Editor's note: Every candidate running for City Council in New Rochelle in the Nov. 8 election was sent the same list of questions. The answers were only edited for style. Ilyse Spertus is running against Councilman Barry Fertel, D-District 5. Fertel's responses to the questionnaire can be found here.
Name: Ilyse L. Spertus
Occupation: Clinical Psychologist
Family: Married with twin 7-year-old children
Line(s) on the ballot: Republican, Conservative, Independence
Patch: Last winter was particularly severe, taxing city resources. What can be done to avoid similar situations?
Who would have predicted a severe winter storm on Oct. 29 when the fall leaves were still on the trees?
While we can’t predict the weather, we can plan and prepare so that New Rochelle puts its valued resources to best use.
When it comes to winter weather, we need to rank high-priority essential service positions to cover safety, snow removal and dangerous pot hole repair over administrative positions.
I would ask the Department of Public Works to draw up "worst case" contingency plans for snow removal including the added costs for night-time shifts and drawing on manpower from other parts of the city workforce.
It is not only prudent to have the logistics, budgeting and contingency plans firmly established before situations occur, it is essential for fiscal responsibility.
Having begun to study and scrutinize the budget, I see potential cost-savings that would allow New Rochelle to devote more resources to safety, snow removal and street repairs.
Patch: The city adopted the GreeNR Sustainability Plan recently. What should the city concentrate on in the short run and long run to implement it? Or should it be something that is implemented at all?
Going green is not only commendable, it is essential for the long-term viability of our planet. That said, I have some concerns about the GreeNR Sustainability Plan, including that the funds for GreeNR are being diverted from other essential services, and the costs of regulation might adversely effect long-term business development.
It is important to note that many families, including my own, value environmentally friendly, energy-conserving practices and are taking personal responsibility for reducing their carbon footprint. Many New Rochelle residents carpool, take public transportation or travel by foot or cycle whenever possible, buy energy-efficient appliances that we unplug when not in use and have taken steps to reduce dependence on oil through better insulating our homes and, in some cases, using alternative energy sources such as solar panels and wood-burning pellet stoves.
By raising consciousness about the value of going green and educating people about simple, money-savings ways to do this, I trust they are going to be motivated to self-regulate their energy use which does not involve taxpayer dollars needed for government regulation.
Of the 43 initiatives in GreeNR, many of them are already being implemented, which is a testament to our community's commitment to being more green. However, it appears that some initiatives require significant capital investment at a time when our City is under financial strain. During these tough financial times, many residents prioritize essential services over investment in green initiatives for the City.
An additional concern I have about GreeNR is that it takes our focus away from interventions that we can actually do now to enable our residents to be more green. One idea is adding sidewalks. In particular, sidewalks on Quaker Ridge Road would allow families to walk to the Ward School.
GreeNR has limitations locally as it does not focus on protecting the quality of life of our neighborhoods. In the past few years, we have allowed builders to build high-rise apartment buildings without any attempt to ask for energy efficient heating and cooling units. The Avalon uses some of the most inefficient heat/cooling units available on the market.
If we impose green standards on our homeowners, why have we not asked one of our largest developers to meet green standards too?
The long-run implications of GreeNR are more complex. At this juncture, no one really knows how GreeNR will impact our City 10 or 20 years from now. In nearly all cases, additional regulation tends to increase the cost of doing business. My concern is the long-term impact of GreeNR will increase development costs going forward. If elected to City Council I would ensure that Green NR is structured so the developers would have to assume these costs, not the New Rochelle taxpayer.
Patch: Declining revenues and increasing costs seem to be a fact of life. How would you adjust the city's budget without hurting the quality of life for its residents?
When financial times get tough, it is critically important to have good leadership at the top. That means if we're going to cut costs, we need to start the cuts at the top so the burden is shared fairly across the community. Unfortunately, cuts over the past four years have fallen disproportionately on the people actually providing the services rather than the people in administrative functions. From 2008 through 2011 (budgeted), costs for the Mayor's Office and City Council were up 8 percent and 15 percent, respectively. Compare that with our spending on Police & Fire (up 4 percent) and the Department of Public Works (up 4 percent). In fact, total spending on administrative positions increased 7 percent over the past four years while service personnel costs grew only 4 percent. If it feels like we're not getting sufficient snow removal or pothole repair, there's a good reason: We've laid off many of the workers who are responsible for such services. I have called on City Council members to give up their lifetime health-care perks as a sign that the people on top are serious about our challenges. And when elected, I will seek to have a team of financial experts appointed to a committee to make the administrative side of our government more cost-effective.
Patch: Parking is always an issue in New Rochelle. What is the solution?
This is a very good question, because despite the emphasis in our 1995 Comprehensive Plan to invest in our parking infrastructures to support growth and development, we have not executed on such a plan. In fact, we have decreased our on-street metered parking from 500 to 248 spots, and we have allowed one of our main downtown municipal lots, the Church/Division lot, to go into disrepair. This lot had money set aside for its upkeep, which clearly was spent elsewhere, as this lot is currently structurally unsound and poorly lit making it unsafe for patrons to utilize. Lack of parking is a deterrent to attracting business.
