Citizens for an Informed Yorktown



Town Board

September 2, 2014


Absent: Councilman Bianco


1. Salary increases

(See Town Board, August 12, 2014.) Councilman Patel stated that at the August 12 meeting, he had voted against the raises for elected officials but for raises for department heads and that his vote had been improperly recorded. In response, Town Clerk Roker said she stood by what she had recorded.


Supervisor Grace said he took part of the blame for the misinformation about the raises for elected officials saying he thought it was common knowledge that the raises could only be approved as part of the preliminary budget or by a separate local law and that the resolutions were only a “direction.”  He said it was Councilman Bianco’s suggestion that the raises be linked to the CSEA contracts.


Supervisor Grace defended the raises for department heads who hadn’t had a raise for many years saying that professional people should be paid a professional salary. He also defended the raise for the town clerk on the grounds that the position hadn’t had a raise in 13 years.


Councilman Patel made a motion to amend the August 12 resolutions to delete the increases for elected officials but there was no second. Supervisor Grace said the issue was moot as the raises for elected officials would be included in the preliminary budget.


Councilman Patel also stated that going forward he would not vote for a resolution if he was not given a written copy at least 24 hours in advance so that he could read and research it.


2. Courtesy of the Floor

Hallocks Mill Road. Mara Ziedins asked for a police presence on the street to help reduce speeding and also that something be done to mow the grass on the bus stop at corner of Route 202 and Hallocks Mill Road. Supervisor  Grace said the town’s Safety Committee of which Councilman Murphy is a member would look into the issue.


Granite Knolls West: Jonathan Hyman, speaking on behalf of the Stoney Street Kopple family, advised the board that the town was in violation of the August, 2011 license agreement it had entered into with Phoenix House that allowed town residents to use the Phoenix House driveway to access the Granite Knolls ball fields. He said that according to the agreement the license was to give the town time to build its own road into Granite Knolls but that the license agreement contradicted an earlier board resolution that stated that the ball fields were for a minor temporary use of the land.  He also pointed out that Supervisor Grace has said on two occasions that the driveway access was substandard and unsafe and shouldn’t be used: once when the site was being considered for the dog park and on August 13, 2014 at the Keep Yorktown Safe meeting.  He added that five days after the August 13 meeting, the town opened up a 120 space parking lot on the site.


Mr. Hyman gave the board copies of an engineering report that updated a 2013 report that detailed the deficiencies of the site and charged the town with not holding the town to the same standards it holds private developers to in terms of complying with town and state laws.  When Supervisor Grace said he had no problem looking at the report, Mr. Hyman suggested he take a “hard look.”


Reminding Councilman Murphy that he said the fields were “all about the kids,” Mr. Hyman asked the councilman what he was going to do about the safety issues and whether he would renounce the use of the unsafe driveway.     Councilman Murphy did not respond.


In a related discussion, during Courtesy of the Floor, Ed Ciffone questioned Supervisor Grace’s comment at the August 13 meeting that the ball fields were not connected to the Spectra project. In response, Supervisor Grace said that when the town purchased the property it was with the clear intention of creating ball fields and that some fields already existed on the site.  He said he could schedule a community meeting at which time the athletic clubs could present their case as to why more fields were needed.  


Zoning Board issue.  Nick Witkowich asked the supervisor if he had done anything in response to his earlier letter in which he asked the supervisor, who is the Town board’s liaison to the Zoning Board, to intervene on his behalf relating to a current issue before the ZBA. Based on lawsuits that had overturned ZBA decisions involving his property, he wanted current board members to recuse themselves and reopen a public hearing  that would be fair and impartial.


In response, Supervisor Grace said that it would be improper for him to interfere with the deliberations of the ZBA and that if Mr. Witkowich didn’t agree with the ZBA’s findings, he could file an Article 78.  He said he disagreed with Mr. Witkowich’s statement that current ZBA members were incompetent.


Televising Town Board meetings.  Barbara Wilkens, a former Town Board members, spoke in favor of televising work sessions, noting that more and more decisions were being made at these meetings and that sometimes items were added to the agenda.  “We need to know what’s going on,” she said.  Howard Frank also supported televising the meetings but Anthony Grasso, also a former councilman, said he was against the idea. Susan Siegel (the person writing this summary,) said that pending any board decision on televising work sessions, at a minimum, the board should use the room’s public address system so that those who do attend the meeting can hear what’s being said.


Town Administrator: John Settembrino suggested that the town should look into the issue of hiring a town administrator.


3. Section 8 program/public hearing

As required by federal law, the board held a public hearing on the program’s 5-year plan.


Noting that the federal government has “lots of money,” Mara Ziedins said that program should pay rent to the town for the space it occupies in the YCCC.   Supervisor Grace said that while he was initially skeptical about the  housing voucher program, he changed his mind when he learned about all the additional counseling services that the program provided over and above the actual voucher.  Defending the board’s 2013 decision not to charge the program rent, he said the cost would threaten the program. (See Housing/Section 8)


4. Special Election Law/public hearings

(Note:  two separate hearings on the “may” and the “shall” versions were opened and closed. The following summary combines the comments on both hearings. Supervisor Grace explained that the vote will take place on September 16 so that Councilman Bianco would be able to vote. )


Supervisor Grace explained that that major difference between the two versions was that the “may” version gave the board some discretion about scheduling a special election that could take into account when the vacancy occurred. i.e., avoiding holding a special election immediately before the November general election.  He said the “shall” version did not have this flexibility, an interpretation questioned by Susan Siegel (the person writing this summary.) Ms. Siegel said she supported the “shall” version, but believed that the two options for filling the vacancy by election (a special election or the general election) gave the board the flexibility it needed.



