The Great Debates

Debates sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Rye, Rye Brook and Port Chester and The Osborn have kept the six candidates for City Council busy — and residents better informed on their positions — the last few weeks. Read on for their answers to many of the critical issues.

Published November 3, 2011 5:36 PM
9 min read

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debatethumbDebates sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Rye, Rye Brook and Port Chester and The Osborn have kept the six candidates for City Council busy — and residents better informed on their positions — the last few weeks. Read on for their answers to many of the critical issues.

debate

Debates sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Rye, Rye Brook and Port Chester and The Osborn have kept the six candidates for City Council busy — and residents better informed on their positions — the last few weeks. Read on for their answers to many of the critical issues.

 

We encourage residents to watch the entire debates, which are available here and here. We also encourage everyone to vote Tuesday, November 8.

 

Flood Mitigation

For Councilwoman Catherine Parker (I) it’s the No. 1 priority. “We’ve learned a lot since the two floods in 2007, and are handling these events better, but that’s reactive, not proactive.

“We’re moving ahead on the sluice gate, which is critical. We will be looking to resize the Upper Pond. One of the holdups there is we have to test the soil. We’ve been waiting for a possible grant, because the test costs over $100,000. We may have to spend the money ourselves because the Upper Pond will buy us more time, and also inches.”

 

The flooding priorities are straightforward at this point, said Laura Brett (R): “Clear the brook and keep it clear, shepherd the sluice gate project through the approvals it needs, and continue to work with the State, the Fed, and the County for funding on upstream projects. We need a sense of urgency, and a Council that maintains that urgency even when the flood is over. We can’t continue to make improvements to the Central Business District knowing that our shopkeepers’ basements will continue to flood, maybe not this year, but next year or the next.”

 

dsackJosh Nathan (D) finds it “mind boggling that we had a major flood four years ago, there was an enormous amount of Council work and activity for two years, and then it suddenly stopped. The Council that is controlled by Mr. Sack’s party has not been really active. They’ve been pushing the papers, doing a few things, and monitoring the sluice gate, which was ready in March.

 

“We must harness the intellectual firepower of our community, and have a very active Flood Coalition Task Force, which needs to be a standing committee of the City Council. We must address flooding at every agenda until the matter is addressed as best as it can.”

 

Councilman Joe Sack (R) objected strongly to Mr. Nathan’s remark about “his” party. “I don’t mind being saddled with my own votes, but I don’t want to be saddled with how other people voted. I have a non-partisan approach. I take responsibility with everyone on the Council to make sure we put forth reasonable solutions. The sluice gate hasn’t happened as quickly as we’d hoped, but it’s going to be completed soon. Eric Moy asked us to clean up the brook after the last flood and we’ve done so.”

 

Rafael Elias-Linero (R) said he’s eager to put his skills to use for the City on flood mitigation. “Remember when Bill Clinton said, ‘You’re getting two for the price of one’? Well, with me, you’re getting someone who has been in the finance industry for the last 16 years and was a civil engineer for ten years working on urbanization projects. I can look at projects and see what’s viable, what’s economically practical. We must be better prepared for floods and ensure that there is a direct channel between the City, the Emergency Services, and residents.”

 

Rye is close to finally implementing the sluice gate, noted Councilwoman Paula Gamache (D). “That should do a lot to mitigate average flooding in Indian Village, the Central Business District, and at the high school field.

 

dgamache“The City has used FEMA funds recently to remove tons of debris from Blind Brook since the last flood event. We had a good opportunity there to get some reimbursement. In addition, the City continues to pursue legal action with regard to Beaver Swamp Brook with Harrison. That’s very important for that neighborhood and we’re staying on top of that. We also need to implement the Old Milton Road Drainage Project, which affects another neighborhood. We need to revisit the water runoff study done several years ago that looked at ways to retain more water on properties and allow for less flooding in neighborhoods.”

 

Tax Savings

 

While the City has very little control over health care and retirement expenses, Mr. Elias-Linero believes efficiencies can be found in two items in the budget – contractual costs, which comprise 17% of the budget, and materials and supplies (13%). “In a recession like now, we have a lot of bargaining power to get very good terms and conditions for all these expenses,” he said. “Especially if we bundle up material and supply purchases with other municipalities. These are tasks that won’t cost us any jobs and would save money.”

Mr. Nathan noted that the largest potential partner for shared services is the Rye City School District, and added there are opportunities with non-profits, but care must be taken because the City funds some. “There has to be real communication with the public about what expectations are,” he said. “People have to understand what might get cut, and whether they want it.” He added that another area for efficiency is collective bargaining and that he is familiar in turning that from a polarizing event into a collaborative one.

 

Mr. Sack cited the City’s re-jiggering of garbage collection pickup routes as a way that money has already been saved. He also mentioned the “onerous” mandate that required Rye to replace its street signs, and his idea that counteracted it. By allowing residents to purchase some of the replaced signs, it brought attention to the mandate, which was eventually eliminated, and added to the City’s coffers. “It’s not always about cutting things. We have to be creative when it comes to revenue and expenses.”