We have conducted two recent parking studies, one in 2007 and one again this year. We have many plans about how to improve parking. However, we have not executed these plans. Avalon residents should park in Avalon lots. Permits can also be issued to park in municipal lots leaving on-street parking available for patrons of stores and restaurants. Parking regulations must be consistent. I recommend abolishing the 24-hour meters and make parking overnight prohibited on the streets, again leaving these spots available for patrons. 24-hour meters do not encourage business. The most recent parking study also suggests considering utilizing a professional management company to manage our parking structures. I would like to do a cost/benefit analysis to determine if this would be cost effective for the City.
Currently, the City loses money on its New Roc garage and has had difficulty maintaining its facilities. Additionally, our Commissioner of Development is bogged down in overseeing parking. I would rather see him spending his time seeking out commercial and retail business for our community.
Patch: What are some concrete ways the city can bring more businesses to New Rochelle?
We do have some limitations imposed on us by our lack of investment in our infrastructure (e.g., maintaining enough on-street parking, renovation and maintenance of our Church/Division parking lot, aging sewage system, etc.), but I believe there is still a lot we can do going forward to rebuild our City.
First we must create a more business-friendly environment in our City. We need to enforce regulations that we currently have to maintain our buildings and storefronts up to code to make the areas look more desirable to potential investors and consumers. Second, we need to engage in a referral partnership with one of our local banks to streamline the financing process, and third, be more flexible in working with new business to help them meet our zoning and permitting requirements.
Finally, we can create a resource center for interested business owners to help them locate appropriate venues for their businesses, negotiate financing with our local banks and guide them through our new streamlined zoning and permitting process.
If elected, I plan to be actively involved with our local business owners about meeting their needs and listening to their ideas for revitalizing the area. Ongoing support to the business owners will allow issues to be resolved quickly and efficiently.
Larger projects we need to work on include a branding and marketing campaign for our City. Our City is in close proximity to Manhattan, we are directly on the train line and right off I-95 and the Hutchinson River Parkway. We have beautiful art deco buildings and storefronts available for businesses. We need pride in our community and need to brand our City with greater enthusiasm to attract interest from potential investors.
Our commissioner of development can attend retail conventions with our building owners trying to match them with potential retailers looking for space. He currently cannot afford the time to attend these conventions as he is bogged down on bureaucratic needs, such as parking. One of the suggestions from our most recent parking study is to consider whether our parking facilities should be privately managed (see above).
One of the aspects of running for City Council that I have enjoyed most is meeting the wonderful people who live in our community. I have met people from all backgrounds and individuals with expertise in many different areas. I believe there are plenty of talented salespeople in our community who would consider an opportunity to work on commission to help our great City find retailers to match our beautiful buildings.
I would also like to evaluate the possibility of issuing a request for proposals for commercial development that would bring in jobs and daytime consumers for our downtown.
Patch: How can development be used to increase the quality of life for New Rochelle residents and help the city's coffers?
I would discontinue the practice of using tax abatements for residential developments. Avalon 1 & 2 reduces the school district operating budget by approximately $7.5 million per year. Additionally, there are now 116 children from these building enrolled in the school district that impacts the schools on the order of $2.4 million per year. Prior to these residential projects, abatements were used for and . These abatements, which have expired (Home Depot's abatement was 10 years and Costco's was 15 years), were far shorter than the 30-year structures offered to Avalon. While the abatements were in place, revenue was provided via sales tax. Currently, both of these businesses pay property taxes. These two projects were well-planned, and serve as examples of how to use abatements in an effective manner.
As a member of council I would continue down this path. Any abated project that I would support would have to provide sales tax revenue while the abatements were in place. I would also impose clawbacks which would require additional payments if sales tax revenue targets were not achieved. I look to Port Chester as an example. Port Chester has been more effective then New Rochelle in its development process. Despite the impact of the recession, Port Chester has seen sales tax revenue increase while our sales tax revenue base has declined. What stands out, Port Chester will not offer tax abatements on residential development projects. The maximum term they will offer abatement for is 20 years. I believe it is imperative that we move along a similar path. Doing so will increase the quality of life for the City's residents and will increase the City's revenue base. Increasing our revenue base will help us pay for services that maintain the quality of life of our neighborhoods, such as leaf and snow removal, street maintenance, staffing of our essential services, etc.
Patch: If there is anything you want to add or if you'd like to make a statement, please feel free.
For me, running for City Council is not about politics; it's about New Rochelle. I love New Rochelle and am confident that my leadership, vision, hard work and keen understanding of complex issues will help our great City reach its full potential.
If I am elected to City Council, I will evaluate all decisions and issues brought before me with a thoughtful and analytical eye. I am a researcher at heart and will take the time to discern what is in the best interest of our community.
I will tap into our greatest resource, our people, who have expertise in many areas the City needs. In talking with hundreds of residents, I learned that they want to make a meaningful contribution to New Rochelle, but don't know how. They are looking for vision and inspirational leadership; I would be honored to lead the way for them.
I believe that when passion and purpose fuse, anything is possible. I am fueled by the passion to serve New Rochelle. I firmly believe that together we can bring about prosperity and growth to the great City we call home.