The New Rochelle City Council authorized the issuance of $25 million in bonds to build a new DPW Yard on Beechwood Avenue on Tuesday.
In October, the estimate for the cost to building a new DPW yard stood as $13 million, by November 1st that figure was revised upwards to $19 million and remained there until the middle of the City Council meeting where a new figure of $25 million was thrown out by City Manager Charles B. Strome and subsequently approved.
In a two-step process, the Council first voted to amend the resolution to raise the authorized borrowing from $19.6 million to $25 million. Democrat Jared Rice joined Republicans Lou Trangucci and Albert Tarantino in voting against the increased amount.
The increased amount came in response to concerns raised at the previous City Council meeting by Albert Tarantino who noted that when the work first began on moving the City Yard the plan was to consolidate operations at the East Main Street yard with those at 40 Pelham Road which includes both DPW and Parks department operations. The City Manager proposed acquiring additional adjacent property, through condemnation if necessary.
No particular justification was given for the $25 million figure but Strome said he was "highly confident" that the suddenly expanded project could be built for $25 million.
Council Member Al Tarantino said that although he agreed the City Yard needed to move, he could not support such an undefined, open-ended, large expenditure.
“There’s too many holes in it," said Tarantino. "I need better information before I vote to move forward.”
The City still has no clear idea on how much it will cost to acquire the additional property or how much it will cost to remediate all the toxic chemicals leached into the soil at the site. There is also the issue of the leaf transfer site at the Beechwood site. The City has no idea where it will relocate the leaf transfer site or what it will cost. Also not clear is what happened to the $600,000 in bonding that was authorized to design the City yard based on the property previously acquired to house the DPW Yard at Beechwood. Also not determined is the size of the tax abatement to be granted to Forest City, the size of the PILOT payments by Forest City, the value to be realized by selling or leasing 40 Pelham Road.
Several Council Members, including Democrats Shari Rackman and Ivar Hyden, expressed concerns about the impact on taxpayers, even those voting to approve the $25 million bond.
When his turn came to vote, Mayor Noam Bramson, having already secured the needed votes to clear the way for his favored developer at Echo Bay, began by angrily denouncing the concerns expressed about the burden on taxpayers, calling it a "false narrative". The Ratner family, owners of Forest City, and companies that do business with Forest City, have made tens of thousands of dollars in political contributions to Bramson's campaign coffers over the years. Bramson opposed an ethics reform proposal for New Rochelle offered in 2011 by Republicans.
The debt servicing cost will be $1.7 million a year for the next 20 years, effectively a permanent increase in property taxes of 3% on top of whatever other increases come along in a City that is already projecting a massive hole in its budget out over the next several years.
As a result of the vote, the total amount of debt outstanding by the City will now, for the first ever, exceed the operating budget of the City government.
Last year, for the first time, the City was paying out more in pension and medical costs to retired workers than to active employees and borrowed over $1 mm from New York State to cover those costs.