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As a former mayor of the City of Rye and chair of the Rye Recreation Commission, I have extensive experience in planning and implementing both the City Capital Plan and the Recreation Master Plan. I am well versed on community needs and have led numerous outreach efforts to identify and deliver solutions that meet those needs. In isolation, the plan to move the DPW may have merit within the four corners of the plan; however, when put in context of the overwhelming capital needs of Rye — roads, flooding, sewers, sidewalks, fields, Police Station updating, general infrastructure maintenance, sidewalks, and roads again to name a few — it stretches the City’s capital capabilities in terms of priorities, dollars, debt, personnel, and core operational service levels.

With a high residential to commercial tax base ratio, Rye in many ways operates as a small town and supports practical point solutions that improve quality of life and increase overall community property values. In my experience, the successful capital projects are ones that have identified and solved a specific community problem within the priorities of the total capital needs — the Downtown improvement project, the Damiano Center, Whitby, the Sluice Gate, Disbrow Fields, and affordable senior housing to name a few. The capital projects that have proven to be problematic – the Police Station move, the Lester’s site, the NYS Thruway lease, the Nursery Fields, for example – are ones that looked to solve one problem, but also created others. The DPW plan does that as well.

The unintended consequences of such a transformative plan will bring more problems to the City than it can handle to include the huge financial investment, cost overruns, the increased debt levels, disruption to staff, disruption to City services, the lack of focus and resources on other core capital needs, the lack of strong project management and oversight, and aesthetic impacts among others. There is a reason why other municipal governments do not take on a transformation of this magnitude – because the return is never fully realized from what was expected, but the true cost (both known and unknown) is much greater than planned for.

What to do? Stick to the original plan. Plans have been put together for the Boston Post Road site for a multipurpose field. RCDS has been a willing partner. The opportunity to purchase the land in balance with the risk of other potential uses keeps the City in control. The explosion of club teams, youth, and female participation have been well-documented, and highlight the need for more field facilities. Rye is behind other communities in field quality and space. Current DPW facilities can be prioritized and upgraded as needed.

Most importantly, keep it transparent and accountable. Nothing raises the temperature in town more than land-use decisions – and rightfully so. The Council will be better served if it moves forward on legislation I proposed that would video and televise all land-use committees and meetings. The public needs to know the what, why, who, when, and how land-use decisions are made that impact overall property values. The cost is minimal with today’s technology. Surrounding communities have done this for some time. It’s time for Rye to bring the public into its land-use decision-making process.

  • Douglas French, Mayor of the City of Rye from 2010-2014

Astorino spokesman Ned McCormack’s May 5 letter is highly misleading. While McCormack says that the character of the Westchester County Airport will not change under privatization, nothing could be further from the truth.

McCormack notes that the number of gates and the passenger cap at the airport will not change. However, these limits apply only to airlines, which, according to the FAA, are less than 8% of airport traffic. Private flights, the other 92%, already cause most noise complaints and curfew violations and are free to grow without bounds. A private operator in search of profits will look for growth wherever it can by adding airline flights, lobbying for an increase in the passenger cap, and wooing corporate jets from other area airports.

If Astorino really believes in preserving Westchester’s quality of life, he should consider former County Executive Andy Spano’s muscular efforts to keep the airport a good neighbor. Today, six airline flights depart daily at or before the 6:30 a.m. curfew. In 2001, Spano threatened to close the entrance of the parking garage until 5:50 a.m. to encourage airlines to respect the curfew. Instead, Astorino looks to sell our County asset and the well being of our citizens to a private corporation.

Astorino claims there is a huge amount of money to unlock from the airport, but this also obscures the truth. The $140 million over 40 years the County stands to gain from airport privatization is less than 0.2% of the County’s $1.8 billion annual budget. Privatization would also reduce county revenues from other sources. Since 1991, the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program has given Westchester $102 million in federal money for security, infrastructure, and environmental projects at the airport. These grants secure the airport’s future and provide good jobs for our neighbors. But under privatization, the FAA would have given the county $9 million less. Privatization would also eliminate the $7 million per year the County would receive from the airport parking garage starting in 2023.

The 30- to 40-year length of the proposed lease is even more unacceptable because Astorino’s administration has evaded public input and access to the airport master plan, which will guide the development of and operations at the airport for the next decade. Even though his airport advisory board admits the plan has already been sent to the FAA for approval, Astorino continues to deny access to the plan both to the Board of Legislators and to the public. They claim, contrary to the FAA’s own guidance, that public input should not be solicited until after the FAA has approved the plan. How can we trust Astorino when he blocks efforts by the public to understand and comment on what he wants to do?

The privatization of Westchester County Airport would be a disastrous mistake that would irreparably harm the quality of life of our residents for decades into the future. Astorino’s original plan was rightly defeated last December, and voters should demand – at the ballot box this November if necessary – that the Board of Legislators end their pursuit of this foolhardy and shortsighted initiative.

— Jonathan Wang

Sierra Club Westchester Airport Committee

Once again, the City of Rye will carry on the tradition of honoring its deceased veterans on Memorial Day, Monday, May 29. Rye American Legion Post 128 and the Auxiliary will sponsor a parade, beginning at the Rye Train Station at 9:30 a.m. and proceeding along Purchase Street to the Village Green for ceremonies.

