Guest Column

State of Somers

Hello Somers:

With 2018 upon us, I’d like to take an opportunity to provide a summary about the state of the town of Somers. While Washington D.C. and Albany may be in the grips of political turmoil, your town government continues to work cohesively, regardless of political affiliation and viewpoints, towards the betterment of our community. I’d like to take this moment to thank the over 80 Somers residents who volunteer on various town boards and committees. These people donate countless hours providing the town expertise and guidance on issues impacting our community. Many of our accomplishments as a Town government are a result of the fine work done by these residents. I thank all of you for your service.

Town Finances:

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The Town budget for 2018 has once again come in under the New York State tax cap, maintaining our services and standing as having one of the lowest municipal tax rates in the region. This is not easy, as there are a variety of expenses outside of our control that significantly increase each year. These expenses include the rising costs of healthcare, insurance, infrastructure and state mandates. We also continue our success finding savings through shared-service initiatives and securing additional revenue sources, such as grants. With a strong fund balance, low debt and the bolstering of our tax base, the town of Somers is financially well positioned.

Update on the former IBM/PepsiCo properties:

The former PepsiCo property has a variety of tenants, which includes those renting co-working space as well as a company that provides meals to the airlines at Westchester County airport. The management company has informed me that they’ve been in discussion with a variety of other potential commercial tenants. The former IBM property was fully vacated in 2017, and is initially being marketed as a commercial space or school campus. The property manager has informed me that there’s been a variety of interest from for-profit schools and academies, as well as other corporate tenants. I believe that they will first market the property to see what type of tenants may be interested in commercial uses before seeking any type of change of use from the town.

The properties were also included in New York State’s application for Amazon’s second headquarters; and, we were informed that they have made it to the second round. While this is a long shot, the application has provided both locations with invaluable visibility to corporations closely following the selection process.

Most importantly, the management company recently informed the town that they will be seeking a tax reduction for both properties. The assessments of these properties, and thus their tax rates, are based on comparable commercial buildings in the area. This is an inexact science, especially considering that the PepsiCo facility sold for well above market price, while the IBM facility sold for well below. The tax certiorari process can occur via a settlement or through the courts, and any reduction may take years to determine. Regardless, this request comes as no surprise, and our tax base is prepared for the future.

The importance of bolstering our tax base while conserving our open space:

As a Somers resident for 40 years, I understand the importance of protecting our tax base and open space. Many people moved to Somers because of its natural beauty/open space and relative affordability. I am also aware that significant increases to tax rates resulting from potential revenue losses at the former PepsiCo/IBM properties could be financially devastating for many families and retirees living in Somers. So, with potentially the largest tax certiorari in the town’s history looming, our ability to protect taxpayers while continuing investments for land conservation (taking it off the tax rolls forever) is dependent on the town’s capacity to also bolster our tax base. Fortunately, the town’s Comprehensive Plan has provided a blueprint for both priorities, which we are currently seeing be implemented. 

The projects in the Somers Hamlet and Baldwin Place, the Town’s two commercial corridors, are poised to add millions of dollars onto the tax roll; brings public infrastructure enhancements that will serve to increase residential and commercial property values; and blunts the financial impact of potential tax reductions at the former IBM/PepsiCo properties. All the while land conservation continues to be a top priority. In 2017, approximately 300 acres of open space and agricultural land was conserved in Somers, including the preservation of Stuarts Farm and a land donation by the well-respected Beshar family. The Town of Somers is extremely proud of our record and remains committed to future opportunities for land conservation.

Fulfilling the town’s affordable housing mandates:

Westchester County formally recognized that Somers has fulfilled its obligations under the Angle Fly agreement. This 2007 legal agreement with Westchester County mandated that Somers approve and construct affordable housing in exchange for a $4 million contribution towards the purchase of the Angle Fly Preserve. Additionally, the town has met its affordable housing requirements as part of Westchester County’s settlement with HUD.

Investments in our public infrastructure:

Last year set the stage for what will be historic investments in public infrastructure across Somers, all at little to no cost to Somers taxpayers.  

The town continues to prioritize our road repaving program. Road conditions are a huge quality of life issue, and we are committed to ensuring that the 118 miles of town roads are maintained. Furthermore, the town has made significant investment into our parks and recreational facilities.

Work to construct $850,000 of stormwater retrofits around Lake Shenorock, funded by the NYS DEC will commence shortly and will continue through 2018. The project will help to remediate the excessive stormwater pollutants that have impaired the lake’s water quality for decades. In addition, the Town is working on a design to construct the initial infrastructure for sewer connections to Lake Lincolndale and Lake Shenorock. The high density of septic systems in these neighborhoods are threatening the long-term viability of local waterways and lakes. The construction of this infrastructure would be funded by $10 million through Westchester County Water Quality Improvement Plan earmarked for Somers.

Public sewer connections will be brought to our commercial corridors in Baldwin Place and the Somers Hamlet. Allowing commercial property owners to transition away from septic systems will make them more attractive to tenants and increase their property values.

Sidewalks will be constructed in the Somers Hamlet and Baldwin Place in an effort to make the commercial corridors more pedestrian friendly and promote a walkable community.

Domestic Violence Center:

In 2017, the town of Somers partnered with four of our neighboring northern Westchester communities, the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, the Westchester County Family Justice Center, the Pace Woman’s Justice center, My Sister’s Place and Hope’s Door to provide a local facility with professional resources to residents in the area impacted by domestic violence. For those in need, please call 888-438-8700.

Sustainability Efforts:

The town of Somers has been named by New York State as a Climate Smart Community for our commitment to sustainability. We continue to evaluate opportunities to undertake sustainability efforts, which over the past year included: the acquisition of an electric vehicle for the town’s fleet; construction of electric vehicle charging station; the planned installation of Solar Panel’s at the highway garage; energy benchmarking of Town buildings; and the evaluation of grant opportunities to expand sidewalks to the High School and Reis Park.   

Other ongoing initiatives:

The town of Somers is at the forefront in the fight against opioid abuse, which continues to be an issue within our community. The town committee known as Partners in Prevention has done great work bringing awareness about the horrible disease of addiction and providing support to those impacted. We urge others in town to get involved.

The town has started to evaluate legislation that would prohibit vape shops from opening in Somers. We must all acknowledge that parents are the best defense; however, many of these vape shops are blatantly targeting a younger clientele.

The town is considering strengthening the litter code. This may be done through the placement of cameras in high litter areas, or additional initiatives. Litter has become a significant quality of life issue in our community.

The Town government continues to work closely with the Somers Central School District on opportunities for shared services and other cost-savings measures. In addition, the Town participates in the school district’s Whole Child and No Place for Hate initiatives.

The town of Somers and North Salem filed a formal complaint against NYSEG. The NYS Public Service Commission, which oversees NYSEG’s operations, has notified the town that they’ve started an investigation. At issue are the number and length of recent power outages, as well as NYSEG’s lack of communication. Many of the recent outages were non-weather related, caused by breaker fires and other failure of NYSEG’s equipment. Meetings with NYSEG will be ongoing.

If you should have any questions about these initiatives, or any others, please do not hesitate to contact me at supervisor@somersny.com or 914-277-3637. It is an honor and privilege to serve you as Somers Town Supervisor.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TAPinto.net or anyone who works for TAPinto.net. TAPinto.net is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer. Click here to submit a Guest Column.

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