HARRISON, N.Y. — The Harrison Daily Voice accepts signed, original letters to the editor. Letters may be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To the Editor,
There is a crisis in Harrison; for the year ending August 2012, the average home price has declined by 24%, making Harrison the worst performing real estate market in Westchester County, a trend that will continue unless direct action is taken. A key reason for this underperformance is that, relative to the taxes that we pay, Harrison’s public infrastructure is antiquated and lags surrounding communities.
The five Town Council Members have been presented with an opportunity to alter this course by creating the necessary conditions for private donors to modernize our Downtown Public Library, which has been an educational, recreational, and cultural hub for over 100 years, but is currently in disrepair due to massive underinvestment and deferred maintenance. The question is simple: will the Town Board a) seize a once-in-a-generation, incredibly cost-effective opportunity to solve this issue, or b) do nothing and forever be responsible for this accelerating problem.
I am a third generation Harrison resident and am devoting my time and resources to effectuate this project. The Library serves all constituencies in our Town: Children, Teenagers, Senior Citizens, Unemployed Neighbors, Small Businesses, and everyone in between. In 2011, the economic value of Library services provided to Harrison residents was $4.2 million, while the cost to taxpayers was only $2.2 million.
Unfortunately, the Library’s future is at risk given that its 1960’s and 1980’s infrastructure is unable to service our 21st century community. This should not be a surprise, since we have massively underinvested: Harrison ranks 39 of the 42 surrounding communities that we surveyed in terms of the amount of major capital improvements made to Library infrastructure. While the average Town in our survey invested $5.8 million, Harrison’s only major capital improvement made to the Downtown branch was a $48,000 roof repair that occurred in 2003. As a proud Harrison citizen, I find this to be embarrassing and contrary to our Town’s core values.
We are prepared to fix this problem by building a premier, state-of-the-art Library facility with $2.5 million of private capital. We cannot do so, however, until the Town first agrees to remedy the deferred maintenance in the building, which consists of HVAC, fire protection, plumbing, and electrical systems. The economics of doing so are incredibly compelling: Harrison taxpayers would invest $1.1 million and receive a $3.6 million facility in return; even Warren Buffet can’t find investments that are 31 cents on the dollar.
In today’s interest rate environment, the actual annual cost to taxpayers of that investment would only be $69,992 per year, or $2.55 per citizen! This would amount to a 3% increase in the Library’s cost to taxpayers, but a 100% increase in the quality of the facility. This cost would be entirely offset if real estate values increased by merely 0.001% per year, which I believe they certainly would.
The Town Board passing on this opportunity would be incredibly unwise, since these maintenance investments will soon become nondiscretionary and the cost will increase from $69,992 per year to $123,626 per year, because the building would have to be reopened, there will be inflation, and interest rates will certainly be higher.
In June, a 3.5 page proposal was submitted to the Mayor and Town Attorney, whereby the Richard E. Halperin Memorial Fund would commit to making a $1 million gift to the Town. Almost four months later, there has still been no response or any comments; the Town Attorney said two weeks ago that there is “still nothing to report.” How is our Town Council going to solve our public infrastructure crisis if they can’t even accept a $1 million gift from a private foundation?
The Library Board of Trustees first identified a need to modernize this facility in 2004 and absolutely nothing has been done since. Now, eight years later, it is time for the Town Council to take this necessary step, so that we, with private funds, can fix the problem. In doing so, the Town Council Members will make a very clear statement that they care more about education, recreation, and property values than the dogmatic fallacy that investing no money in public infrastructure is fiscally responsible. Not acting will destroy this incredible opportunity to make our Town better.
If you are one of the many who do care, please e-mail our Town Council Members (e-mails are available on Town website) and copy me (Ross@HarrisonPLF.org).