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Three Familiar Faces Vie for Two Seats on No. Castle Town Board

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Regardless of the outcome of this year’s North Castle Town Board race, there shouldn’t be much of a learning curve needed for any of the candidates running for the two four-year terms that are up this year.

Republican councilmen Stephen D’Angelo and Guy Mezzancello are the current incumbents, but Democrat Jose Berra hopes to return to the board where he served for nearly a year.

D’Angelo is completing his first full term on the board after his election in 2011. Mezzancello, a former planning board member, narrowly won a special election over Berra last November to complete the final year of Michael Schiliro’s unexpired term after Schiliro was elected supervisor two years ago.

Meanwhile, Berra who finished third in a four-candidate race in 2013, was appointed in January 2014 to fill the vacancy created by Schiliro before being defeated by Mezzancello in last November’s cliffhanger, which took about three weeks to decide. Berra has remained visible throughout the year in preparation for this year’s election.

Schiliro is unopposed for a second term as supervisor.

José Berra

A CPA and an attorney who worked in the Office of Tax Policy at the U.S Department of the Treasury in Washington under Presidents Bush and Clinton, Berra also has extensive finance experience and business experience. He said his broad experience gives him an unusual ability to delve into important, often complicated, details on a host of town issues and also to anticipate future ramifications.

“It’s incredibly personally fulfilling,” Berra said of his previous service and his hope to return to the board. “I can have a significant positive impact in a town I love because of my unique experience and background. At 26 ½ years and counting, I have very consciously made this amazing town my home for most of my adult life.”

One of the key issues facing the town is how to pay for critical road repairs, an issue that has become more urgent with recent difficult winters, finite resources and the need to keep the roads safe. The current board has been working with its finance committee which is helping officials devise a plan to complete repairs as quickly and as cost-effectively as possible.

Berra is a fiscal conservative who supports a responsible, cost-effective amount of borrowing to implement a comprehensive plan that both accelerates road repairs to a three-year period and is shown to lower the overall cost of those repairs.   He said safety, cost and quality of life are some of the key factors he would look to balance in devising a plan, and says that those factors make it imperative to complete the work as quickly as possible.

“I think it’s important to move ahead with a comprehensive plan sooner rather than later,” Berra said. “Obviously, it would have been much better if we had done it this year.”

For Berra, an important component must be a schedule that would be posted on the town’s website to inform residents of when they could expect their street to be redone.

Once repairs are made, he said the town must be diligent in maintaining the roads so that they will last as long as possible.

A critical issue facing downtown Armonk and portions of North White Plains is parking. Berra said once the town moves ahead with creating additional spaces behind Hergenhan Recreation Center for use by employees of local businesses to free up spaces closest to the stores and restaurants for patrons, a project he voted for last year, the town should then assess its impact on the downtown to determine what additional parking may be needed in the short and long term. He would not move ahead with additional parking at the more expensive and environmentally challenging Kent Place site that has been proposed by some unless it’s clear that there aren’t better alternatives and only if it’s shown that it makes sense to do so.

During the public hearings on the Brynwood Golf & Country Club and old lumberyard rezonings, Berra was outspoken against granting preferential condominium taxation for those projects, citing fairness as one key concern since those tax breaks would have to be subsidized by the other taxpayers in town. Condominium owners pay taxes at roughly half the rate that applies to the vast majority of the town’s housing, which is taxed at the normal fee simple tax rate. He also said that those tax breaks can unfairly adversely impact the values of existing homes that are condo-like in structure but are taxed at the normal fee simple rate.

However, Berra said he would be open to providing seniors a tax break to keep them in the community.

“We want to retain our seniors because they are an important part of the fabric of our community and also some of our most experienced and dedicated volunteers. Furthermore, if you look at it from an economic perspective, they don’t have kids in schools,” he said.

Berra called the county’s handling of the dilapidated 278-year-old Elijah Miller House in North White Plains “a disgrace.” He said he supports keeping the historic structure in the current location and also could support other locations that have the strong backing of North White Plains’ residents since they are most directly affected by the house’s location. He would fight county attempts to shift costs to the town for the repair or ongoing maintenance of the Miller House.

Stephen D’Angelo

D’Angelo has spent the last four years on the town board but comparing the first and second halves of his tenure thus far has almost been like two separate terms.

On a politically split board for the first two years, there were plenty of public clashes. While the current board has had disagreements, D’Angelo said the current members listen and respect one another.

“The next four years I want to continue what we’ve done,” he said. “I worked hard in two different administrations to get things done.”

