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Forum Meeting Focuses on Boards' Roles in Village

Panel of board members explains functions and current issues.

The Scarsdale Forum's Thursday night membership meeting took the form of a panel discussion on the inner workings of village government.

The program was billed as the first in a series of meetings that will highlight the boards, councils, and committees that serve the village by advising elected officials and performing state-mandated functions. The panel at the Feb. 4 event included Village Historian Eric Rothschild; Conservation Advisory Council Chair Bart Hamlin; Library Board Chair Joyce Hirsch; Village Librarian Elizabeth Bermel; Parks and Recreation Advisory Council Chair William Natbony; and Zoning Appeals Board Chair Seth Ross.

Historian talks about the future

Rothschild gave a glimpse into current and future historical projects. The village recently acquired a collection of 800 Scarsdale-area newspapers, some dating back to the 1750s, which Rothschild and some local teachers are hoping to get into the hands of Scarsdale students. He said subjects for upcoming projects may include the Founding Fathers, Scarsdale native James Fenimore Cooper, who wrote The Last of the Mohicans and The Spy, and a look at the development of Scarsdale's unique non-partisan political system.

Environmental Council Chair advocates sustainability

Conservation Advisory Council Chair Bart Hamlin spoke mainly about the prospects of the environmental sustainability movement, calling it "one of the most fascinating topics of our time".

Hamlin also noted that the village is looking into solving perceived difficulties with so-called "green building", which could include streamlining the application process for new projects.

The Village Board of Architectural Review, which has the power to approve or deny such applications, "is inclined to say that green building is not in character aesthetically" with more traditional projects, Hamlin said, adding that developing technologies are more easily integrated with traditional building materials.

Library officials optimistic about new programs, new librarian

The Library Board was represented by Chairwoman Joyce Hirsch and Village Librarian Elizabeth Bermel. Hirsch explained that the board's top priorities, enumerated by a state mandate, are to select a director for the village's library system and to fund and evaluate programs offered by the library. Bermel was hired about three months ago after what Hirsch called a "complex" six-month process. Bermel and Hirsch said that their priorities include utilizing ever-evolving electronic technology and seeking out public opinion on library programming.

"We realized that we had had no formal public input in ten years," Hirsch said. "We are coming to the people, so please tell us what new resources you'd like to see."

Hirsch and Bermel both mentioned the village's new Library Express project, a book vending machine at the Scarsdale Train Station that will allow Scarsdale Library cardholders to choose from about 400 books at a time. Users can insert their card into the machine, select a book, and then return the book to the machine. The program begins this week.

Bermel also noted a seven percent increase in circulation over the last year.

Parks and Recreation Chair discusses priorities

The Advisory Council on Parks and Recreation is tasked with updating and enforcing regulations related to youth sports organizations and regulating the use of parks and fields. Chairman William Natbony said that the emphasis in recent years has been on the "recreation" end of "parks and recreation", and that the council has been asked by village officials to focus more on parks. He announced that the council would issue a report on the state of the village's parks in the next two or three weeks. Natbony also said he would like to work on developing recreational programs for seniors.

Prompted by a question from the audience, Natbony noted that proposed fee increases for programs like summer camp are modest and necessary, and will "increase program quality".

Zoning Board Chair seeks to "demystify" board's role

The final panelist was Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman Seth Ross, who said that the board and its responsibilities are "frequently misunderstood" and that he was seeking to "demystify" the board's role in the village. The board's task is to make decisions regarding building projects that are not strictly in accordance with village zoning laws. Ross explained the process, and took some time to single out residents who come to board meetings with complaints that often distract from the task at hand.

"You don't have to ignore or deny your emotions, but don't let them get the better of you; we can't let that impact our decisions," Ross said, adding that relevant input from residents is valuable and welcomed. He also said that the most objectionable projects are often those that comply with zoning laws, and thus never come before the board.

"There was, possibly, a lack of foresight when those [zoning] ordinances were drafted," he said.

After the panelists spoke, Mayor Carolyn Stevens reminded the audience that the village is looking to fill openings on several boards and councils. More information is available from Village Hall.

Boine Johnson, who chairs the Forum's budget committee, said that the village is losing $40 million in assessed property values and the lost revenue would have implications for the village across the board. The village typically sees up to a one percent increase in assessed value annually, and without that boon, Johnson said, residents are facing a ten percent tax increase and program cuts.

"We're in for very, very, very tough times, and there is little room for improvements and enhancements," he said. "In 15 years, the only people who will be able to live here are those who can pay $50,000 [a year] in total taxes."

The Forum's next membership meeting will be held April 8 at 7:45 p.m. at the Scarsdale Public Library.

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