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6 Things About Harrison that Need to Change

A sampling of what doesn’t make sense about Harrison.

I love the town of Harrison and the many opportunities it offers. Most of my columns speak of the terrific initiatives, services, events and people who live here and make this town what it is.

But to maintain those opportunities and advantages, we need to pay attention to issues as they arise to keep moving forward.

For that reason, I am raising a sampling of a half dozen of the things I would change in our town, in no particular order, with the hope that they will all hit somebody’s—or everybody’s—immediate ‘to-do’ list and finally get resolved.

Here we go:

1. Lifetime Benefits for Multiple-Term Elected Officials 

Tell me anywhere in the private sector where you could work a part-time job, continue with your full-time job at the same time, and then be entitled to health benefits from that part-time job for the rest of your life? Crazy, yet that is exactly what we offer our town council members.

While it's obvious that this benefit will not be voted away from current council members by those same council members, let’s at least stop this insanity for future elected officials so the craziness ends moving forward.

2. The Size of Our School Budget

The Harrison Central School District's budget for 2012-2013 is $104.2 million. Already a mammoth and outrageous budget, this year’s budget included an increase in budget-to-budget spending that resulted in a further tax increase to residents of approximately 3.08 percent.

Louis Wool, Harrison’s superintendent of schools, is paid more than the Chancellor of the New York City public school system—the largest school system in the country with more than 11,600 schools, 1.1 million students and handling a budget of 17 billion dollars.

We need a realistic review of every line item of the school budget and an organized groundswell of public support to refuse to accept this oversized budget in the future.

The real fault lies not with the school administrators, but with voters who continue to rage over these numbers and then do not turn up to the polls on voting day.

3. Lifetime Municipal Appointments

Harrison’s police chief position is a lifetime appointment. The head of our town's police force is not elected by residents, is appointed by a simple majority of the town board, and then can remain in the position for life—regardless of the changes that happen within the force, or within the town.

For a position that holds such gravity in the day-to-day life of residents and the success of the town as a whole, the concept seems ridiculous. 

Regardless of the hope that you appoint the right person to the position, that appointment deserves to be reviewed every few years to affirm that the appointee continues to be the person with the best skills and aptitudes for the job.

With constant change being the only thing we can count on in the future, lifetime appointments need to become a thing of the past.

4. Not Making Use of Neighborhood Associations

The town has a valuable free information resource that continues to be ignored at substantial cost to the community. Productive neighborhood associations have been in place in many areas for decades. These associations have the most in-depth knowledge of area needs and issues and idiosyncrasies.

When work or changes are proposed for an area, it makes sense to pass those proposed changes by these organizations for comment and suggestions prior to proceeding.

A small example indicates the cost to the town of not doing so. Two years ago, residents in the Winfield Glen woke up to find double yellow lines painted on one street overnight. Anyone living in the area would have been able to inform the administration that the street in question was unusually narrow, with unfinished edges that make it treacherous.

Safety issues immediately arose and the town later discovered the road was too narrow to legally support division. Taxpayers had to pay for the town to grind off the yellow lines and re-tar over them to correct the situation at considerable cost, in addition to the cost and manpower to apply them in the first place.

We do not have the money or resources to be making these costly mistakes. Municipal procedure should include the constructive, cost-free community step of checking in with neighborhood associations before changes are made within any neighborhood.

5. We Need an All-Inclusive Map Showing Areas Unsuitable for Development

Our town includes areas of historical importance, wildlife and ecological importance, wetlands and flooding. Prior to any development being approved, it would make sense to develop a town map overlay for developers and planning and zoning boards, identifying the areas in which development would be unsuitable.

Instead of doing this, the town continues to allow outside developers to present proposals for these areas. It lands on the shoulders of often unequipped and unprepared, affected neighbors, to raise funding for lawyers, engineers and other experts to indicate the dangers in these proposals for land plots that should have been clearly marked unsuitable for development in the first place.

Many years ago, PEPA (Purchase Environmental Protection Agency) offered to pay for engineers and planners to draw up a draft map that would outline the areas of ecological, environmental or historical importance to the town so future development could be planned around them. It was offered at no cost to the town and with no obligation.

It's time to take them up on this offer.

6. Lack of Professional Management

If you had a company that cost $54.8 million a year to run that dealt with heavy union, legal, infrastructure and other high-profile issues, would you think it wise to pick five well-meaning, but often undertrained, people as its executive management team? Yet, that is exactly what we do every two years when we elect our town board.

There are now college degrees in public administration and professionals who have worked through each government department to gain the appropriate experience and expertise to manage efficiently. The time has come to establish a town manager position to take the helm of this critical $54.8 million community.

Are there more things that could be added to this list? Yes. Hopefully this initial six can be handled and we can move on to the next six and the next six after that.

