Mullen’s ‘back to school’ update: ‘Myriad benefits’ to inhouse garbage collection; Scelza gets village administrator post


Pelham Mayor Chance Mullen

Editor’s note: This letter was provided by Village of Pelham Mayor Chance Mullen.

I hope you’ve had a restful summer. With a new school year officially underway and a busy docket for the Village Board this fall, I write to share a few updates on the work your Village government is doing.

First, the Pelham House project is in the final stages of the design development phase and will soon be back in front of the Village Board for public comment. As you’ll remember, we held a meeting just before the break to unveil the draft schematic designs and preliminary architectural plans for our new municipal center. We received excellent feedback from all those present: members of the Planning Board and Architectural Review Board, Trustees, staff, and many of our residents. We’ve spent the summer working to incorporate that guidance, and I could not be happier with the progress being made by the project’s architects. We are still on track to break ground at the end of the calendar year. Please be on the lookout for upcoming meetings on this, and thanks to all those who provided such excellent feedback. I’m excited for you to see the new plans.

Second, you may have heard that the Village Board decided to bring our sanitation service in-house during this year’s capital planning process, starting in December of 2022. The rationale for this decision is probably apparent for those familiar with the challenges we have faced these last few years. In 2019, the Village’s previous provider lost its license. We were forced into a new contract that was devastating for our local budget, increasing the cost of our garbage service by over half a million dollars annually. This happened three months before the pandemic caused our non-property tax revenue streams to plummet. After service cuts and a tax hike, we are only just now seeing the light at the end of this tunnel.

While this experience may have been unprecedented, it should not have been surprising. Relying on private carting for such a core service has always been a gamble, fraught with risk and downside on nearly every front: legal, economic, environmental, ethical. Since we cannot choose who gets our contract, we subject ourselves to these risks every 2-4 years when we go out to bid. We have a wonderful partner in Oakridge right now, but we may not always be so lucky. Now that we are finally on a path to recovery, this unnecessary risk must be addressed. Forward-thinking decision-making to ensure a more stable and sustainable future is at the heart of everything the Village Board is doing right now.

There are myriad benefits to moving our sanitation service in-house. You’ll be happy to know that launching this service is budget neutral – a key factor when deciding whether or not to move forward – and it will provide far more financial stability for our taxpayers over the long term. This is also the first step in adopting sanitation practices more in line with our environmental goals. Right now, our Village is serviced by diesel trucks that must commute back and forth from Connecticut. By my math, that commute alone burns an extra 50 gallons of diesel fuel per day. This decision erases that commute and paves the way for a serious conversation about how to transition to an electrified fleet once the technology becomes reliable – a conversation that will never happen unless we first assume responsibility for the operation itself. And finally, an in-house service gives us a level of operational flexibility we have not enjoyed for decades. Consider this most recent storm: we’ve needed to negotiate with a third party for every additional pickup provided for residents cleaning up from the storm. If our service was in-house, we could spend our energy focused on service and respond immediately to emerging needs.

We now have 15 months of work ahead of us to ensure we are ready to launch this service, and I hope you’ll join us to provide input as opportunities arise.

Another topic that is likely to prompt public debate will begin in earnest tonight: New York State’s recent decision to create a regulated and taxed cannabis industry in New York and allow its use and sale. Each community in the state will need to decide whether or not to allow retail dispensaries and on-site consumption establishments within their municipal boundaries. Since the law is complicated, we have asked attorneys from McCarthy Fingar, LLP, to walk us through the details of the legislation and the actions we will need to consider. If you’re interested in this topic, I highly recommend that you join us via zoom (the link is on the Village website). If you’re unable to join, the presentation will be available online, and please don’t hesitate to reach out if you’d like to share your perspective.

As a final note, please join me in congratulating our new Village Administrator, Chris Scelza, who was formally appointed earlier this summer. As you know, our previous Village Administrator resigned in March, and Chris served as Acting Village Administrator for three months before his official appointment. I have had the pleasure of working with him since 2017, when I first joined the board as a Trustee, and I found his deep knowledge and passion for modern municipal practice to be invaluable. He is responsive, candid, and frank with his opinions – an essential characteristic of a good Chief Operating Officer. What has most impressed me, though, is his commitment to fiscal discipline. He was instrumental in helping the Village navigate the fiscal turmoil of the last few years, and his advice was essential to putting us on a path toward recovery. I’m excited to see the contribution he will make to our community, and I hope you’ll take a moment to wish him well the next time you see him. Congratulations Chris!