There is something refreshing about Sleepy Hollow’s new Village Administrator, Anthony Giaccio. Maybe it’s his candor, maybe it’s his resolve that life and life’s work are far from perfection.
Maybe it is his direct nature. Regardless, he is a breath of fresh air in the Village. Given a three-year contract by the new Board of Trustees and a plateful of responsibilities, we met with Giaccio recently at Village Hall.
When asked about General Motors and the current litigation the Village finds itself enmeshed in, he replied, "I cannot comment about negotiations or the lawsuit, but there is definitely a priority to get something done with General Motors around the special permit." That special permit would allow for initial building on the site in phases.
"The DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) had declared the land portion of General Motors as being completely remediated and final reports are being drawn up. The water portion, however, is still being tested and no remediation plan is in effect at this time," he added. Currently, GM has no developer/partner, and while the fallow land generates about $130,000 in tax revenue for Sleepy Hollow, if developed it would garner between $600,000 to $700,000 in additional revenue for the Village. "I think General Motors is interested in the special permit so they can put a package together for a developer. They want something to sell a developer," he said. When asked if there was a timeline for Sleepy Hollow and General Motors to resolve their differences, Giaccio answered, "It’s at a very sensitive point right now so I don’t want to comment other than to say that the goal is to get something done. But you never know. Because it is so sensitive, things could backfire quickly. But things could move quickly too. It’s too early to tell."
Although the ongoing issues between Sleepy Hollow and GM grab most of the media headlines according to Anthony Giaccio, the number one priority for Sleepy Hollow is the economy. "The improvement of our tax base supersedes all other issues," he said. The upcoming budget looms large in 2009. When asked about the no tax increases that the new Board of Trustees ran their campaign on in March, he answered, "It is still too early to say that we will be able to keep a zero percent increase with the new tax budget." He added, "I know that many people talk about sharing services with other municipalities as a way of lowering costs and we do that to a certain extent." Sleepy Hollow does share with Tarrytown the costs for the Warner Library. "What many people don’t understand is that sharing services is more complicated than saying let’s do it. One village may have no incentive to share a service while another may have a great incentive to seek out a sharing agreement," he said. A prime example of dissimilar needs and motives was a failed attempt by Dobbs Ferry and Irvington to share police services. Although both Mayors entered into discussions, the Irvington Police Department felt that they weren’t a part of the discussion process and the entire idea played out as premature and untenable. "In order for us to figure out where we might be able to save money we need a study done." Sleepy Hollow, Tarrytown and the School District have reportedly received a $100,000 grant to have one such study done regarding the possibility of shared parks and recreation services. In the end, fixed costs such as salaries, benefits, insurance and utilities account for almost 85 percent of every Village budget. In a best case scenario, Sleepy Hollow can only work on reducing costs within the remaining 15 percent.
Shifting focus onto more tangible projects, Giaccio was clear about a top priority of his. "I came to this Village because it is primed for resurgence. We have completed Barnhardt Park which is a great accomplishment," he said. The Park is a must see for all residents and visitors. It has a sweeping view of the Hudson River including the Tappan Zee Bridge and Manhattan to the south while the Palisades loom large to the north. There is a passive component to the Park with benches and walkways under the shelter of a large oak tree. In addition, two turf volley ball courts and another turf playing field complement grand playgrounds for toddlers and older children alike. "We are in the process of completing the streetscape now in areas around the Park, with new sidewalks and paving," he said.
"I want to be a part of the revitalization of Beekman Avenue. We have a committee that is not a part of Village
government. They have a grant for $500,000. In addition the Village has applied for a $200,000 grant to improve Cortlandt Street," he added. These grant monies would be used to improve storefront facades and the general appearance of the streets. "One of my priorities is to improve the downtown image of Sleepy Hollow. I come from a recreation background and one of the ways you revitalize a village is to change the mindset of its residents. The street fair this year was a great success. We’ll make it twice as good next year. We’re doing an Armed Services parade in May on Beekman Avenue. In celebration of Henry Hudson’s voyage up the Hudson River 400 years ago, a flotilla of six replica ships will pass by Sleepy Hollow in June and we are hosting an arts festival in Kingsland Point Park on June 6," he said.
With regard to Kingsland Point Park, Westchester County and the Village are drafting a new contract that will in all probability increase out-of-county visitor parking fees to twice the rate residents pay. Sleepy Hollow will also have the power to charge more to non-county residents for the use of the pavilions. The County has refused to contribute any money for park maintenance. It will, however, provide $300,000 for upgrades to the Lighthouse, and the Village has a matching grant for that expense as well. In addition, the County will perform necessary work on the deteriorating seawall at the river’s edge. "I have been here since mid-July and the overwhelming number of people, including the Board, want the Village to keep stewardship of Kingsland Point Park. I believe we will get this new five-year agreement accomplished."
As 2008 winds down, Sleepy Hollow is gearing up for a much-needed and more-than-welcomed resurgence as an historic rivertown.