Thankfully there remain far more wonderful things about this town than not. As long as there is continued vigilance and work to maintain that balance, it will continue to be "great to live in Harrison" for current residents and all future generations.

Dennis DeVito September 06, 2012 at 01:40 PM
Taxes need to change, they are way too high. Just got my school tax bill and it is just under $8,000 more then the total tax in many towns, add town and county and I'm paying well over $15,000 a year in taxes ( and I know of a home just down the road whose taxes are over $20,000) -- something I just can not afford that anymore -- I just may have to relocate soon
Jules September 06, 2012 at 02:05 PM
This article is right on but I highly doubt anything will change. The people who can makes these changes won't do it.
cynthia leckart September 06, 2012 at 02:15 PM
We also need more for our children to do. They basically hang out at CVS.
Harvey Geller September 06, 2012 at 02:30 PM
I agree with everything in the article except the comment about the school budget. I recently sold my home in Harrison after 34 years in part because of taxes. While I agree that the budget is high, we are getting a big bang for the buck. As a parent, I fought for many years to increase the investment in our schools. While it is true that the cost is high, Harrison has been singled out as one of the financially best managed school districts in the state if not the country. Within one or two years, the District will be totally debt free, At the same time, the quality of education given our children has improved dramatically over the past 10 years. Mr. Wool is well paid. He is managing a budget of over $100 million dollars and 4 or 5 hundred employees. Our town budget, in fiscal disarray with downgraded bond ratings, is half the size with half the employees and our Supervisor is paid more than 80% of the governors in the country. If the measure is "you get what you pay for", the school budget is the best expense we have.
M September 06, 2012 at 04:11 PM
I certainly don't know how to fix it. Its a sad story. Harrison is in trouble & it is hard to think that it is going to turnaround for the better anytime soon/regardless of our efforts. The community is no longer viewed by those outside of the town as vibrant & desirable. The article is good overall-even a bit inspiring,however,nothing is going to change for the better. It hasn't in how long? How many promises have been broken or not kept? It appears that the entire town is simply out of control. There are many of us packing up & leaving because year after year Harrison has gotten worse even with our attempts w/the various departments to try to influence...most have reached their breaking point & will sell for one reason or another..Even Bus 5 along Harrison Ave now reads "Getty Square"-- it used to say White Plains! We have a Dollar Store! What other types of communities have dollar stores? We have neon store signs that remain ON overnight flashing on Halstead Avenue..I thought there was a sign ordinance of some sort that saves us from these types of signs?Our stop lights at main intersections look like city crossings.Bicycles continue to be locked on our main intersection/bridge in town. I guess we don't have a bike rack for anyone to use? Why would you shop in Harrison? There is nothing here that is attractive. Our police dept now has a cop on an ugly bike in town--looks like something out of the movie "Transformers" & the list goes on & on--the small town feel is gone.
garyuptown September 06, 2012 at 08:35 PM
Katherine you are right! Especially about the part where the TOWN BOARD MEMBERS RECEIVE FREE BENEFITS UPON 8 YEARS OF SERVICE!. They demand that town employees pay more towards their medical but they refuse to do the same. Maybe the town board members should stop receiving medical benefits once they are out of office!
TTH September 06, 2012 at 09:53 PM
The life time benefits is a bit much after 8 years of service, but at one time it was only after 10 years of service a elected offical recieved these benefits. How did this change? Let me enlighten you, years ago after then Counsel member Bruno Strati a democrat,lost his bid for re-election. Mr.Strati only having 8 years of serivce was not able then to qualify for free life time benefits for him and his family. In steps counselwoman Jimmi Pritchard a fellow Democrat,and at a Town Board Ms. Pritchard makes a motion to eliminate the 10 year provision and drop it to 8 years thus giving Mr. Strati his Free medical coverage. thus costing the town tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is the same jimmi Pritchard who regularly gets up at Town Board meetings questioning the boards spending habits.
Ross Revira September 06, 2012 at 11:58 PM
To make that more bizarre is the political career of Bruno Strati. Before he became a Democrat he was a long time Republican apparatchik . He ran for Town Council once or twice but could never win. As payback for being a good party member he was made Chairman of the Planning Board. During his tenure he was brought up on ethics charges by then Supervisor Charlie Balancia. During this period he was passed over in favor of Phil Marraccini to get the Republican nomination for Supervisor. In a fit of anger he bolted the Republican Party and joined the Democrats who welcomed him with open arms (despite his questionable ethics). He ran as a Democrat and finally won a seat on the Town Board. He failed the necessary re-election and get his ten years of service.The luck of political payback befell Mr. Strati again. Before the Democrats lost their majority on January 1st. they changed the required length of service from ten years to eight for lifetime medical benefits and now you know the rest of the story.
Unhappy Trails September 07, 2012 at 12:29 AM
