As summer is upon us and we’re more than halfway through the year, I wanted to update residents on what has been a very busy and eventful time in our town. The core principle of our town government is to always work towards the best interest of our residents and community, regardless of political affiliations. Somers is a special place, and our priority is ensuring it remains that way for current and future residents.
The Town government continues to be in a strong financial position with a low debt burden, strong cash reserves and annual operating surpluses. This year’s budget is once again tax cap compliant, and includes funding for infrastructure, public safety, senior services, parks/recreation, and energy/environmental conservation initiatives. The Town has never exceeded the tax cap since its inception, and maintains one of the lowest municipal tax rates in the area.
Update on 294 Rte. 100 LLC (formerly IBM) & 1 P Way LLC (formerly PepsiCo) Properties:
1 P Way LLC is being marketed as a dynamic office space for businesses of all sizes with a multi-tenant leasing strategy. The owner has made investments into the property as they continue to secure tenants. They have created a co-working space for smaller tenants/start-ups, while bigger businesses can rent larger working space and offices.
294 Rte. 100 LLC has proposed an academy educating 9th through 12th graders at the former IBM property, leasing the entire 1 million square feet of office space. Its curriculum would focus on science, technology, engineering, mathematics and the arts. The academy is being described as a first of its kind in the nation. The applicant is also proposing to build an arts center, athletic facility, and convert a number of parking lots into playing fields. The Town has been in discussion about opportunities for partnerships and joint-use of their facilities. The applicant is a for-profit organization, meaning the property will continue to generate real estate taxes. The proposal is currently going through the SEQRA/approval process where impacts on the environment, public safety, traffic and local community will all be analyzed. The academy plans to have the majority of its students (85%) reside on campus with a projected opening date of fall 2021. It’s important to note that while operating as an IBM facility, the campus once accommodated 3,000 daily commuters. However, the academy plans to convert 2,400 parking spaces into athletic fields, which reflects the significant reduction in commuters. The applicant has conducted a variety of public presentations. Details are available on the town’s website, and there will be public hearings on the project in the months ahead.
Update on the Town’s tax base:
The strength of our tax base is an important factor in determining the amount of real estate taxes you pay. The average homeowner in Somers pays less than $1,000 per year in town taxes, while the remainder of your real estate bill consists of school, county and fire district taxes. The more entities, or highly assessed properties, paying into the tax base, the more tax relief is provided to town property owners. However, when tax contributors, specifically large ones, have their taxes reduced through tax certioraris, the difference is made up by the remaining tax payers. This is the situation we are facing in Somers.
For decades the town’s tax base relied on two Fortune 500 companies whose properties had a combined market value of $200,000,000. The loss of these two companies, and the Class A commercial office space associated with them, means the new property owner has significant leverage to bring tax certioraris against the town. This is particularly the case with the former IBM property. Assessments for Class A commercial office space is considered to be more valuable than operating an educational academy. So, without further action, the tax base is vulnerable. The good news is that in the four years since PepsiCo and IBM announced their departure, Somers has expanded and diversified its tax base, ultimately insulating taxpayers from the impacts tax reductions at the former corporate properties. The town’s tax base has essentially been rebuilt and continues to be well positioned for the future.
The expansion of the tax base has made it economically feasible for the town to continue its investments in land conservation efforts, which for decades has been, and continues to be, a priority for Somers. In the last two years, the conservation of Stuarts Farm and Rhinoceros Creek has preserved close to 300 acres in town. Thanks to the Town’s Open Space Committee and the Somers Land Trust, we have an invaluable group of residents who are committed to identifying future opportunities for conservation and maintaining our open space.
Public Infrastructure Projects and Initiatives:
Sidewalks: The construction of sidewalks in the Somers hamlet is almost complete. A small pedestrian bridge to connect Fireman’s Field to the Middle School will be finished in the months ahead. The sidewalks stretch from the Middle School to the Somers Towne Center; and, along Bailey Park which connects to the existing sidewalk network on Route 100. This work cost taxpayers $0 as the project was secured as a community benefit from DeCiccio’s. The intent is to one day connect the sidewalks through the hamlet, but easements are needed by a variety of private property owners. The Town is also seeking grant funding in an effort to expand the sidewalk network with the goal of connecting our schools to the park system and downtown hamlet.
Reviving Lake Shenorock: Once open to swimming and the center of the Shenorock community, storm water runoff and septic system failures have contaminated the lake over the years. It is now designated as an “at-risk water body” by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC). The continued degradation of lake could further impact local water ways and decrease property values in the area. In an effort to revitalize the lake, the town secured $850,000 through grants to help fund the installation of storm water management infrastructure. The project, which was recently completed, will curb the deterioration of the lake’s water quality, and also includes a nature trail. This is the first step in bringing the lake back to life. Revitalizing Lake Shenorock will benefit property values in the area, strengthen the town’s tax base and protect our local environment. It’s important to note that Lake Shenorock qualifies for grant funding, as it is now owned by the Town of Somers.
Expanding Reis Park:
The Town is working with the NYSDEC to transfer ownership of 11 acres of land adjacent to Reis Park, so that recreational offerings at the park can be expanded. This could lead to additional field space and other upgrades. The vast majority of this work, if not all if it, would be funded by recreation fees paid by developers. The public will certainly be engaged as this comes to fruition.
The Town continues to work towards securing a $10 million grant through the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP). These funds have been caught in a bureaucratic mess for the past 20 years, but significant progress has been made. The proposal is to utilize the funds to add sewer infrastructure to both the Lake Shenorock and Lake Lincolndale neighborhoods, where the high density of septic systems can threaten the long term viability of local waterways, and limits the ability for home expansions. The grant funding will enable the town to construct the core infrastructure needed to eventually connect both neighborhoods to sewer. It should be noted that the construction and operation of these sewer systems are paid for via sewer districts, so only those who benefit will pay for the service.
