Come November, the presidential election won't be the only one that draws people to the polls. Closer to home, six candidates—three Democrats and three Republicans—will be vying for three open trustee seats in the Village of Mamaroneck.
In the next few weeks, Larchmont Patch will be running a series of Q&As with the candidates so you, the voters, know where they stand on issues impacting your community.
This week we'll be presenting the Village of Mamaroneck Democratic Party candidates.
Bio (from the Village of Mamaroneck Democrats website): Potok has lived in Heathcote Hill since 1998. He has served as chairman of the Village Budget Committee since 2008 and for the last two years served on the Mamaroneck School District Budget/Finance Committee. His financial advisory firm serves industrial labor unions in negotiations with employers seeking to modify wages and benefits for workers and retirees. Potok previously worked for a major New York insurance company, recommending and monitoring investments. He lives in Heathcote Hill with his wife and has three children, the youngest of whom just graduated from Mamaroneck High School. Leon earned a B.A. degree in economics from the City College of New York, and advanced degrees in economics and finance from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the Columbia School of Business. Leon graduated from the Bronx High School of Science.
Larchmont Patch: What are some of the major issues facing residents in the Village of Mamaroneck?
Leon Potok: The primary issues facing residents are taxes and planning for long-term financial health, preserving the character of the village and mitigating flooding and its impact on residents. Residents pay property taxes to the village and deserve to receive affordable, high quality and efficiently delivered services in return. The role of the Board of Trustees is to strike a balance between minimizing the tax burden on residents, both current and long-term, while providing the level and quality of services that help to make our village an attractive place to live.
Residents most highly value our village for its small-town character, quality of life, diversity, community, and environment. The challenge we face is to maintain affordable property tax rates without watering down land use laws that grow the tax base but would undermine the village’s special character, quality of life and environment. Flooding poses a risk to the physical safety of residents and the value of their homes and property. Shortsighted zoning laws allowed construction of homes and commercial buildings in the flood plain without adequate safety margin for periodic floods. We can now see the consequences of such short-sighted planning. The village needs to identify and implement affordable measures to mitigate flooding, and to coordinate its plans for helping homeowners and businesses in the flood plain to recover and rebuild from periodic flooding.
Larchmont Patch: As a board member, how would you help make the village a better place to live?
Potok: I hope to make a difference when it comes to the issues of finances, land use decisions, and flooding, as well as the overall environment for citizen dialogue and involvement with government.I would work with the village administration to consider all opportunities to reduce costs, improve services and raise non-tax revenues. I would make sure that land-use decisions protect our special small-town character, environment and diversity.
The impact of flooding can be mitigated to a limited extent through periodic silt removal, clearance of river obstructions and maintaining storm drains and catch basins. Just as important, we need to be prepared as a village to help residents and businesses access information and financial and community support when we are hit with future floods, so that residents and businesses can recover and rebuild quickly.Lastly, the board should make its decisions as transparent as possible. All decisions should be based on thorough review and analysis of information, and made in a process of open engagement with residents, volunteer committees and village employees.
Larchmont Patch: What has your experience working for the Village Budget Committee taught you about working in public service?
Potok: I have learned that the village is fortunate to have committed volunteers and employees who truly care about the village and its residents and are dedicated to making the village a better place to live.However, the dedication and commitment of volunteers, employees and elected officials is often stifled and undermined by a sense of inertia, where it is too often difficult to get things done for fear of upsetting the status quo. Unlike the private sector, where competition can create a sense of urgency, the public sector often needs elected officials and voters to inject a sense of urgency in order to get things done.
Larchmont Patch: What made you want to run for the VOM board?
Potok: The Budget Committee that I have chaired has advanced specific recommendations to make the village’s finances more transparent, to raise revenues and reduce expenses, and to manage operations more actively. I have been disappointed, as have other members of the Committee, with the lack of interest by the mayor and trustees in our recommendations and our efforts to actively engage in the budget process.
I think that volunteers should be afforded more, not fewer, opportunities to contribute to the village.I decided to seek office so that I could work more closely with the village administration to make responsible, long-term decisions based on facts and analysis in an open, civil, and transparent manner with constructive dialogue among trustees, volunteer committees, and the public.
Larchmont Patch: How do you think the two percent tax cap will affect the VOM budget going forward? Do you think there needs to be a change in mandated expenses from the state and county in order for local municipalities to be able to continue to provide services to the community?
Potok: The two percent tax cap, which itself is subject under the law to modifications and exclusions to the definition of two percent, does not impose an actual cap on spending, only the requirement for Board of Trustee approval to exceed the cap. In the current fiscal year, for example, village residents saw a 4.17 percent increase in the property tax rate, which was in compliance with the two percent tax cap definition. Moreover, the cap draws attention to whether the municipality is conforming to the two percent target, but it does nothing to relieve the cost pressures on municipalities.
The only significant VOM expense directly mandated by the state is pensions, where annual increases are set by the state pension plans based on the financial condition of those plans. Under legislation co-sponsored by Assemblyman George Latimer, excess costs for the pension plans above the two percent level would be transferred up to the state budget, thereby pressuring Albany to solve the pension cost problem. Such legislation would relieve budget pressures on local municipalities. For costs other than pensions, state mandates indirectly set the cost structure for municipalities and it will take much more than a tax cap to make meaningful changes to relieve the pressures on the village’s budget. A listing and description of state mandates compiled by the New York State Conference of Mayors can be found at www.stopthetaxshift.org/mandates (some of these mandates only apply to cities, but the list provides a useful summary of the key mandates that drive local costs).