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The Rye Record is a very enjoyable newspaper covering community events and beyond.

I usually find insightful advice in the “Ask Alice” column. In the May 5 issue, however, I was surprised and disappointed. One set of grandparents writes about their <<weekly>> visits with their daughter’s family and less than warm interactions with their son-in-law. Yikes! Who would want their in-laws to show up weekly? The young family must be free to explore their own community and beyond, plus sports and activities with their own friends. The grandparents should do the same, taking in some museums and a movie once in a while. So much enforced togetherness is a burden for all and a pleasure for none. Perhaps once a month there could some interaction if it’s convenient.

Also, in John Schwarz’s “Ruminations” column, the grandfather of 18, two of them twins, expresses wonderment at the large number of twins in the world now. With IVF, twins are much more common than in the past.

Thank you for your quality newspaper!

<— Janet Darlington

A twin, conceived the old-fashioned way, mother of four, and grandmother of ten>

By law, the County must pass a balanced budget each year. Last fall, County Executive Astorino and a bi-partisan majority of the County Board of Legislators approved a balanced budget for 2017 that accomplished a number of things.

It held spending to $1.8 billion, the same amount as the County Executive’s first budget seven years ago, and it continued a seven-year run of either lowering or holding the county tax levy flat. Consequently, $400 million has stayed in the pockets of seniors, young families, and small businesses when you compare County Executive Astorino’s seven budgets to annual increases of just 2 percent, the amount allowable under the state’s cap.

It’s also critical to note that the spending and tax savings were achieved <without> drawing money from the county’s reserves. According to audited figures, the reserves, commonly called the “rainy day” fund, were $164.5 million on the day County Executive Astorino came into office and were $164.7 million at the end of 2015. A similar figure is expected next month when the auditors close the books for 2016.

For those who say tax hikes amount to just pennies a day, those pennies add up quickly. In his last four years in office, former County Executive Andrew Spano depleted the rainy day reserve fund by $25 million and increased taxes by $175 million. Compare that to the Astorino record and you have a $600 million swing in what taxpayers had to pay and what they could keep.

One way that County Executive Astorino is making Westchester more affordable is by unlocking the hidden value of County assets. A key example is the Westchester County Airport.

By taking advantage of a Federal Aviation Administration program, Westchester can tap surplus revenues generated at the airport, which until now have had to stay at the airport. Under the proposed public-private partnership, net proceeds from the airport into the County’s general fund are expected to be at least $140 million – money that for the first time can be used to pay for police, parks, roads, day care and other services.

The public should also know the character of the airport is not changing. The county will continue to own the property. Yes, an outside company will manage the airport, but that has been the case since the end of World War II. The number of gates will remain at four and current passenger caps will also remain in effect.

Westchester’s great quality of life means nothing if people can’t afford to live here. The Astorino record shows a commitment to affordability by holding the line on taxes and spending and smartly positioning Westchester for the future.

  • Ned McCormack

<Mr. McCormack is Westchester’s Director of Communications and Senior Advisor to the County Executive.>

Astorino spokesman Ned McCormack’s May 5 letter is highly misleading. While McCormack says that the character of the Westchester County Airport will not change under privatization, nothing could be further from the truth.

McCormack notes that the number of gates and the passenger cap at the airport will not change. However, these limits apply only to airlines, which, according to the FAA, are less than 8% of airport traffic. Private flights, the other 92%, already cause most noise complaints and curfew violations and are free to grow without bounds. A private operator in search of profits will look for growth wherever it can by adding airline flights, lobbying for an increase in the passenger cap, and wooing corporate jets from other area airports.

If Astorino really believes in preserving Westchester’s quality of life, he should consider former County Executive Andy Spano’s muscular efforts to keep the airport a good neighbor. Today, six airline flights depart daily at or before the 6:30 a.m. curfew. In 2001, Spano threatened to close the entrance of the parking garage until 5:50 a.m. to encourage airlines to respect the curfew. Instead, Astorino looks to sell our County asset and the well being of our citizens to a private corporation.

