Town Supervisor Paul Feiner and his colleagues on the Greenburgh town board refused again at this week’s town board meeting to answer any questions about their unprecedented decision this fall to draw down 40% of the fund the Town relies upon to pay future tax certiorari judgments and claims — while at the same time warning school and fire districts to expect an unprecedented five-fold increase for their share of such payments next year — in order for town officials to avoid what might otherwise have been a politically deadly 10% tax hike in 2015, which is an election year for Mr. Feiner.
While no one would answer any questions about the 40% drawdown, town councilman Ken Jones did admit that the Town had decided at the last minute to hike fees by as much as 25% for a number of activities associated with the Theodore D. Young Community Center.
The 40% drawdown in the Town’s so-called “Risk Retention Fund” was needed because the Town was close to depleting the town entire “fund balance” which is the amount of unspent taxes collected over the years that the Town regularly uses instead of charging more in taxes to fund annual operating expenses.
The problem with this approach to budgeting is that when a municipality is addicted, as Greenburgh is, to using fund balance to balance its budget year after year, its taxpayers run the risk of a huge tax hike whenever the fund balance becomes depleted.
For example, in October 2007, shortly after defeating an opponent for the Democratic nomination for town supervisor, Mr. Feiner was forced to announce a sudden 23% increase in town taxes. Mr. Feiner had known the huge hike was coming, but kept it a secret until after he had won the Democratic primary and it couldn’t be used against him.
Had Mr. Feiner not raided the Town’s risk retention fund this fall, the Town would have been facing as much as a 10% hike in property taxes next year.
The town’s outside auditors had warned Mr. Feiner this summer that the “town entire” fund balance had become very low, but Mr. Feiner assured them that the Town would recoup the funds when the Town sold the former Frank’s Nursery property in November, for which the Town was expecting to net at least $2 million.
However, there is now almost no chance that the Frank’s Nursery property will be sold any time soon.
As a result, faced with the choice of voting for a tax cap busting 10% hike or raiding the Town’s Risk Retention Fund to prevent that from happening, Mr. Feiner chose to do the latter, with the apparent support of all of his colleagues on the town board. The Town Board will vote to approve its budget for 2015 by December 19.
In the meantime, even though he has been told there is now no realistic chance that the Frank’s Nursery property can be sold anytime soon — among other things the Town needs to complete a major Phase II environmental assessment of the carcinogens on the property and come up with a plan for remediation — Mr. Feiner is nonetheless now telling residents and town officials not to worry because another prospective purchaser is willing to spend up to $6 million to purchase Frank’s.
Thus, in an email sent today to town personnel and certain residents, Mr. Feiner said a representative of a “high end car dealer” approached him at a “holiday party” and said his client would pay “as much as $6 million” for Frank’s — and clean it up too — if his client would be given permission to store as many as 300 cars at the site.
Mr. Feiner assured everyone on this email that “he expected to receive a letter from the representatives within the week.”
Mr. Feiner, of course, has no actual offer from anyone and his email is reminiscent of the many town-wide emails Mr. Feiner sent in 2013 and 2014 when he represented – we now know falsely — he had been getting “significant interest” from many “possible purchasers” and estimated the number at 10. Indeed, he said as much last year when the Town Board’s first scheduled auction for the Frank’s property was postponed. Thus, in a November 12, 2013 press release, entitled “Auction of Frank’s nursery being postponed,” Mr. Feiner said “in recent weeks additional entities (other than the two that previously expressed interest in the property) have met with town staff and have advised that they are very interested in purchasing Frank’s at a price that meets or exceeds the $3.5 million minimum purchase price.”
This representation from Mr. Feiner was false.
The problem was when it came time to negotiate a contract with the Frank’s auctioneer, Harold Bordwin, Mr. Bordwin insisted that, if the Town wanted a reduction in Mr. Bordwin’s commission for any prospective purchasers that had approached Mr. Feiner first, Mr. Feiner had to identify each “possible purchaser.”
Mr. Feiner, though, was unable to identify anyone other than GameOn 365, the Tarrytown start-up company that had offered $1.7 million for the property.
In other words, Mr. Feiner’s talk about “significant interest” in Frank’s from “possible purchasers” was untrue.
So what then is Mr. Feiner’s purpose now in telling residents about a new potential offer? History suggests that Mr. Feiner is trying once again to put a positive spin on what otherwise looks to be continued failure on the Town’s part. In addition, it looks like he’s trying to blame anyone but himself for the what happened.
If anyone were seriously interested in offering as much as $6 million for the property, it would have to be rezoned to allow for commercial uses, in this case storage of cars. But the residents there have made it clear that the property is zoned for singe family residential housing, and they’re insisting that the Town comply with the zoning. They think that if they go along with re-zoning the property for Frank’s, it will have to be rezoned commercial for the neighboring Westchester Golf Range, which means the character of their entire residential neighborhood along Dobbs Ferry Road could be forever changed.
So if this imaginary $6 million deal doesn’t happen because, as Mr. Feiner knows, the residents there don’t want to see a change in zoning, and they do not, Mr. Feiner can blame the residents instead of himself for standing in the way of a deal that could have helped the Town avoid a double digit tax hike.