This year is ending much as it began, in a recession.
The local effects of the national economic downturn are evidenced by several empty storefronts on Boston Post Road and Mamaroneck and Palmer avenues. Real estate listings are noticeably longer, and so is the amount of time homes stay on the market. Home prices are down, but the chances that you know someone who is unemployed, underemployed, or moving away for a job opportunity are not.
The recession affected every aspect of our lives this year. Luckily, it still left some room for good news.
Here's what happened in 2009, the good, the bad, the not-so-bad:
Village of Mamaroneck - Manager
Richard Slingerland took over as Mamaroneck village manager in March, replacing longtime village employee Lenny Verrastro, who retired after more than 27 years of service. Slingerland, who earned a master's degree in public administration from New York University, comes to the village by way of Pelham, where he served the last seven years in positions such as water system administrator, deputy clerk, treasurer and, most recently, village administrator.
Slingerland described 2009 as a "very active and busy year." Among other items, he notes a vigorous effort to maintain a tight rein on village finances, computerize the still primarily paper-bound system, improve efficiency and streamline operations. He has begun to address flooding issues and emergency preparedness, including a village-wide stream clean-up in April that netted eight to 10 tons of debris and garbage pulled out of the Mamaroneck and Sheldrake rivers.
Funding for the many village projects is a challenge in itself. Under Slingerland's leadership, the Village is pursuing grant applications for projects to repair infrastructure and improve efficiency. So far, key awards include two grants totaling $610,000 for storm water remediation.
The village also received a grant from the New York State Energy Research Development Agency, or NYSERDA, for the replacement of all village-owned and maintained traffic signal faces with LED lights, which will reduce energy consumption by about 90 percent.
Village of Mamaroneck - Elections
The manager was not the only village position to change hands in 2009. One-term mayor Democrat Kathy Savolt, Trustee Randi Robinowitz and interim Trustee Nicholas Allison, who was appointed by Savolt to replace Trustee Tom Murphy, were ousted when the local political pendulum swung to the right, electing a Republican slate headed by Mayoral Candidate Norman Rosenblum, with Trustee Candidates Marianne Ybarra and Louis Santoro.
It didn't take long before controversy erupted when, several days prior to taking the oath of office and the official start of his term, Rosenblum fired full-time Village Attorney Janet Insardi, replacing her with Christie Derrico, a former village trustee and the wife of the local Republican party chair.
Town of Mamaroneck - Elections
In comparison, the Town of Mamaroneck elections yielded little to no drama. Supervisor Valerie O'Keeffe, Councilwoman Nancy Seligson, Councilman Ernest Odierna and Town Justice Dolores Battalia all retained their positions.
Town of Mamaroneck - Budget
Financial pressures hit all municipalities in 2009. The Town of Mamaroneck presented and approved its 2010 budget this month, with Town Administrator and Budget Officer Steven Altieri calling the 2.5 percent increase "relatively low," claiming it placed the town first or second for lowest increase relative to other towns in Westchester and Putnam counties.
Coming up with that number was not without its challenges, notably by two New York State mandates: a state legislature requiring Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) employer payroll tax and an increase in the amount required to put in the state's pension fund.
Intended to assist the MTA with their expenditures, the tax will amount to $50,000 in new expenses for the town of Mamaroneck.
As for the state retirement system, Altieri shared a common frustration: "The failure of the state to maintain a career-long retirement contribution by employees has created an added burden to the local governments that must now bear the full cost of the pension system contributions. The impact is that going into 2010, the town's contributions to the retirement system will increase by $249,000, resulting in a total appropriation of $1,560,000."
Villages of Larchmont and Mamaroneck - Budgets
Earlier in the year, the village of Larchmont approved its 2009-2010 budget with an increase of just 2.44 percent. However, while the village of Mamaroneck's adopted budget tax increase was significantly less than the 6.81 percent tax and 2.91 percent spending increases requested in its first version, the final budget approved last May will raise village residents' taxes by 3.98 percent, the largest increase in the area.
A proposal for reducing the tax burden and rising costs in the area is to expand tri-municipal collaboration. The villages of Larchmont and Mamaroneck and the town of Mamaroneck have agreed to undertake a study on areas where services can be shared or consolidated. William Dentzer, Jr. will be chairing the group. One member of each board, one citizen representative and one administrative staff member have been appointed from each community. The group is scheduled to meet in January.
Last year, prior to the formation of the exploratory group, the three municipalities successfully merged their senior centers, moving the VOM center from its Mamaroneck Town Center location to join the other two in the Veteran of Foreign Wars hall on Boston Post Road.
