already received Mr Feiner’s blessing, and is trying to officially “make their case” to have the zoning codes changed so he can get a variance(s) to add a drive-through window and “flip” the building. Selling the building will become more attractive to a fast food chain by installing the window which would then be grandfathered to the next owner. The deli has been closed for over two years now. The owner, Ernest Tartaglione says being closed is a hardship on his business. There is no business. Tartaglione, a commercial real estate landlord for numerous properties, is just counting this as just another property in his stable.

The interesting occurrence we mentioned above is that Tartaglione, et al, had petitioned the Zoning Board of Appeals for a postponement of his deli’s zoning appeal case. Their reason is unknown but suspected to be related to the traffic report, only just released two days earlier on Monday. The Fulton Park Civic Association also petitioned for a postponement as two days was not enough time for them to review and analyze the information in the traffic report. But, the Fulton Park Civic Association, as with anyone filing a petition for postponement, including the petitioner, was forced to pay a $25 fee (tax) to the Town! When we were discussing this, an ABG staffer jumped in saying, “Wait! I know why. The Town employee will say it’s a lot of work to do, or it takes away from their regular duties, or there are costs associated with doing this. Or, all of those – am I right?” In a word, yes, she was right. The staffer was told the filing fee was because of the amount of work that was entailed to request the postponement. How preposterous!

Greenburgh taxpayers are repeatedly hammered by ill-conceived policies of the Town, created by our own representatives, that punish residents at almost every imaginable turn. Case in point? The request for a postponement and the related application fee of $25. This “fee” is a second tax applied under the guise of a fee. We are inundated with these fees in Greenburgh. When a resident/taxpayer goes to Town Hall to request anything for their primary property, there should not be a fee attached to it if it is a simple or small request, such as this postponement. Under the Feiner Administration of the past 22-years, we’ve seen fee after fee created to possibly pay off his guilty verdict fines. So, when the Fulton Park Civic Association applied for a postponement, it is ABG’s position that there should not have been a filing fee charged. This is simply a letter handed to a clerk who marks it received and passes it along to the appropriate individual(s) either manually or by email. This actually falls under the auspices of the clerk’s job. There should be no charge – that’s their job!

At a recent Town Board work session, there was a lengthy discussion about waiving the application fee for installation of a permanently installed generator, as opposed to a temporary or portable one. There are so many fees involved with the installation of just a generator, you might need a travel companion, a priest or rabbi and concierge if you go to Town Hall to do this. First, there is the application fee of $100 to review the application. Next, assuming your application review has been approved, you will pay a Building Department fee (installation), followed by the Electrical fee (power) and finally (?) the Plumbing (gas) fee. ABG is not saying to forego the safety inspections our inspectors are required to make during the installation process. We endorse that part of the process. Just don’t forget that they are very well-paid with benefits to do those inspections. That’s their job.

Realistically, there should not be any fee for projects that are small, single family homeowner-sized projects. It’s one of the reasons why we have a Building Department, financed by residents’ taxes. Unfortunately, we’ve allowed our elected officials to get ahead of us and tax us twice.

As was highlighted with the postponement fee, another travesty for the taxpayer/resident/community members/stakeholders must endure is the ridiculous fees for copies from Town Hall. If one goes into Town Hall and requests a copy of anything, they are charged 25¢ per page. That’s preposterous. The Town will supply a PDF of a document at no charge but we’re sure an Executive session can soon end this once they figure out the wording required. The taxes, paid by the taxpayers/residents/community members/stakeholders already cover this expense. The copier that is leased, the toner and paper used, the electricity, the service agreements, etc., are already paid for by the taxpayer! It’s their copier and supplies! Why are they taxed again? The administration’s argument is if everybody came in and requested copies it would be too expensive for the Town. This is a lame excuse.

First, “everybody” is not going to suddenly be coming in requesting copies. Second, most other communities are operating in a budget conscience fashion and provide the residents with copies upon request at no additional cost. The difference? Other, better managed communities, also haven’t been found guilty in Federal court of violating the rights of a church and paying $6.5 million in fines and penalties, forcing this administration to figuratively stand on the street corner begging for nickels and dimes! Would you like another example?

Several years ago, Mr Feiner and his Town tried to raise the “fee” for the Village of Elmsford residents to use the Town library, which is part of the larger Westchester Library System. It was a hefty increase that Mr Feiner assumed (we know) he would get because he is used to getting his way. Elmsford Mayor Robert Williams, apparently more concerned for his constituents than Mr Feiner, reached out to the Village of Ardsley for an alternative library arrangement that was less money for his Village and gave his residents a more cost-effective solution to Mr Feiner’s greedy proposal. Mr Williams completely and successfully bypassed Mr Feiner piggishness.

As a side note, it had often been discussed that the Village of Elmsford, which sold the library property to the Town for a dollar, be given access to the library directly as a gesture of good faith. A former librarian at the Greenburgh library was insistent this not be allowed. Her rationale was that it would, at the time, add 3,000 new Elmsford users to the library, overwhelming it. One would think more users would be a good thing for any library as it would give cause to an increased budget, increased purchasing power, more books, videos, programs and more employees. Besides, the 3,000 Elmsford residents were not going to show up all at once! It would also promote expansion. Oh, wait, they did expand with the award winning ski jump, a mostly inefficient use of space riddled with HVAC system issues, leaks, burst pipes and more. Ardsley’s library is looking like a pretty good deal.

Back to being forced to pay for what we already paid for through our taxes. The right thing (again, we know) would be to allow residents to come in and request one copy of a file or document they need. There should be no charge as long as they prove residency or occupancy of the address. If the taxpayer is requesting multiple copies of a document, that’s a bit different. The first copy would be free and a minimal fee of say 5¢/page or a blanket amount for the entire document of say, $2/additional copy can be charged. This would hold true for business residents as well. Now, if outside agencies come in requesting a copy, ABG believes it is fair to charge them for any copies they request. Obviously, if it’s only a page or two, the Town employees can use their discretion to waive the fee or collect it. Taking care of the Town’s residents is a concept that Mr Feiner has slowly let slip away – unless he can get publicity from it. Sure, he’ll respond to your phone call by fugaciously pawning your issue to one of his commissioners and be done with you. Then he’ll go back to his back room deals, overdevelopment, spot-zoning, variance request blessings and dismissing traffic studies to raise a few more bucks to pay for the fines he’s had levied against the Town’s taxpayers. It has to change. Only then will we see A Better Greenburgh.

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