Astorino claims there is a huge amount of money to unlock from the airport, but this also obscures the truth. The $140 million over 40 years the County stands to gain from airport privatization is less than 0.2% of the County’s $1.8 billion annual budget. Privatization would also reduce county revenues from other sources. Since 1991, the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program has given Westchester $102 million in federal money for security, infrastructure, and environmental projects at the airport. These grants secure the airport’s future and provide good jobs for our neighbors. But under privatization, the FAA would have given the county $9 million less. Privatization would also eliminate the $7 million per year the County would receive from the airport parking garage starting in 2023.

The 30- to 40-year length of the proposed lease is even more unacceptable because Astorino’s administration has evaded public input and access to the airport master plan, which will guide the development of and operations at the airport for the next decade. Even though his airport advisory board admits the plan has already been sent to the FAA for approval, Astorino continues to deny access to the plan both to the Board of Legislators and to the public. They claim, contrary to the FAA’s own guidance, that public input should not be solicited until after the FAA has approved the plan. How can we trust Astorino when he blocks efforts by the public to understand and comment on what he wants to do?

The privatization of Westchester County Airport would be a disastrous mistake that would irreparably harm the quality of life of our residents for decades into the future. Astorino’s original plan was rightly defeated last December, and voters should demand – at the ballot box this November if necessary – that the Board of Legislators end their pursuit of this foolhardy and shortsighted initiative.

— Jonathan Wang

Sierra Club Westchester Airport Committee

Thanks to the Internet, facts can spread faster than a stomach bug in a kindergarten classroom. The only problem is that many of those “facts” turn out not to be true.

Somehow we’ve moved from the Information Age into the Era of Fake News. How dangerous is it to live in this era? Consider that fake news led a gunman to go into a pizza parlor in Washington, D.C. in search of a child sex ring that he believed had been started by Hillary Clinton. Consider that fake news has led thousands of parents to leave their children dangerously unvaccinated against diseases that were once nearly eradicated.

How did we get here? The Founding Fathers of this country knew that democracy could not exist without the right of the press to question our leaders, to look deeper into their statements, and to do so without fear of reprisal from elected officials. But they couldn’t have imagined the Internet.

Information is moving very rapidly these days. How do you know what news sources to trust? How do we avoid getting into a news bubble that keeps us from fully understanding what’s going on in the country?

These are serious questions that we are — or should be — asking one another and ourselves. Luckily, there are journalists living in our community who can help us sort out these issues. I invite you to join a panel of distinguished media professionals and me Wednesday, May 17 at 7:30 p.m. at Community Synagogue in Rye to talk about Fake News, The First Amendment, and Democracy. This free event is sponsored by We Persist; registration is required at https://fakenewsmediapanel.eventbrite.com

It will be an evening for all Americans, regardless of political affiliation, to come together and understand the new media landscape and its implications for all of us.

— Andi Hessekiel

The City of Rye’s seasonal leaf blower ban went into effect May 1. Residents are asked to remind their lawn service companies and contractors that the use of both gas and electric blowers is prohibited until October 1.

Municipal entities, schools, religious institutions, membership clubs, retirement communities, and cemeteries are exempt.

For further details of the City law, go to the City’s website, ryeny.gov.

Vote Yes on May 16

As a near empty nester, I write to support a “Yes” vote for the Rye City School District budget on Tuesday, May 16. With our youngest child graduating this year, I can say that we feel lucky to have found Rye and we love it here. As young families pour into Rye, I feel confident they too will love it here Rye is a truly great community.

Yes, we were drawn as many are to Rye because of its powerhouse schools. Rye City Schools have an outstanding reputation nationwide and internationally.  

Beyond school rankings though, Rye offers so much more — wonderful people, incredible school spirit, and, perhaps most importantly, a strong community that values education. Rye residents support their schools. When there is a need, the community responds. Participation in school and community volunteerism is what makes Rye so special.  

Navigating a history of state-imposed fiscal mandates, the District has proposed a tax cap-compliant budget that maintains the excellence of our schools. The proposed budget reflects intelligent decision-making, balancing fiscal responsibility and educational priorities.

We can all be proud that Rye has passed its budgets by a 70% margin the last five years. Clearly, Rye residents support education and this has strengthened our community and our property values.

For this, and especially for educating my beloved children, I owe a big thank-you. It will soon be time to come out again to support our schools. On May 16, I hope Rye’s new families and old will join me in voting “Yes” on the school budget.

Mary Emery