Business & Finance

'State of the Towns' Focuses on Cooperative Efforts

Residents listen as town leaders give updates on their towns' progress. Credits: Photo by Gabrielle Bilik

KATONAH, N.Y.--Sometimes it takes more than one head to solve a problem. And that, it seems, is no problem for the town leaders of North Salem, Bedford, Lewisboro and Pound Ridge, who were brought together early this month for a fourth annual forum sponsored by  the League of Women Voters of North East Westchester. 

“What’s so nice about it is they have such a good feeling between them,” Del Bashkow, co-president of the league, said of the towns’ elected officials. “They get together often; they like each other, and they put their heads together to solve problems, which is really unusual.”

At the Sept. 6 get-together at Katonah Library, the supervisors shared what was going on in their respective municipalities. Supervisor Warren Lucas, for example, spoke about the measures North Salem has taken in the last year at Peach Lake to reduce sulfur in its water runoff. Additionally, he discussed improvements in the town’s infrastructure, including the repaving of roads and the improvements to such town buildings as the courthouse and police station.

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“In general, I think we’re doing OK,” he said. 

After each supervisor spoke similarly, much of an hour-long discussion revolved around the municipalities’ cooperation and the more recent intermunicipal agreements they have and are pursuing. At the end they opened the floor for public comment and discussion.

Among those is a recent agreement between Pound Ridge, Lewisboro and Somers with the Westchester County Office for Women and the Westchester County Family Justice Center. The towns have agreed  to assist with training for the police departments in lethality assessment and to provide services to victims of domestic abuse. North Salem signed the agreement in August. 

Also in August, North Salem, Lewisboro and Pound Ridge signed an agreement authorizing the sharing of highway equipment. 

“We’ve always borrowed each other’s highway equipment with no official agreement,” said Peter Parsons, supervisor of Lewisboro. Now, he said, it’s official. 

Chris Burdick, supervisor of Bedford, said the forum is a valuable platform for residents to learn about the ongoing cooperation between municipalities and how it benefits them. 

“I think it very helpful for people to have the opportunity not only just to hear about our individual towns but the degree to which we supervisors are working together a great deal in trying so solve shared problems, or regional problems, regardless of political party,” Burdick said. “We work together extremely well and we have common objectives and I think that by working together, we’re able to get a whole lot more done than otherwise would be achievable.” 

Lucas agreed, and referenced the Community Choice Aggregation program the municipalities take part in, which gives members the opportunity to purchase energy in bulk. The program was put into effect in 2015 after Sustainable Westchester Inc., a local non-profit representing 40 communities in Westchester, was selected by New York State to manage the first Community Choice Aggregation pilot program under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) strategy. The consortium of local governments, which is called Westchester Smart Power, lets municipalities contract directly with energy suppliers, acting as a single buyer, to realize bulk discounts on retail rates and to choose power from clean, renewable sources, according to Sustainable Westchester. 

“That’s not a shared service between governments,” said Richard Lyman, supervisor of Pound Ridge. “It’s one that’s been brought about by an agreement among governments...that would not have been possible without the collaboration among municipalities in Westchester County.” 

Lucas also referred to the East of Hudson (EOH) Watershed Corp., a local development corporation established by the municipalities in northern Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess counties in the New York City Watershed to engage in stormwater retrofit projects to meet the requirements for phosphorus reduction as defined by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). 

The benefits of such collaborations are evident, Lucas said, noting that North Salem has saved $3 million over 10 years through the EOH Watershed Corp.  

Additionally, Lucas said, the corporation was eventually intended to become a taxing district; however, due to efforts by the municipalities, that never happened, ultimately saving taxpayer dollars. 

“This was something that’s somewhat sophisticated that a town by itself might not be able to do,” he added. 

Other shared services mentioned were three Advanced Life Support emergency vehicles shared by five towns. These vehicles called “fly cars” do not transport patients to the hospital. Instead, an ambulance that responds to emergencies along with the fly car handles the hospital transport, allowing paramedics in the fly cars to respond to additional emergencies. Basic Life Support offered by the North Salem Volunteer Ambulance Corps.(NSVAC), Lucas said, includes CPR, and the treatment of situations involving choking, drowning and hypothermia. Advanced Life Support is  a set of protocols and skills that extend Basic Life Support to further support the circulation  and opening of airways. Treatments include the intravenous administering of medications and tracheal intubation.  Since people calling 911 generally don’t know which services are needed, Westchester Emergency Medical Services (WEMS) often responds to calls along with North Salem Ambulances.

“From 2015-2106 ALS has rolled on 352 and 346 calls respectively in North Salem,” Lucas said. “Out of those numbers about half needed the ALS Paramedic, 158 and 164 respectively.”

These additional services, he said, have “saved some lives,” however they come at an additional cost.

There is a formula used to calculate the cost for each municipality, Lucas said.  North Salem is responsible for $111,449 annually. That number is determined by value, population, square miles and number of calls. Other municipalities pay more, he said.

In 2017, the cost for Basic and Advanced Life Supprrt was  $108,000, or 6 percent of North Salem’s $5.8 million budget, Lucas said. NSVAC also bills about $80,000 to insurance companies.

“Those are the types of things we try to do as a group; deliver services that we wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise,” he added.

Lyman said that he and Parsons had attended a meeting of supervisors from across the state at which inter municipal cooperation was not only discussed but mandated. 

“It’s very good for the press to come out of Albany and be telling its citizens we need to be sharing services when we already are,” Lyman said. 

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