There has been no shortage of interest or controversy in the 2012 Pleasantville Village Board election.
Five candidates, incumbents Jonathan Cunningham and Stephen Lopez and challengers George Dolce, Colleen Griffin Wagner and Kevin Martin, submitted petitions for a race that has generated few contested elections in recent history.
Martin was knocked off the ballot last month following a challenge by Trustee Brian Skarstad.
After three full terms spanning nine years on the Pleasantville Village Board, Jonathan Cunningham said he still has more to accomplish.
“The last three years have been the most challenging for a village board in as long as I can remember,” said Cunningham, 49, a financial consultant. “The board rose to its potential and kept the village healthy without gutting it.”
The board helped guide Pleasantville through a period of exploding pension and health care costs, a poor economy and now the 2 percent tax cap, maintaining stability, he said, keeping Pleasantville attractive for homeowners and businesses.
“Pleasantville is doing really well, all things considered,” Cunningham said. “It’s vibrant here and the businesses take advantage.”
Perhaps the biggest news occurred in December when the village celebrated the sale of the MLA property. The Marble Avenue parcel was the village’s largest commercial parcel and had been vacant for more than a decade.
Cunningham said he is open to police consolidation with the county, although any change would have to be done carefully.
“The savings has to be substantial,” he said. “Putting the police department back together would be nearly impossible. There’s got to be safeguards.”
As the village fights to adhere to the tax cap, Cunningham said the key will continue to be strong long-term planning.
Cunningham said that without rising pension and health care costs, the village’s spending would be flat. Residents would probably be seeing tax decreases if not for certioraris.
Dolce, 52, a former village fire chief and New York Fire Department paramedic, is making his first run for public office. He said he is concerned about how Pleasantville is being run.
Dolce opposes any police consolidation with the county, fearing it would have an adverse effect on the village.
“I’d like to see the police stay in the village,” Dolce said. “If you give too much of the village away, you lose the village. The police department has the utmost professionalism. If you come into the department with an issue, it’s handled right there.”
To increase the tax base, Dolce said he would like to see Pleasantville explore selling some village-owned properties to increase the number of properties on the tax rolls. He also supports the tax cap and would only override it as a last resort.
“Taxes are too high,” Dolce said. “Our seniors are getting priced out.”
He also opposes outsourcing sanitation department duties to a private company and wants to see more sharing of services between the Town of Mount Pleasant and the village, particularly regarding roads.
A longtime volunteer, Dolce wants to encourage more resident to become involved.
“They are important. I am going to do the best I can to keep the village intact,” he said.
Colleen Griffin Wagner
The co-founder of SEPTA, a member of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and former AYSO commissioner, Wagner is hoping to add village trustee to her resume.
She has wanted to run for village board for a long time, and concluded 2012 is the right time. One of her chief goals is to make sure Pleasantville transforms the former ambulance corps headquarters on Marble Avenue into a recreation center, something the village has lacked since 2007. She said without it “leaves a big hole in the village” with teenagers having little to do.
“We can’t generate revenue without a center,” she said. “It limits the programs that we have. If we spend a little money, I think we can earn it back. I think it’s a very important attraction.”
Village officials also need to do more to sell Library Hall, the building that housed the last recreation center, which has been vacant for nearly five years.
“It would be great if it could be residential,” Wagner said. “Or maybe a bed and breakfast, a small conference center or a small theater. I don’t think the people in that neighborhood deserve to look at a building that’s falling down.”
Wagner would also like to see a business support council partner with local businesses to promote Pleasantville as a business destination. Despite successes, officials need to continually devise new ways to attract more business.
While she is open to police consolidation, it is important that a strong presence maintained in Pleasantville. When it comes to sharing services, Wagner believes the village and school district share a good partnership.
Lopez arguably has more experience working with municipalities than any village trustee. He previously served as Greenburgh planning commissioner and served on the Pleasantville Planning Commission. Lopez, 61, elected unopposed to the village board in 2009, is the director of design and development for Tim Miller Associates. He is running again to make sure progress doesn’t stall.
“I want to keep the village moving forward in a positive direction,” he said. “I have a good sense of where we might be more efficient in our tax dollars.”
The village has been hit with a record number of tax certioraris in recent years, leading to a decline in the village’s tax base. He hopes cases are settled more quickly, which would avoid large settlements.
“We need to be cognizant about our tax base,” Lopez said. “These cases end up accruing value and become a windfall for these attorneys.”
Pleasantville must be careful regarding police consolidation and avoid anything that would increase response time.
“We need to design a police presence that reflects our needs,” Lopez said. “There are lots of interesting angles. I am looking forward to the police department that we have going forward.”
During his time in office, the board reduced sanitation costs through attrition rather than outsourcing to a private company. He also voted against the budget, dissatisfied with high police overtime costs.
“I didn’t feel like I was getting good answers,” he said. “I saw no reason for costs to be that high. I didn’t feel comfortable voting for it.”
Martin’s tumultuous first campaign has had a clear message: the village would benefit from having part-time retired police officers. Martin, 49, is running as a write-in candidate after his ballot was challenged and thrown out by the Westchester County Board of Elections.
As a former New York City police officer, Martin criticized the nearly $4 million police department budget. Excessive overtime costs and the unnecessary hiring of two new police officers come when the village is pursuing consolidation of its department with the county.
His solution is to hire retired police officers part-time to patrol the streets at night or when an officer is sick. He said it is a model other municipalities have used to save money yet maintain quality police coverage.
“This would be the cream of the crop,” Martin said. “They could also turn around and teach the current police department. This is something that should be brought to the table.”
Martin, who drives a bus for the Clinton Street Center, said seniors have been underutilized in Pleasantville and that their voices should be heard on key issues.
He supports the 2 percent tax cap and the board should do everything it can to stay within the cap. The old ambulance corps headquarters on Marble Avenue should be transformed into a recreation center. Costs could be contained with community volunteers pitching in to do some of the work.