Although the town has set aside about $2 million toward road repairs this year, taking advantage of low interest rates by borrowing money to accelerate the work will be needed to bring a large portion of the town’s roads up to an acceptable condition, D’Angelo said. The board is awaiting the final recommendation from its task force to help officials determine how best to accomplish that goal.

“I’d like to be able to pave every road tomorrow but the problem is if you don’t do anything for 10 years, then you have to do it all over again,” said D’Angelo, an Armonk accountant.

It has also been able to do roads in Windmill Farm in conjunction with the water main replacement project.

While parking in downtown Armonk remains an issue, D’Angelo said he doesn’t see it as big a problem as when Armonk Square first opened. The town has made strides in getting employees’ vehicles out of the areas where customers should park. Next year, additional spaces will be created after the approval of the extra parking behind the Hergenhan Recreation Center, which should further ease the downtown crunch, he said.

As the economy has slowly recovered from the debilitating recession of seven or eight years ago, the town has steadily regained its fiscal health, he said. However, there have also been good decisions made. D’Angelo said in the past few years, North Castle has lowered the starting salaries of department heads and new employees in the highway and water and sewer departments.

D’Angelo said he expects a 2016 preliminary budget that is under the tax cap when it is released later this week.

Adding assesables in recent years has also helped the town’s finances, he said. The Bristal assisted living facility and Armonk Square have come on line. Still to be added will be the housing project at the old lumberyard and Brynwood, which D’Angelo became comfortable with after the application was reduced to 73 units, which should have little impact on the schools, and fee simple taxation.

“When this project is done the people of this town will be happy with it, the people in Windmill will be very happy with it and this is going to be a shining star for North Castle,” D’Angelo said of Brynwood.

He said the board has been vigilant that North White Plains and its residents continue to be treated equally. Recently, officials went with state Sen. George Latimer on a tour of the Route 22 corridor at rush hour in hopes of addressing traffic issues and Councilwoman Barbara DiGiacinto has regularly hosted her Saturday morning meetings. Adding a generator to the community center and library on Clove Road is a priority to make that facility a shelter in an emergency.

D’Angelo believes that the town is firmly on the right path.

“The reality is I just want to keep everything going the way it is, just make the town better,” he said. “Brynwood, try to get that going and all of these other projects we’ve approved over the last couple of years. We don’t want to tax the people too much but we want to do things.”

Guy Mezzancello

Mezzancello, a former planning board member, thought he was kept busy reviewing applications. That was easy compared to the wide range of issues the town board addresses.

“The town board is a lot more work,” he said. “I like it. I can get a lot more done, I think. I’ve done a lot. I think we have a lot more to go, but it’s been challenging, very challenging.”

One of the biggest issues facing the town is the need to repave much of the town’s 92 miles of road. Mezzancello said he wants the town to complete the work as quickly and as cost-effectively as possible, and as a contractor, he believes his professional experience can help the town board achieve that goal.

“I want to get the roads done in the quickest amount of time not just to be but to enjoy it the most,” Mezzancello said. “If the money’s the same, if it doesn’t cost you more for three years or five years, why not do it in three years?”

Although parking in downtown Armonk is a problem at certain hours, Mezzancello said that it’s a nice problem to have. While campaigning recently near Armonk Square, about 70 percent of shoppers that he interacted with weren’t town residents, he said.

Expansion of the Hergenhan Recreation Center parking should relieve some pressure. If additional space is needed, Mezzancello said he would like to explore the idea of building “a low-profile” parking structure in the area behind the Main Street stores.

Similar to his colleagues, Mezzancello supported the Brynwood rezoning, but having fee simple taxes on the 73 residences was a must. He also complimented the Brynwood Partners for working with the town on a host of other complicated

“That’s our last pristine piece of property almost in this town,” he said. “There’s no way we could have let that go for a song and a dance from our tax rolls. So I think that worked out really well.”

While Mezzancello agreed that Brynwood’s luxury units should be subject to full taxation, he would like to have a greater mix of housing stock and types of taxes in town.

“There’s a place for condos, there’s a place for townhouses, there’s a place for fee simple taxation,” he said. “Brynwood definitely should be full taxation.”

Enticing appropriate types of businesses to North Castle to generate more revenue is critical. Mezzancello applauded the move that is bringing a satellite location of White Plains Hospital to Business Park Drive. He said another type of business that could fit well in one of the vacancies there is a data center, which would be a relatively low cost to the town but would provide revenue benefits.

Mezzancello said he would like to help North White Plains by trying to find a way for commercial property owners to restore their properties along Route 22. One of the hamlet’s challenges stems from the traffic and the need for the state to improve conditions along that state route.










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