Miriam Levitt-Flisser has served as a Village Trustee, chair for the Village’s Municipal Services, Sustainability Recreation and Technology committees and as a liaison for multiple councils. Now, she’s Scarsdale’s new mayor. In this interview, the Village’s recently elected figurehead speaks out on taxes, the countywide affordable housing mandate and the reason why she became mayor.
Scarsdale Patch: As mayor, can you explain how officials let residents know what their concerns are? How do you reach out and gather information, comments and ideas?
Levitt-Flisser: Multiple techniques are used to gather information. Residents can interface with trustees, the mayor and the Village managers, as well as in many different locations.
One location that is very popular is Village Board meetings, where there are public comment sessions where residents can make public comments. All our committee meetings are open to the public, and people take advantage of them. We always invite comments at the meetings, too.
Side note: When you see us address an issue on the Village Board, that’s the end point of a long legislative process. Before we get to that point, we have committee meetings on every single piece of legislation. Everything goes through a committee process that’s open to the public.
In addition, local organizations provide us with input as well. The Scarsdale Forum is an organization that any resident can join, and at the Scarsdale forum all members carefully observe topics of interest that the Village Board and School Board are undertaking. They then have committees to give us opinions on every one of those topics.
You don’t even need to be a citizen to vote. Even our foreign residents in Scarsdale can join the Forum and vote there. So what happens is that the Forum may present reports about the schools or about the budget, and those reports are voted by the membership and then passed on to the Village Board. There’s a tremendous amount of interface.
We also have written comments. Even email is accepted. If you send an email to the Village board, you send a copy to Donna Conkling, who is our Village clerk. She then puts it in our Agenda packet so that everyone receives it. This is a terrific way for people to reach us by written communication.
Additionally, we have surveys, depending on the topic. Sometimes, the committee will use something like Survey Monkey to survey the members of an organization or project to see how it’s going. Sometimes, we hire consultants to conduct surveys. Recently, we did a review of the Village Center for future planning, and surveys were created for that too.
Finally, Village trustees are readily available. You can always reach us. We have listed phone numbers, we have emails that we’re happy to give out and residents are always interacting with us. Village members can really make their issues and opinions known very easily, and they will be taken seriously by the Village Board as well.
Scarsdale Patch: What have been the biggest issues in the Village since you've been living here? Where do you stand on them?
Levitt-Flisser: I’d rather talk about the issues that are facing the Village now. After all, I’ve been living here for 35 years!
The biggest issue is one that’s facing everyone in America – how to preserve our beautiful Village while being placed under new financial constraints. There are structured financial constraints that the Village has to deal with, yet we still want to maintain the services that we provide for our residents. The Village benefits when there's more prosperity. Hopefully we’ll see more prosperity because it will leave us – the Village has had a financial cushion in place that’s now fading away because of reduced revenue.
Also, we’re trying to maintain our culture in a beautiful village that is a perfect example of casual elegance. We have to be sure that we’re always renewing and revitalizing our surroundings. However, we don’t want to destroy it with changes that will largely affect its structure.
It’s still a village. We want to preserve the village. We don’t want to make it an urban environment. We want to keep our current lifestyle.
You know, zoning laws created Scarsdale. It was the first town in American that had zoning laws that subjected it to a residential and restricted commercial development. It’s a village in a park. So I would say that financial security and the preservation of our investment in our community are the most important issues that the Village faces today.
Scarsdale Patch: Residents keep saying in surveys – i.e., the Village’s Long-Range Planning Document – that they want more nightlife downtown. What steps are Village officials taking to address these wishes?
Levitt-Flisser: We’ve already done one thing – we’ve reduced the amount of required restaurant parking, which are a key part of evening life. So the Village Board of Trustees took that under consideration, and we reduced the amount of parking. Parking is expensive for restaurants, especially because they’re businesses that don’t have a high yield – it’s tremendous overhead to ask them to absorb. By reducing that, we’ve helped restaurants with that problem.
Scarsdale Patch: And how can the Village reconcile the conflicting desires to have a quiet village – which some residents want - and nightlife, which different residents want?
Levitt-Flisser: With good rules. We can’t let a private organization impinge on a private entity or other residents’ right to have quiet. And we do have noise ordinances in Scarsdale. Also, one of the ways we maintain a bucolic village setting is maintaining green areas in Scarsdale.
Scarsdale Patch: What's the status of the police/fire building now completing construction?
Levitt-Flisser: It’s almost finished. It’s slated to be completed in the middle of June. You should always put down that the building is designed to accommodate the newest type of fire trucks. That’s the reason that we really built it — because we couldn’t accommodate the recent models.
It’s also ADA compliant, and it has excellent facilities for male and females employees. And it’s beautiful, too! We took careful effort to move trees behind building up the hill because the property behind the hill belongs to the Village and that’s where it interfaces with residents’ home. We moved trees up to preserve them so that views would be enhanced. That’s the kind of detail for which Scarsdale is famous.
Scarsdale Patch: What statewide issues should Scarsdale remain conscientious about?
Levitt-Flisser: The major part of Scarsdale’s budget is fixed by the state. Costs for health care and pensions, which are state mandated benefits, affect us very strongly. And currently, they are working on a system of tax caps, which means that the tax levy will be fixed so that the Village will be unable to absorb increases. That’s an issue that needs to be observed as well – to see what the state is going to preserve.
What’s going on with the countywide affordable housing settlement?
Obviously it affects everyone. The Village is waiting for the county and other village municipalities to make statements about what’s going to happen next about it. The county is the lead agency, and we need to see how that’s going to clear up before we can proceed.
Scarsdale Patch: Why did you want to serve as mayor? And don’t say, “I wanted to give back to the community,” because that’s a given!
Levitt-Flisser: My motivation to serve as Village mayor is because I was given a home here in America, and I was welcomed and raised here. I was able to pursue my education here, and my children were as well. I have a gratitude that runs very deep.
And I have to tell you that in Scarsdale, everyone who works on the boards and councils are volunteers. You have to believe that these folks really want to help their community. None of them are getting paid to do this. And most of these people have very high-pressure jobs, but they still manage to produce what needs to be produced.
In Scarsdale, we’re always looking to revitalize and rejuvenate programs. We’re always reinventing our Village and making it more efficient, and we’re always improving our investment in it- not just financially.
Our love for our community – that’s our motivation.