 

dbrettMs. Brett agreed there are opportunities to find greater efficiencies, and applauded the City Council for reactivating the Finance Committee. She recommended that the City focus on private-public partnerships, including those with not-for-profits. “There are lots in town that provide a number of City services, and I think the City should coordinate with them and move some services to the organizations currently providing them.”

 

The City is a much leaner organization than it was a few years ago, commented Ms. Gamache. Last year, the Council found further efficiencies by making the Corporation Counsel position an outside contract and outsourcing parking ticket collection. “Everything must be on the table. There are always ways to do better.”

 

Rye Town Park

 

Mr. Nathan believes the governance of the park needs to be adjusted to recognize the fact the park is wholly within the City of Rye, and that it’s predominantly enjoyed by its citizens from Labor Day to Memorial Day. He added, “It’s important that governance is aligned with financial responsibilities, and as a Councilman I would take that position and negotiate for it.”

If re-elected, Ms. Parker said she hopes she will be appointed to the RTP Commission, because she feels the level of “customer service” for Rye residents has fallen off. In the event Rye Town is dissolved, she would like to pursue a plan for Rye City to manage it.

 

Relations with RTP must be improved now, stressed Ms. Gamache. “Start with the RTP Commission and filter down to the employees who need to be directed to behave appropriately with Rye residents. There’s no excuse for the behavior we’ve been experiencing.” She added the dissolution process is underway.

 

dparkerRepresentation on the RTP Commission should be proportional to the expense Rye bears, stated Mr. Elias-Linero. “Joe Sack has been very effective at improving conditions with parking and safety, and I believe even more of a say should be negotiated. Costs are on the top of everyone’s minds, and it’s only fair that if we pay 48% we get nearly half of the representation.”

 

Ms. Brett noted that a group of residents formed a committee and battled to get “their park back” from cars parking all over the green space. “We fought for that community conversation and got changes there. And that’s an example of an effective way for changes people are asking for, whether it’s fewer regulations or more access to the beach offseason.”

 

Mr. Sack said that the key on the RTP Commission, with only two of six votes, is having someone willing to stand up for Rye’s interests. “Regarding the police issue, we don’t get reimbursed for patrolling the park. For example, on July 4 our police overtime runs in the tens of thousands, and we’ve demanded that we get that money back, because we shouldn’t have to lay it out to subsidize a bigger operation.”

 

1037 Boston Post Road

 

“The prior Council bought it for $6.2 million with the idea of putting a police station there,” noted Mr. Sack. “But that building floods and the police station was going to cost $25 million. Understanding the community didn’t have the appetite for that, the Council backed off. The City may want to consider looking further for a public use, so we don’t have to take a bath on it right now. There is a dramatic need for parking.”

Ms. Brett thinks we can “capitalize on the engagement of the public to come up with a solution for the property. We have residents with a lot of financial and real estate acumen. Maybe there is a way to build something there and provide needed parking. New building at 1037 could support our downtown.  There are creative ideas we need to explore further with the community.”

 

dnathanMr. Nathan said he’s been pretty clear that the old CVS property shouldn’t be zoned for substantial residential development “because that would put an enormous burden on the School District and drive up taxes for everyone. It has some potential for commercial use. It might warrant exploring with the School District as office space.”

 

Ms. Gamache said, “Selling the building would free up money for capital improvements, which we desperately need. The City’s major hope is that it doesn’t have to sell to a buyer who is going to do something to it that the City doesn’t want.”

 

Mr. Elias-Linero would like to “tie the property to revitalization of downtown. We’re one of the premiere target markets because of our purchasing power. We could make it very attractive for a developer to come in and do something beneficial for all.”

 

Ms. Parker took exception to the suggestion that Rye needed revitalization. “We have an extremely vital main street — stores of character, mom and pops, retail chains — and a low vacancy rate. 1037 could be mixed-use — a restaurant, some retail, a number of apartments, especially for empty nesters.”

 

Future of Playland

 

“The Council voted to approve a resolution to the County that the public space remain the same or be increased, that the historic buildings and rides be respected, and that sensitivity to environmental concerns and sustainability be maintained,” said Ms. Gamache. “I’m most concerned that there is no environmental denigration from any new project there.”

drelMr. Elias-Linero would like to “maintain the main attractions, but also develop the site for more yearround use — through public spaces and venues that would fit the character of the park.”

 

Ms. Brett said she “took a leadership role because it is a national historic site. As a private citizen, I think it’s terrific we’re reinventing Playland. Public access to the waterfront is essential, as is having some businesses there, keeping the historic rides, and giving the County the opportunity to address the field space shortage.”

 

After listening to Ms. Brett’s statement, Ms. Parker said she’d like to correct it. “We co-hosted a forum on Playland. We had many meetings and mini-forums. The process started in early 2010 when the Mayor said to me that he was thinking of getting rid of the Playland Advisory Group, and I said, ‘Do you know the County Executive has plans to put out a proposal on Playland?’”

 

The impact Playland has on the neighborhood is Mr. Nathan’s biggest concern. “We need to make changes that are good for Rye — in terms of noise, traffic and safety. The plan needs to make economic sense and we need to make sure who’s operating it has a good track record.”

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