The public is invited to enjoy music, marchers, trucks, and cars. The Rye Historical Society will provide horses and riders. Antique cars will also travel the parade route.

At 10:30 a.m., Post Commander Fred de Barros will begin the formal ceremony on the Village Green. Mayor Joseph Sack will greet guests.

Keynote speaker Martin Dockery, a Rye resident, will share his experience and perspectives. In September 1962, when he landed in Saigon, he was a young, determined, idealistic U.S. Army first lieutenant convinced of America’s imminent victory in Vietnam. While most of the 12,000 U.S. military advisors in-country at the time filled support positions in Saigon and other major cities, Dockery was one of a handful of advisors assigned to Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) combat units.

For eight months, Dockery lived and fought in the heart of the Mekong Delta with an ARVN infantry battalion on missions and operations that often lasted several days. In his book, “Lost in Translation: Vietnam: A Combat Advisor’s Story”, he provides inescapable evidence that as early as 1962 the writing was on the wall concerning the outcome of the Vietnam War.

The annual Americanism Award will be presented to Tom Saunders, former Rye Post 128 Commander, and dedicated leader at SPRYE and Rye Rotary.

The ceremony features the traditional reading of the “Gettysburg Address” and the reading of the names of those from Rye who fought and perished in the wars of the 20th century. The John M. Kingery Memorial Day Essay Contest Awards will be presented to winning Rye High School students. The program will also include recognition of Rye Eagle Scouts.

Robin Latimer, president of the American Legion Auxiliary will sing the National Anthem and “God Bless America”.

Prior to the parade, members of the Rye Fire Department will conduct a brief ceremony and lay flowers at the monument in the circle at Milton Road and Grace Church Street at 8:15 a.m. The monument honors Rye firefighters who served their nation.

The City of Rye’s seasonal leaf blower ban went into effect May 1. Residents are asked to remind their lawn service companies and contractors that the use of both gas and electric blowers is prohibited until October 1.

Municipal entities, schools, religious institutions, membership clubs, retirement communities, and cemeteries are exempt.

For further details of the City law, go to the City’s website, ryeny.gov.

The Rye Record is a very enjoyable newspaper covering community events and beyond.

I usually find insightful advice in the “Ask Alice” column. In the May 5 issue, however, I was surprised and disappointed. One set of grandparents writes about their <<weekly>> visits with their daughter’s family and less than warm interactions with their son-in-law. Yikes! Who would want their in-laws to show up weekly? The young family must be free to explore their own community and beyond, plus sports and activities with their own friends. The grandparents should do the same, taking in some museums and a movie once in a while. So much enforced togetherness is a burden for all and a pleasure for none. Perhaps once a month there could some interaction if it’s convenient.

Also, in John Schwarz’s “Ruminations” column, the grandfather of 18, two of them twins, expresses wonderment at the large number of twins in the world now. With IVF, twins are much more common than in the past.

Thank you for your quality newspaper!

<— Janet Darlington

A twin, conceived the old-fashioned way, mother of four, and grandmother of ten>

By law, the County must pass a balanced budget each year. Last fall, County Executive Astorino and a bi-partisan majority of the County Board of Legislators approved a balanced budget for 2017 that accomplished a number of things.

It held spending to $1.8 billion, the same amount as the County Executive’s first budget seven years ago, and it continued a seven-year run of either lowering or holding the county tax levy flat. Consequently, $400 million has stayed in the pockets of seniors, young families, and small businesses when you compare County Executive Astorino’s seven budgets to annual increases of just 2 percent, the amount allowable under the state’s cap.

It’s also critical to note that the spending and tax savings were achieved <without> drawing money from the county’s reserves. According to audited figures, the reserves, commonly called the “rainy day” fund, were $164.5 million on the day County Executive Astorino came into office and were $164.7 million at the end of 2015. A similar figure is expected next month when the auditors close the books for 2016.

For those who say tax hikes amount to just pennies a day, those pennies add up quickly. In his last four years in office, former County Executive Andrew Spano depleted the rainy day reserve fund by $25 million and increased taxes by $175 million. Compare that to the Astorino record and you have a $600 million swing in what taxpayers had to pay and what they could keep.

One way that County Executive Astorino is making Westchester more affordable is by unlocking the hidden value of County assets. A key example is the Westchester County Airport.

By taking advantage of a Federal Aviation Administration program, Westchester can tap surplus revenues generated at the airport, which until now have had to stay at the airport. Under the proposed public-private partnership, net proceeds from the airport into the County’s general fund are expected to be at least $140 million – money that for the first time can be used to pay for police, parks, roads, day care and other services.

The public should also know the character of the airport is not changing. The county will continue to own the property. Yes, an outside company will manage the airport, but that has been the case since the end of World War II. The number of gates will remain at four and current passenger caps will also remain in effect.

Westchester’s great quality of life means nothing if people can’t afford to live here. The Astorino record shows a commitment to affordability by holding the line on taxes and spending and smartly positioning Westchester for the future.

  • Ned McCormack

<Mr. McCormack is Westchester’s Director of Communications and Senior Advisor to the County Executive.>

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