Town Board Classics
Richard J. Garfunkel
January 27, 2005
Last night the Greenburgh Town Board had its second and last meeting of the opening month of the New Year. Of course along with the usual cast of characters that religiously attend these happenings, the Board was jammed with interested citizens who were there to support the effort by the Union Baptist Church to expand its facilities.
Supervisor Paul Feiner, who has spearheaded the effort to assist Union Baptist’s effort to grow, was as usual temporarily stymied by the obstructionism of one of the Board members. Mr. Steven Bass, who owes his unopposed election victory in November 2003 to the strength and original support of Supervisor Feiner, never misses an opportunity to bite his hand. Mr. Bass who has made a callow career out of being a divisive obstructionist on the Board, attempted to block Supervisor Feiner’s latest effort to move along the process that brought out the throng of Union Baptist adherents. Mr. Bass has blocked many of Mr. Feiner’s initiatives with his narrow partisan nit-picking and faux concerns. As an example, he had blocked Mr. Feiner’s effort to have Greenburgh purchase renewable wind energy, by claiming that this was illegal under state law, in spite of the fact that thirty communities have already done these very same actions. Of course the Greenburgh Town Board had to vote on a resolution, regarding this effort, to be submitted to the New York State Legislature. Along with that unnecessary bureaucratic effort, Mr. Bass spearheaded a duplicative “feel-good” resolution regarding “Children’s Internet Safety.” After an alarmist demonstration from one of our resident legal beagle cabalists, who displayed the names and addresses of the “so-called” threatened “Snow Angels,” on his laptop to the world, we were entertained by the notion that Supervisor Feiner was out to expose the whole population of “Snow Angel” shovelers of Woodlands High School to Internet “predators.” This, of course, was a new low when it comes to the Cabal’s effort at subverting his authority and giving us a divided Town Board and a legislative dictatorship led by Board Member Bass.
Supervisor Feiner, of course would have no patience with this latest effort at “divide, delay and conquer” tactics and forced Mr. Bass and his colleagues to not only read the “report” (negative declaration) during a recess, but to vote on it immediately. The recess was called, the “report” was read, the meeting was again called to order, and the resolution supporting the Union Baptist Church’s effort was passed.
After that effort consumed an extra hour of the public’s precious time, the Board went on to its now-legendary “Public Comment” portion of the meeting. This big issue these days regards the effort by the Library Board to spend $20 million on a library expansion. There is no doubt in anybody’s mind that the expansion and renovation of the library is long over due. Many months ago, Supervisor Feiner submitted an innovative proposal to spend $10 million on its expansion and renovation, along with inviting competing bids to buy the old Town Board property, remove, the old Town Hall, and to have that potential purchaser landscape the surrounding property and provide added parking spaces for the library. Eventually, it seemed then, that the Sunrise Corporation, a respected builder and operator of Assisted Living facilities would be the eventual partner regarding this effort. Of course the Sunrise would buy the land for possibly $3 million, help with the landscaping and re-shaping of the property and eventually start to pay taxes to the Town of $200,000 or so each and every year. From the perspective of many, this sounded like an excellent use of the land, and a satisfactory solution to the library’s problems. But as we all know now, the Library Board was not really satisfied with that sensible compromise and instead of half a loaf being able to satisfy their appetite, they turned to Board Member Bass, who wrung his hands, worried about the “fast-tracking” of a sensible solution and sandbagged the whole idea by convincing some of his colleagues that this was not enough. So here we are many months later with a $20 million proposal on our hands.
Of course, Supervisor Feiner, with the public’s purse strings in mind, and our excellent credit rating hanging in the lurch, requested a November referendum, with full Town participation to support this effort. This sensible and prudent action was again twisted around to suit the heightened anxiety of the Library Board. Instead of having a full hearing aired to the public regarding this $20 million effort, the Library Board insisted on a $30,000 referendum in March with a tiny fraction of the public voting on a resolution they would know virtually nothing about. With Board Member Bass leading the charge, even the need for required environmental and traffic studies were forgotten or ignored. It took the Supervisor to remind all that these necessities were being ignored. In spite of all of the posturing, the Library Board has not fully articulated its plans and generally the public is totally “in the dark” when it comes to their desires. In fact any effort to have the Library Board discuss its plans has led to more confusion and questions from the public. When the Supervisor attempted to outreach to the community, he was criticized for not supporting the library renovation and expansion. What else is new?
Last night, new voices raised concerns over this effort to push through a vote that would effectively disenfranchise thousands of voters. By having a limited amount of polling places and a tiny amount of information available the voters and the taxpayers will not be informed enough on this issue. The essence of this cynical effort by Board Member Bass and the Library Board is to have a tiny group of activists push through this referendum without anybody looking. Even when Supervisor Feiner suggested the idea of Town oversight on this potential project he was rebuffed.
Of course only pressure from the Greenburgh community at large can force an “open” discussion of the real and realistic needs of the library.
PS: An afterthought. Last night, in the bone chilling cold, there was a sparsely attended meeting regarding the library expansion at the Virginia Street School. Town officials and members of the Library Board dominated this audience, with some interested citizens who were given a talk regarding the proposed library expansion. We were shown more detailed schematic drawings and heard from the both Library Board Chairperson Howard Jacobs and the representative of the company in charge of designing the “new” library. Of course, the rationale is that any delay from a spring-dated referendum to a more normal November vote would add time and therefore extra cost to the project. There were a few questions from the small group of citizens, mostly ranging from concerns about parking, access to the building, elevator usage, location of the books, the separation of children from adults, and the eventual cost to the taxpayers. I asked Mr. Jacobs could he describe the timeline from a “passed” resolution in the spring to the actual occupation of the new site. I also asked what dislocation in service would occur when the libraries function went mostly into storage and were transferred to the old Town Hall site? He believed that it would be a short-term dynamic disruption from the work, that would last the whole two years or until the completion of the new library. Given that answer, I suggested the following that we explore closely the feasibility of acquiring the Hillside school property that the Greenburgh central & District wished to sell. It is a 51,000 square foot building on 5 acres with unlimited parking potential. If this building could be rehabilitated for a fraction of the $20 million price tag planned for the new rehabilitation of the old library, there would a great cost savings. In addition there would be ancillary benefits of great worth to the town.
The following are some of the benefits:
a) No dislocation or interruption in library services.
b) The ability to sell the who parcel of land that currently is occupied by the library and the old Town Hall (Sunrise would have paid $3 million for the Town Hall property which subsequently would have contributed possibly $200,000 in taxes annually.)
c) The removal of these facilities from Tarrytown Road and therefore making it less congested and safer.
d) The cost savings of utilizing a present structure and the elimination of the problems of “steep slopes” and terraced parking.
e) The better preservation and protection of the abutting neighborhood.