Paving: As part of the 2019 Town Budget, the town continues to make significant investments in our local roads. This work is paid for from the General Fund, instead of borrowing. The Town also continues to lobby New York State for the repaving of state roads that are in extremely poor condition. These roads are those with numbers (Route 6, 35,100, 118, 138,139, and 202). The town is prohibited from even filling potholes on these roadways. NYS paved Route 100 in 2018, while Route 139 is scheduled for 2019.
Keeping the NYS Police in Somers:
As many residents are aware, the NYS Police have occupied the barracks on Route 100 for decades, enabling Somers to have a part-time police force and provide what is essentially 24/7 police coverage. I commend the Somers Town Police force, as it consists of highly experienced officers, many of whom have held leadership roles in the NYPD and other large municipal police departments prior to their service for the Town. To give perspective, employing a full-time force in Somers would potentially cost upwards of $5 million dollars per year. In addition, the Town would have to fund additional long term expenses like significant pension contributions and healthcare costs. Currently, the Town’s police budget is around $800,000 per year.
The State Police lease the building on Route 100, but NYS policy has shifted so that barracks can only be located in buildings owned by the State; or, they can build on land that has been donated to the State. With two years remaining on their lease, the NYS Police are looking for a new home. In response, the Town has been working with the new ownership of the former IBM property to have 4 acres of their land donated to the NYS Police so that a new barracks can be constructed in Somers. The State Police have been given a tour of the property, and have expressed interest in moving forward.
Efforts to stop speeding in our neighborhoods:
The Town and NYS Police have been working to curb speeding on roads throughout Somers. The placement of speed signs, along with increased enforcement, has proven to be effective. The Town will be moving forward with the acquisition of additional speed signs and speed tables in an effort to stop speeding in our residential neighborhoods. Please contact my office if you are interested in having these placed in your neighborhood.
In 2018 the town of Somers filed a formal complaint to the Public Service Commission (PSC) regarding frequent power outages. The prolonged outages that resulted from the March 2018 nor’easters highlighted NYSEG’s lack of investment in their infrastructure. In response, the town has taken a three-pronged approach: 1.) Legislative – lobbying the Governor’s office, Senate and Assembly for action to hold NYSEG accountable. The Governor’s office oversees the PSC, which is responsible for regulating electric utilities. 2.) Working through the PSC – the Town has been working with PSC staff to ensure NYSEG is taking action to remedy their deficiencies in our area; and, 3.) Working closely with NYSEG – The Town formed a Utility Task Force, consisting of elected officials and residents. They meet regularly with NYSEG executives and operational staff to discuss ongoing projects, areas of need and opportunities for coordination. Minutes of these meetings can be found on the town website under news and announcements. No municipality in New York State has done more to hold NYSEG’s feet to the fire, and it has led to results. Over the past year NYSEG has re-instituted their vegetation management program with tree trimming occurring around town. Our Highway Department has worked closely with NYSEG’s staff to identify and remove threatening trees in the right of way. The town has negotiated a staging site for NYSEG contractors at the former IBM property, enabling our area to garner much of their resources. NYSEG has also made significant investments to upgrade their equipment throughout Somers, including work to their underground infrastructure in Heritage Hills. Will this be enough to remedy years of neglect to their infrastructure? Time will tell, but Somers undoubtedly has NYSEG’s attention.
Update to CodeRed Notification System & New Website:
The Town has upgraded our CodeRED Community Notification System to include CodeRED Weather Warning, an automatic severe weather notification service, to alert citizens in the path of severe thunderstorms, flash floods and tornados. In order to receive these warnings, citizens must register by going to the Town of Somers website, www.somersny.com, and clicking on CodeRED located on the home page. Even if you already signed up in the past to receive the CodeRED emergency alerts, you must sign up again to receive the weather warnings. Your new information will override your previous information. In addition to sending out emergency notifications and weather warnings through CodeRED, you may also sign up for general notifications. In addition, the Town has recently launched a new website. This will allow the public to more easily and efficiently interface with its town government. Please take a look and submit comments about how we may improve the site.
Somers Community Council:
The Town has formed the Somers Community Council, consisting of representatives from local non-profits, community organizations, the school district, clergy members, and Town staff. Our residents are confronted with variety challenges, and a segment of our population that is in need. This group works to identify issues facing our community, and opens the lines of communications between stakeholders.
Other ongoing Initiatives:
The Plumbrook Bridge: The NYC Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP) is currently seeking authorization from the Town to deconstruct the bridge, which is owned by the City of New York. After discussions with the DEP’s executive staff, they committed to funding the reconstruction of the bridge in exchange for authorization to remove the existing dilapidated bridge. At the July Town Board meeting, the agreement was memorialized via a Town Board resolution. To be clear, this is the first step in what will be a long process that will require review by the Town’s various boards. However, without at least securing the commitment from NYCDEP, they can essentially walk away from their obligation to fund a project that’s estimated to cost between $10 and $15 million without further consideration. The town and our residents will now have the opportunity to discuss the merits and impacts of reopening the Plumbridge Bridge; and, if it’s ultimately determined to be in the best interest of the Town, the project will be 100% funded by the taxpayers of New York City.
If you should have any questions or concerns related to these issues, or any others, please feel free to contact my office at 914-277-3637, firstname.lastname@example.org. I wish everyone a safe and enjoyable summer.