Irvington’s Brian Smith Looks Beyond His Tenure as Mayor

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by Barrett Seaman

“We are seeing people leave who
would otherwise have stayed because
their property taxes have gone up so
—Brian Smith

Mayor Brian Smith
Mayor Brian Smith

There will be no surprises in this November’s Irvington village races, as incumbent Trustees Connie Kehoe and Janice Silverberg, along with Mayor Brian Smith, are running unopposed. They will rejoin Trustees Mark Gilliland and Larry Lonky to continue managing the village in what is apparently a manner generally acceptable to the voting public.

Kehoe, who serves as Deputy Mayor, and Silverberg have stated their commitment to completing the ongoing Comprehensive Plan process, fine-tuning the guidelines for the Historic District and looking for ways to improve affordable housing opportunities.

With no doorbells to ring, Smith took some time to consider the village’s long-term issues, not all of which fall under the purview of village government.

“By far, the number one issue,” said Smith, is property taxes. More than any other village in Greenburgh Township, Irvington was hit hardest in the recent reassessment, and the mayor acknowledges that “we are seeing people leave who would otherwise have stayed” because their property taxes have gone up so dramatically. The reassessments, he said, “have accelerated the discussion of what we want to pay for.”

Cutting expenses department by department has been a goal of the board all along. The headcount at the Department of Public Works (DPW) is down to 17 or 18; the police department is at 22. “I’m not sure you can get much more out of individual departments,” said Smith. The police are sharing a police boat with other villages; DPW is sharing paving with other villages and the town. “We’ve got to keep coming up with those [shared services]” he said, “because there are no easy cuts anymore.”

The tougher conversations are about merging school districts, police departments and public works. If it’s going to happen, “it has to come organically,” Smith believes, meaning through the people directly affected, whether they are the members of the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association (PBA), the police union, or the school district administration and school board. The choice between staff cuts that materially affect the services that the public expects or sharing those services with other municipalities may eventually become inevitable.

Schools are the biggest piece of the local tax burden by far, and village government has no say in how they are managed. If he were counseling the school district, Smith would suggest starting by sharing special classes—like Advance Placement courses—with other districts.

“Think of how tiny these villages are,” he noted. “Most other places would have one school district where we have three or four. But we’ve got this ‘we’re the Bulldogs; they’re the Eagles’ thing.”

Such a grand consolidation will never sell “if it’s based strictly on cost savings,” he believes. “There has to be the prospect of higher quality” resulting from it.

Where village government does have some influence, however, is in attracting and keeping businesses. Many of the recommendations emerging from the Comprehensive Planning process are geared towards opening the village to different kinds of businesses—microbreweries, for example—that will help shore up the tax base while not threatening the essential character of the village.

“A good example,” said Smith, “is figuring out what we want (to allow) along the Broadway corridor, which has been kind of a gray area.” He hopes that the Comprehensive Plan will articulate what is acceptable and what is not so as to dispel uncertainty on the part of potential investors.

“We’re also trying to streamline the approval process,” he added. Clarifying the sign codes, simplifying the building requirements, or instituting guidelines for the Architectural Review Board will help make the prospect of setting up shop in Irvington less daunting.

Asked to predict whether Irvington would ever get around to burying its utility wires on Main Street, the mayor admitted pessimism. “It’s not going to happen—unless Con Ed comes to the conclusion that the increase in storms makes it a priority.” By itself, the village simply can’t afford it.

On the other hand, Smith believes that Irvington will eventually have a multi-story parking garage. “A modern design, with a green roof in the right place,” he said, will relieve the pressure on parking in the village that will only grow as restaurants and businesses open. “To me, it’s almost a necessity.”

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