Sheila Schraier said the “may” version was too “wishy washy”  and left too much wiggle room and suggested the word be changed to “must,” a change supported by Mark Michaels and Ed Ciffone. Supervisor Grace stated that in law “shall” means must and Town Attorney Koster said that the difference between may and shall has been argued in court and that depending on the context, “may” could mean “shall.” She said she had no problem with the “shall” version.


In response to a question from Babette Ballinger, Supervisor Grace stated that if the “may” version had been in effect this year, there might not have been a special election to fill the vacant seat.  In general, he said he’d rather have three NO votes on the board than a 2-2 split.


Mara Ziedins  suggested that if the board were to appoint someone to fill the vacancy that the person be of the same party as that of the vacated seat.


5. BJ’s rezoning

The board referred a request from BJ’s to rezone a total of 11 acres from C-1 to C-3 for the purpose of adding a gasoline filling station to the site to advisory boards and outside agencies.


6. Personnel

The board approved a promotion for Diane Schiavone in the Building Department to the position of Senior Office Assistant (Office Manager.) Building Inspector Winter explained that Ms. Schiavone had been doing the work out of title for four years.


7. Auction of town vehicles and materials

The board approved the sale of a list of unneeded Highway Department vehicles and equipment, but took a Komatsu Excavator that had received a $9600 bid  off the list.  The board withdraw a request from the Refuse and Recycling Department to auction off a surplus packer truck as Highway Superintendent Paganelli said his department might be able to use the truck.


8. Textile recycling

Explaining that the town has been in the forefront of efforts to encourage the recycling of  used and unneeded textiles, the board voted to support a statewide textile recycling program.


9. Spectra/Algonquin Pipeline Resolution

Although there were two versions of a proposed resolution to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) addressing the town’s health and safety concerns, one, a single page resolution prepared by Supervisor Grace, and a second, a 5-page resolution prepared by Councilmen Bianco and Patel, Supervisor Grace made it clear at the beginning of the discussion that the board was only considering the Bianco/Patel resolution.


In a departure from past board procedures, the supervisor announced earlier in the evening, that the board would entertain comments from the public prior to voting on the resolution.


A series of speakers spoke in support of the Biano/Patel version noting that it was much more comprehensive than the supervisor’s version in identifying the potential health and safety risks and requesting FERC to have Spectra undertake independent risk assessment studies.  While it was acknowledged that the resolution was not enforceable, Lisa Mackay, speaking on behalf of the recently formed Keep Yorktown Safe group, said that the Yorktown resolution, combined with similar resolutions by other municipalities and Westchester and Putnam Counties would give the concerned residents more power.


At the conclusion of the public comments, Supervisor Grace said that he preferred to defer voting on the resolution until September 16 when Councilman Bianco would be present. When members of the audience voiced displeasure at the delay, noting that the FERC public hearing was scheduled for September 15, the supervisor agreed to vote on the resolution at the meeting after changes he wanted were made to the Bianco/Patel version.  He said that as a responsible public official he had an obligation to weigh both sides of the issue – the economic benefits, jobs and global energy aspects of the project against the potential health and safety issues and the effectiveness of proposed mitigation measures.   He said he had reviewed all the information provided by the anti-pipeline group and that there were issues in dispute.


Deleted from the Bianco/Patel version were paragraphs that opposed the construction of any pipeline maintenance facilities virtually any place in Yorktown, opposed the alienation of parkland and opposed the use of eminent domain.  In leaving in a paragraph that called for the town to request “full party status” in the FERC proceedings, Supervisor Grace noted that this could involve an expenditure of town funds. The paragraph was left in, however, when it was explained that any expenditure of town funds would require a separate resolution.


At the suggestion of Councilman Murphy, the words “and other carcinogens” were added to a paragraph that addressed health concerns.


A paragraph  that opposed the location of a receiver/launcher (pigging) station  anywhere within Yorktown was left in the resolution and Supervisor Grace stated that he had been opposed to a pigging station from  “day one.”


At one point in the discussion, Supervisor Grace posed the question to proponents of the resolution: if all the risks have been assessed and the mitigation measures satisfactorily address all the health and safety concerns, would you still be opposed to the pipeline?  If you are, he said, then all that’s needed is one paragraph saying you’re opposed to the pipeline; you don’t need all these other pages.


After reviewing the changes that had been made to the original Bianco/Patel resolution, the board voted 3-0 to adopt the resolution.


When Ms. Mackay unfurled a banner announcing the September 15 FERC public hearing and asked permission to display the banner in town hall, there was no response from the board.


10. Selected resolutions passed unanimously

Pavement marking bid: Bid was awarded to the sole bidder, Safety marking, Inc.

Welding bids: Bid was advertised

Budget transfers: A total of $22,000 was transferred from three lines in the Legal Department budget to cover excess expenditures in the “Litigation/Outside Counsel fees” budget line.

Ambulance Corps: the board waived all fees associated with the group obtaining a building permit and ZBA filing.