You go, Katherine! Your column speaks truth to power, not that we've given the powers that be in our wonderful town any incentive to listen. We pass budget after budget--town and school--that just institutionalizes an easy life with complete lack of accountability for our board members, school head and police chief so what, really do we expect? I'm not a Harrison native; in fact I've lived in many, many places in my time including a long stint in the City of Rye. And I can tell you, I've NEVER seen a town so unprofessionally run. Katherine, if we can rally Harrison residents to do ONE thing--move to hiring a city manager--that will be a wonderful start.
Reality Check September 07, 2012 at 03:53 PM
I really dont understand why you guys are getting on the Police Chief. His department was stripped down to bare bones after the previous administrations assault on him. I dont know if anyone has noticed the line at the court house on Tuesdays. Its around the block! Give the court clerk a call and ask her how overwhelmed they are with criminal and traffic cases since he took over. To me that shows he is motivating his department an getting the most out of his cops. That is the sign of a good leader. Other than that I love the article Katherine and look forwrd to reading your columns!
Katherine Frankel September 07, 2012 at 04:19 PM
Thanks reality check- I appreciate your comments and readership. Just to clarify, the comment about lifetime positions was in no way an attack on Chief Marraccini or his performance. I have been a big supporter of our local police achievements over the last few years as indicated in many columns. My only point was that, in a world where nothing but fast-paced change is guaranteed lifetime appointments make no sense and we should not wait until we are in a critical or dangerous situation as a town to make these types of anachronisms a thing of the past. Had the mayor or council positions been lifetime alpointments I would have proposed the same thing. Thanks again for your comments- much appreciated. Kathy
Reality Check September 07, 2012 at 05:05 PM
Kath- I have read your aricles supporing the Police Department and Chief Marraccinis accomplishments. It just seemed to me that he was being singled out. Maybe I misunderstood your point and I apologise. Its hard not to after the Walsh/Vetere era. Are there any other lifetime appointments in the town that you know of? Just wondering. Thank you for your response and keep up the good work!!!!!!
Zach Oliva (Editor) September 07, 2012 at 05:19 PM
I don't think there are other lifetime appointments, but I'm not 100 percent sure on that. The reason why, from what I understand, has something to do with the town board serving as police commissioners. Since the board can change every two years, they don't want to police chief position being changed every time a different group takes control of the board. That's probably not a good thing either, it's an interesting debate.
Reality Check September 07, 2012 at 05:55 PM
Thanks for the info Zach. It sure is intersting. I think that would be worse too. it would totally poitisize and detract from the position.
The shepherd September 07, 2012 at 07:50 PM
Whenever I read opinions, I always think about that old saying. You know the one, Opinions are like a?? h????.... we all have one. First the writer complains about the salary of the head professional of the schools and then wants to hire a $200 K per year professional to manage the town. Then she complains about the life time appointment of the police chief and says nothing about the lifetime appointment teachers receive. She uses the adjectives mammoth and outrageous to describe the school budget. Yet she doesn't even know or understand what is in the budget. In my opinion, which is worthless just like hers, uninformed propaganda, half truths and constant complaining are whats wrong with this town.
Ross Revira September 07, 2012 at 08:56 PM
Why the hostility, any of your toes being stepped on?
Katherine Frankel September 07, 2012 at 10:21 PM
Like Zach I am unaware of any other local government positions that are lifetime appointments. Thank you Good Shepherd for raising lifetime appointments for teaching staff. For the record I am against ANY lifetime appointments. I believe it is in the community's best interests to have regular reviews of all Positions to ensure that we have the best person in the job at any time .
TTH September 08, 2012 at 12:50 AM
Everyone here including the author keep talking about the Chief of Police being a lifetime position,well i hate to burst your bubble folks but your all wrong. The position of Chief of police is a civil service postion ,the same as any other police officer. He (the chief) took and passed a test was interviewed by the Town Board and then promoted to Chief. If he chooses to retire after 20 years he can just like any of his fellow officers. But as per civil service law he, just like all other officers must retire at age 62. The only difference is the Chief of Police can apply for 1 year extensions up to age 72. Does anyone fact check these articals?
ELLIE MARSHALL April 01, 2013 at 09:23 PM
IF the Chief is doing an acceptable job,allow him to continue to do so. The Mayor, on the other hand is STILL looking into bring FIOS into Harrison. For how many years now? Purchase.Rye,Rye Brook and Mam'k have it? What's the back story to the delay?
ELLIE MARSHALL April 01, 2013 at 09:30 PM
To M. I am totally with you about the Dollar Store. It shames downtown Harrison,which looks bad enough at the present time. Shopping in Harrison leaves one a small choice of stores. All the family-oriented stores are gone...the hardware store,the shoe repair store,a sports store and on and on. No small town feeling anymore. Thank you M. for summing the whole sad story up.

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