Monday, August 9, 2010

Joint NC Town Board CCSD School Board Work Session Pre-Meeting Thoughts

Friends, neighbors and community members:

I am writing as an individual Chappaqua Central School District Board (BoE) member; I do not speak for the entire School Board. I don't speak for anyone but myself.

On Tuesday August 10th, the New Castle Town Board and Chappaqua Central School District Board of Education are having a joint work session. The purpose of the session is for the Town Board to present to the School Board the latest proposal by the developer of the former Reader’s Digest property. I expect that New Castle’s consultants will present the facts that are relevant to the CCSD.

I am posting this prior to the meeting because I found out that there will be no recording of the meeting, no live broadcast, no time for audience questions and it will be in the smaller conference room next to the main room at Town Hall. Because the meeting is at Town Hall, the BoE has no ability to tape the meeting. If you want to see the meeting, but not participate, come to Town Hall on Tuesday August 10th at 7:00pm. Because the meeting will not be broadcast or taped, I am posting my pre-meeting thoughts now. Of course, I will reserve judgment until I hear the presentation. There is certainly a chance that my concerns are addressed proactively by the Town at the meeting.

First, I want to clear up a few misconceptions. I have communicated with many residents in the last few weeks about the former Reader’s Digest Property. I as a Board member and fiduciary will vigorously make our concerns known just as you should too. Quite frankly, the only proper forum to voice your opinions on this matter is to the lead agency, the Town Board themselves. It is where I expect to voice my concerns too.

Let me be clear on that. Many of the people with whom I spoke suggested that the School Board “do something about the project”. The School Board cannot approve of the proposal, turn down the proposal or alter the proposal in any way. The Town Board is the lead agency on this. They and they alone will make this decision. The School Board can only voice its support or concerns to the Town Board just as any citizen or group can and should.

I have been asked what took the BoE so long to send out it recent memo outlining its concerns. Our recent statement on July 29th was not breaking new ground. It was a reiteration of our public comment to the DEIS. I was in favor of making the statement because it was clear that our response to the DEIS was either being discounted or misinterpreted even with the latest proposal.

Our submission to the DEIS makes very clear in both the last paragraph of introductory letter, in the conclusion as well as in the body of the submission that the BoE had significant concerns with the tax basis of the proposals. That has not changed with the latest proposal by the developer as far as I can tell prior to this joint work session.

I think it unfair to present problems without offering solutions. Although it is not the School Board’s charge to provide solutions I intend to propose three possible ways to keep the risk with the developer and not put the risk of a shortfall in tax revenues versus additional costs on the CCSD taxpayers.

One solution is to require that all the units be taxed fee simple. I do not know if that can be done legally unless all dwellings are single family homes. Another is to do a town-wide revaluation which could serve the purpose of putting all properties with equal value whether they are single family homes or condominiums on par with each other for tax purposes. The third way is to simply deny the part of the zoning change that requests residential development.

Finally, I plan on discussing the use and proper interpretation of the BOCES data. BOCES made projections on enrollment for the district assuming there was no development of the property as well as under the various scenarios of development known at the time of the DEIS. The district wide projections showed declining enrollment.

Declining enrollment, assuming most of the district’s costs are variable, is a benefit that should accrue to district taxpayers. It is an asset of the district taxpayers that should not be transferred to the developer by anyone other than the School Board. I happen to believe that government savings or in this case the CCSD savings should be returned to the taxpayer not transferred to the developer or spent by the school board. Regardless of your opinion on that, it is the BoE and the district’s taxpayers who should decide the budget and proper spending for the district.

I will also be pointing out that the BOCES projections for the student enrollment at the development were based on state-wide averages that did not in any way account for historical data here in Chappaqua or even in Westchester. It included the entire state. Real life experience has shown that in Chappaqua condominiums as much as three times as many children live in the units as the BOCES projections assume. That is a number that is too large to ignore.

All my concerns about this development as a School Board member have the same solution. To me, as a district and district taxpayer fiduciary, I have no opinion on the proper number of additional students either in the development itself or those who move into homes vacated by current residents who move there; we will educate them all and do it well.

My concern is for the district taxpayer and not shifting the risk of potential additional costs above new tax revenue from the developer to the current taxpayers. Simply focusing on the town of New Castle’s taxpayer effects without considering the effects on the district’s taxes is deficient. The equitable solution is to tax the units so that they pay the same taxes as single family homes of the same monetary value.

Jeffrey Mester