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Briarcliff Responds to Ossining Municipal Study

Briarcliff Manor's village manager says not all of the options were laid out in an Ossining-only report.

Officials are analyzing what mixing and matching the Town of Ossining and the Village of Ossining's services and structures could mean.

But Briarcliff Manor's village manager, Philip Zegarelli, said his village has been left in the dark.

"There has been absolutely no input from Briarcliff," he said.

The town of Ossining includes the village of Ossining, the village of Briarcliff and an unincorporated portion known as "the town outside."

The analysis comes after Ossining Town and Village officials publicized a report of potential government structure and sharing of services options from the Center for Government Research (CGR) consulting firm. The report, according to a press release from the town, was funded by the state's Local Government Efficiency Incentive Grant program.

The Town and the Village began looking at possible government structure modifications, with the help of CGR, last year. But this isn't the first time that government restructuring has been discussed in Ossining. In the 1990s, town-outside residents discussed forming their own village of Briar Hills. More recently Ossining village residents discussed dissolving.

"There was a movement a couple years ago to dissolve the Village under this new village situation law, which did not take into consideration any of the realities of what that would actually mean. And this study tells you what it would mean," said Ossining Mayor Bill Hanauer.

When it comes to the big picture, CGR was looking at three options for the municipalities. The first is turning Ossining into a city. The second option is dissolving the Village. The third option is creating what is called a "coterminous" town-village.

"I consider the entire report shallow and empty because when I was at previous meetings, I had offered on more than one occasion to sit down with the study group and provide—even if we couldn't participate in some of the options—Briarcliff's perspective and information on these various alternatives," Zegarelli stated.

According to the report, in a coterminous town-village, the Town and the Village could either function together as a single government or as two separate local governments, per the New York Department of State Office of General Counsel. In Ossining's case, the unincorporated area of the Town could be annexed by the Village or the Village could be dissolved and Briarcliff Manor would be separated from Ossining. Right now, there are five coterminous town-villages in New York: Mount Kisco, Harrison, Scarsdale, Green Island and East Rochester.

If Ossining were to become a city, change would be necessary in Briarcliff Manor, the report said. That's because the Town of Ossining, which Briarcliff Manor is a part of, would no longer exist. Briarcliff Manor could possibly be annexed by the Town of Mount Pleasant (of which it is also a part) or it could become its own independent government, such as a town-village. In such a scenario, it would be a town-village because New York State law doesn't allow village governments to exist independently of a town government.

If the Village of Ossining was dissolved, the Town would govern what is now the village and it would be made up of a larger unincorporated area and the current portion of Briarcliff Manor. The option to dissolve the Village of Ossining is the only option that wouldn't force the restructuring of Briarcliff Manor. In addition, if the Village was dissolved, all Village assets could be transferred to the Town of Ossining.

If officials opted to create a coterminous Town-Village, the Village, unincorporated area and Town would be merged. This could be done by the State Legislature or the Village could annex the unincorporated area and then create a coterminous town-village.

Laying out the options this way is incomplete, Zegarelli contended, calling the exercise "bogus."

"The Village of Ossining could also become a city; the village and town outside could merge, at the same time, the two election districts 17 and 20 could become part of Briarcliff," he said. "The other portion could become part of the Village of Ossining. And the Village of Ossining could become a city or become a town-village."

The Village of Briarcliff Manor and Town of Ossining have been at odds for some time as the residents of the two election districts contemplate whether to petition for annexation.

The study, Zegarelli added, did not elaborate on the possibility of Briarcliff Manor becoming its own town-village, an option the board and Mayor William Vescio have been vocal about recently.

"To say that we would have to become part of the Town of Mount Pleasant, I don't think is any correct assumption," he said. "The Village of Briarcliff Manor would seek to become its own town-village before it would seek to become part of anyone else's town."

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In addition to changing Ossining's governmental structure, CGR also looked at the option of sharing more services. The consulting firm analyzed the possibility of sharing tax collection and the Town Highway Department and Village DPW collaborating more.

Town of Ossining Supervisor Sue Donnelly says she wants to make it clear that the CGR study is not connected in any way to residents voting on possibly changing the Town highway superintendent position to an appointed position.

"[The study] is to not be considered the first step of consolidating the Highway [Department] and the Village DPW," said Donnelly. "That would take a tremendous amount of work that would take many, many meetings with the public involved…As the public has been involved in everything that we have done up until this time, in the last 10 months that this administration has been in office."

CGR also analyzed increased collaboration between the Town and the Village's building departments. And lastly, the consulting firm looked at the Town and the Village possibly saving money through a shared approach to staffing the planning and zoning functions.

Village and Town officials emphasize that they are simply analyzing all options and have not made any decisions on possible changes at this point in time.

"This was an exercise supported by the state government under a grant to study the possibilities. But now that the study is finished, both boards have to take into consideration whether any of these options are actually possible," said Hanauer.

Town Supervisor Donnelly says that there are not any tremendous amounts of savings associated with any of the government structure options that CGR looked at.

"What we got out of this study is a tremendous amount of information, a tremendous amount of number crunching, so we have information at our fingertips should we want to look into different IMAs (intermunicipal agreements), or even different government structures as we move ahead," said Donnelly.

Though Zegarelli said he never received a response after repeatedly offering to provide the village's perspective on the study, he reiterated, "I view the contemplated options as, at a very minimum, a first step. I think there are a lot of other possibilities."

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