In response to the high taxes and what they deem outdated home valuations, the Larchmont-Mamaroneck Summit put together a presentation on property reassessment. Meanwhile, the Mamaroneck Town Council moved a step closer to a community-wide property tax revaluation by requesting proposals.
Town Manager Stephen Altieri believes a full revaluation program is necessary because the present property assessing system is broken. The 807 cases of tax grievance in 2009 resulted in a loss of revenue. The year prior, the number of grievances was 375.
Altieri said the upcoming revaluation of the Town of Mamaroneck and the two villages will cost about $1.5 - $2 million, or about $175 per residence, and will take about 2.5 years to be completed.
Mamaroneck Public Library -Renovation Project
The Mamaroneck Village construction of the Mamaroneck Library's new wing is moving along well. With demolition completed and the new foundation poured, the steel frame for the new wing is being erected and all is reportedly on schedule so interior construction can begin and continue through the winter. The grand re-opening of the larger, environment-friendly library is slated for late 2010.
Flint Park improvement - Award
Larchmont Village's Flint Park improvement won a Westchester Municipal Planning Federation Award. The federation recognized Woodard & Curran, the integrated engineering firm that, in collaboration with the community, was responsible for the overall planning and design of the project (a new turf field, along with new irrigation, drainage and seeding of the grass baseball and soccer fields).
Mayor Liz Feld hailed the Flint Park project as "a fantastic public-private partnership like you've never seen." She praised Fields for Kids President Jim Hanley and Village Trustee Jim Millstein for their contributions to the project.
Mamaroneck Union Free School District - Budget
Concern over school budgets is high. Property revaluation will hit the school budgets, a serious issue considering the cuts that were already made this year.
In the larger Mamaroneck Union Free School District, music departments, athletics, supplies and technology funding were diminished.
"Our students deserve the very best education possible," said Superintendent Dr. Paul Fried. "When we operate with fewer teachers, class size naturally will rise, and if the numbers go too high, the teacher may become less effective in the classroom."
Despite all efforts to maintain programs, 34 positions, 17 of which were teaching positions, were eliminated, and class sizes across the town increased. Regardless of the cutbacks, the district still faced a 3.23 percent budget-to-budget increase.
Fried, who will retire at the end of this school year, said: "This year may prove to be even worse than last, putting our district's fine educational programs in jeopardy. I must take a proactive stance on the issue and think creatively about solutions that can benefit the students of the district."
Rye Neck School District - Budget
The Rye Neck School District budget reflected a net cost reduction of $964,547 that included the elimination of 9.5 positions, resulting in savings of over $400,000. The zero percent growth budget and resulting tax increase of 1.88 percent is the district's lowest in more than fifteen years.
Awards and Sports
Despite this year's challenges, there was cause for celebration at both schools. A brand new National Blue Ribbon Award of Excellence flag flies proudly over Rye Neck's F.E. Bellows Elementary School and banners on Boston Post Road light poles proclaim the Mamaroneck High School's baseball team state champions. This title was the second in a row for the Tigers, marking the first time in history that a Westchester team won back-to-back AA state championships.
Not to be outdone, the Tiger Girls Field Hockey Team finished second in their state championships, while the boys cross country team earned a League Championship for the first time in 25 years.
Across town, The Rye Neck Panther boy's soccer team won the Section 1, Class B Championship, its first sectional in 10 years.
Beyond the financial woes, swine flu has made its way around several of our schools. Fortunately, and despite dire news reports of severe cases, it seemed to be a generally mild strain that is almost indistinguishable from the seasonal flu.
Recently, shipments of both the injectable and nasal mist vaccines have made their way into most of the areas of pediatric practice and, while still a bit scarce among internists, chances of finding availability locally are up.
A recent spate of burglaries in the town of Mamaroneck included the theft of a safe containing almost $38,000 in gold coins and jewelry. Town police have shared information with Rye police, where six late-afternoon and early-evening burglaries were reported. Police note that home alarm systems foiled several other attempts.
The year wound down with some unexpected excitement this fall when some unusual visitors to the area were sighted. Several coyotes were spotted in the Rye Neck area, including one on the Rye Neck High School track during a team practice. No contact was reported.
Mel Gibson was seen running down Boston Post Road and in Sound Shore Liquor Pantry during the filming of his new movie, The Beaver, co-starring and directed by Jodie Foster, who was also, if less noticeably, on the property.
Not expected to be sighted in town or at Winged Foot any time soon is Tiger Woods who, just in case you haven't heard, remains in hiding.
Mindy Gibson is a Mamaroneck resident. She is involved in the Rye Neck School District PTSA and is a member of the Village of Mamaroneck budget committee.