Town of Bedford Seal

Bedford residents will have a chance to weigh in next Tuesday, Dec. 7, on three topics that have been the subject of intense interest. The 2022 town budget, leaf blower noise, and cannabis consumption sites will each be the subject of a public hearing. 

The first session, on cannabis, is set to start at 7 p.m. While the budget hearing is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. and the leaf blower hearing for 7:20 p.m., those amount to their earliest possible start times. Actual times will depend on how long each of the prior hearings lasts.

“These are big topics,” Supervisor MaryAnn Carr confirmed by email.

Deputy Supervisor Ellen Calves, who will be sworn in as the new supervisor on Jan. 1, agreed. 

“Over the next couple of weeks, the town board will be making important decisions about cannabis, leaf blowers, and the town budget,” said Ms. Calves. “We need to hear from the public on these topics to make fully informed decisions.”

Cannabis regulations

The town board will hear from the public about its plan to opt out of allowing cannabis consumption sites in town. The town has not opted out of allowing cannabis retail locations.

“It was a unanimous decision among town board members to not allow cannabis consumption shops into our community,” said Ms. Carr. “Marijuana is legal in the state of New York, so this does not prohibit it from being used, cultivated or delivered to Bedford. We were concerned about the driving while impaired that might be caused by consumption shops.”

Ms. Calves said, “From what we have heard so far, no one has been opposed to the town opting out of having smoking lounges. Imposing zoning restrictions on cannabis retail dispensaries, where cannabis products are sold but not consumed, will be on the town board’s 2022 agenda.”

If the board does adopt the proposed law opting out of cannabis consumption locations, it would be subject to a referendum if there were sufficient signatures presented on a petition within a period of time specified by state law. The Municipal Home Rule Act states a petition containing at least 10% of the total number of votes cast in the town for governor in the last election, must be filed within 45 days of the law’s adoption in order for there to be a referendum; otherwise, if there is no referendum, the law will take effect. 

2022 budget 

The preliminary 2022 budget was filed by comptroller Abraham Zambrano on Oct. 29 and presented to the town board Nov. 4. Total appropriations in the tentative budget came to $42,301,801, with total expenditures for all townwide funds totaling $33,159,380, compared with $32,159,380 in 2021. The board has continued to review the budget since it was first presented.

“We have been working on the details of the budget since September,” said Ms. Calves, “and have poured over this budget line by line to ensure that it is really going to serve us well in 2022.”

Ms. Carr said the town board went through the same rigorous and robust budget planning sessions as it had in pre-pandemic years. “We sat down with each department and our three libraries and reviewed each line item in detail,” she said. “With the pandemic still here, we are still challenged, dealing with a shortfall in revenues from parking and court which are more difficult to forecast, given our new normal in how we live and work these days.”

The supervisor said town officials were fiscally prudent in budgeting to ensure the town can continue to maintain a high level of services without cutting resources. “Our department heads have performed over and above the call of duty, and were given modest raises,” Ms. Carr said. “The town board wants to lead by example, so we decided to not give any elected official a raise in fiscal year 2022.” She noted that “the biggest surprise to the town was the increase in health insurance benefits for employees, which is an additional cost of  $252,000.” 

Ms. Carr said townwide taxes were increased by 2.9% — an average of approximately an additional $74 per property owner — and the budget came in comfortably under the tax cap.  

“The public is encouraged to review the budget and weigh in,” said Ms. Calves. “Even in the face of COVID challenges, rising health care and software costs, and a good amount of debt service to pay next year, we have been able to squeeze out some funding for the local libraries, make our senior advocate full time, and maintain funding for a high level of maintenance and services while keeping well under the tax cap.”

A link to the 2022 Tentative Budget can be found on the Finance Department page of the town website, bedfordny.gov.

Leaf blowers

Ms. Carr noted that the town has received complaints from residents regarding the noise from leaf blowers. As a result, the noise ordinance is being amended to address the problem.

“We will consider two laws that will replace the town’s existing leaf blower rules,” explained Ms. Calves. “People have complained about the rules since they were initially passed, as being unfair, confusing, and ineffective to keep down the noise and the pollution.”

The two laws are one amending Chapter 83 of the town code, the “Noise Ordinance,” and one deleting and replacing Chapter 77 of the town code, titled “Leaf Blowers,” with a completely new ordinance.

“The first law addresses the overwhelming appeals we have heard from residents to stop the noise from gas-powered leaf blowers, which are much noisier than most other lawn equipment and used much more frequently,” said Ms. Calves. “The fact is that if leaf blowers were not excluded from the existing noise ordinance, gas-powered leaf blowers would in many cases be prohibited from any use, because they exceed the allowable decibel level allowed at any time except during emergencies.”

She said what they have done is take the exclusion of leaf blowers out of the noise ordinance. “We have made it clear that gas-powered leaf blowers are a sound disturbance that is not permitted except during specific times of the year or emergencies, when the need for blowers to move leaves and debris outweighs the public interest in limiting the noise,” said Ms. Calves. “This law simplifies the leaf blower situation by applying the same rules to the entire town, not just the hamlet zones, and therefore makes them more fair and enforceable.”

The second law, said Ms. Calves, is an environmental ordinance that will ban gas-powered leaf blowers at the end of 2023. “We are banning them because of their outsized harm to local air quality, human health, and climate change,” Ms. Calves said. “Electric leaf blowers are allowed, like any other domestic lawn equipment, and will continue to be allowed after gas-powered leaf blowers are banned in the future.”

Ms. Calves explained that the leaf blower situation is “tricky,” because while they are very harmful to the environment and human health, and annoyingly loud, “some people can’t fathom living without them.” 

“If people don’t want to change their landscaping practices to sweep their driveway and leave grass clippings on their lawn, then they will have to get an electric leaf blower to use in the months when gas-powered blowers are not allowed,” said Ms. Calves. “I am partial to a version of the law that helps with that transition over the next two years, or allows for some reasonable use of the gas-powered version, so they are used minimally in the off season. But every which way we try to come up with a law to do this, it makes the whole situation less enforceable and gives ‘bad actors’ too much room to abuse it. I am looking forward to hearing input from the public and perhaps we can find a solution.”

“We have been talking about these topics for a long time,” Ms. Calves concluded. “It is time to hear from the public and finalize our budget and these laws so we can vote on them and move on to other things.”

Jeff Morris is a staff reporter at The Record-Review where he covers the Town of Bedford and the Katonah-Lewisboro School District. Prior to joining the paper he was a reporter and columnist for the Lewisboro Ledger and a business magazine editor.

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