Julie Hallowell Vulpescu is one of two Democratic candidates running for council seats on the Bedford Town Board. Her background includes being a fundraiser and attorney for NYU Langone Medical Center. Below is a Q&A interview, which is edited for formatting but not for content:
Patch: Why are you running?
Vulpescu: I am running because have sound judgment, an analytical mind and a compassionate heart. I want to help the people of Bedford. When you seek public service you must leave your ego and prejudices at the door. I abhor any sense of entitlement – unfortunately, it seems to be the message of our opponents. In fact, I was stunned when one of our opponents actually stated having a feeling of “deserving” the position. I submit that the people “deserve” a humble servant and a public servant “deserves” a certain amount of gratitude, but never does the public servant “deserve” the post.
Patch: How well do you think the current town board has governed and what, if anything, would you change?
Vulpescu: I think that the current town board members have done the best job they know how to do. A number of them have simply been there too long and cannot see what needs to be done differently – there are changes that need to be made. Our opponents are running on a platform of maintaining the status quo – basically, if you liked Lee you’ll love their team. The view has been myopic, though – there was only ever one issue that was ever really stressed under Lee’s authority. I would take a broader view and seek more input from the residents about what is important to them. The main concern must always be the people – everything should be viewed through that lens. In light of the frequent reports of domestic disputes in the police blotter, I would like to see public education, outreach and training on domestic abuse issues.
Patch: How would you describe the town board's current relations with the school boards of Bedford Central and Katonah-Lewisboro? Should the town board work with them more closely on common topics?
Vulpescu: I think the town board has been fairly “hands-off” with the school boards. The town board should work more closely with the school boards on common topics – perhaps seeking greater opportunities for cost saving or shared services. In addition, the town boards and school boards – along with other area town boards – can work on community problem-solving measures and projecting wider community values. For instance, safety, security, health and wellness issues do not end for students when they leave school at the end of the day and can be carried from schools into homes through greater community involvement.
Patch: Earlier this year Patch reported on the possibility of having Bedford Hills and Katonah use alternative wastewater treatment instead of traditional septic systems. Would you support a switch?
Vulpescu: Of course I would support any sensible and cost effective solution to Bedford Hills and Katonah’s wastewater/septic problems. County Legislator Pete Harckham has been working to bring a pilot project with so-called enhanced treatment units (ETUs) to East of Hudson communities. Bedford Hills and Katonah are in critical need of a solution to septic problems. What puzzles me is why it has taken as long as it has. In 2003 the septic issue was one of the top problems identified in the comprehensive plan. Water filtration didn’t even make the list. I understand that priorities may change – but the septic problem hasn’t gone away and virtually nothing has happened.
Patch: Bedford is among a group of municipalities thinking about doing a joint property revaluation. Should Bedford continue with the process or should it stop?
Vulpescu: My understanding is that Bedford hasn’t taken the first critical step of internally evaluating its own tax rolls to understand what reassessment may mean for taxpayers. We don’t know that our problems align with other towns that have been clamoring for reassessment. What we do know, though, is that without the other towns in our school districts participating, no rebalancing of school taxes will occur. I question how far along this course we should go without having an idea of what are possible or likely outcomes.
Patch: The idea of updating Bedford's comprehensive plan was recently brought up by supervisor candidate Chris Burdick during the League of Women Voters candidates' forum. Do you support updating the comprehensive plan?
Vulpescu: I have studied the comprehensive plan pretty closely. I was stunned to see that much of the recommendations were not instituted. As I mentioned earlier, I understand priorities changing. Still, I know that many people spent years creating the plan and it was adopted by the board. It is meant to be a guiding document. I know that the zoning board of appeals makes reference to it and certainly the planning board does as well. It seems to me that it was largely ignored by the supervisor and board that adopted it though. For example, recently I learned that state funds are being secured for installation of a light at a certain intersection. The comprehensive plan specifically states that the intersection should have a round-about. Again, I don’t have a problem, per se, with plans changing, but the plan should have been referenced and variation from the plan addressed and explained. There is much that can be salvaged from the current plan, but in light of the decade that has passed I would like to see the comprehensive plan reviewed and brought up to date. Importantly, I think that common sense traffic calming measures mentioned in the plan should be revisited and taken into consideration – along with newer understandings of urban planning techniques that may work on a small town scale. People on Cherry and McLain Streets are understandably concerned about the increased volume and aggressiveness of the automobiles on their roadways.
Patch: How should Bedford proceed, going forward, with handling Westchester County's affordable housing settlement?
Vulpescu: First off, Bedford’s zoning laws and right to “home rule” are not under threat from the federal government. There are problems such as wastewater management in the watershed and traffic on our residential roadways, which make increases in the population problematic. Without careful and thoughtful planning for the future we are going to have local and regional impacts that make life in Bedford more difficult and less enjoyable. Bedford has always had affordable housing – it just became unaffordable. I would like to see some programs which are geared to keeping seniors in their homes by contracting with them to place their homes in affordable housing stock – thereby reducing their tax burden and maintaining the economically diverse character of our neighborhoods for future generations. Between the 2000 and 2010 census Bedford’s population went down – not insignificantly. This means the greater tax burden is falling on fewer people. If we can manage it with the septic issues, I would be in favor of making the downtowns of Bedford Hills and Katonah friendly for single home “style” multi-family houses. I would encourage units that would be sensible for moderate income: singles; young professionals who are seeking a place to establish themselves and to raise a future family; empty nesters who wish to stay in town; and for single and/or noncustodial parents. Because our roadways are becoming too heavily traveled, the emphasis should be on proximity to public transportation and safe walking/biking.
Patch: Mount Kisco is considering whether to consolidate its police department with the Westchester County Department of Public Safety. Somers and Lewisboro note that they have part-time police departments and have state police support. The town, meanwhile, was given a fiscal projection study that predicts budget deficits for several of the coming years. Should Bedford study a switch to either model as a budgetary savings measure, given the deficits projection?
Vulpescu: I am willing to explore the possibilities. I recognize the value of local police officers though – people I went to high school with, for instance, who know our vast miles of streets, our businesses, our young people and even forests, trails and caves where trouble can take place. No amount of training can make up for that local knowledge. If we could find a solution that was agreeable, fair and cost effective with all things considered and all stakeholders involved then I would be supportive. It should be clear, though, that once it’s gone it’s gone forever. That should not be a decision that is taken lightly, Clearly, the town board learned that the residents’ do not take kindly to unilateral mandated action when it recently decided based only on the report of an environmental group to institute a program of town-run hauling and recycling. It was embarrassing for the town supervisor and the environmental group, who failed to consult stakeholders and residents and ended up reversing the decision (oddly without board input) when the outcry became deafening. Decisions about major decisions need to be clearly communicated, input sought and stakeholders convened whenever major changes are being proposed and before decisions are made.
Patch: Bedford's three hamlets have several of their own recreational services, such as separate pools and separate camps. However, given the deficit projections released recently, can having three of each recreational amenity be sustained?
Vulpescu: The three hamlets of Bedford each has its own special character, which is why I like to call Bedford a “community of communities” – or as the saying goes “e pluribus unum”. The pools and parks are very well used. In a time when there are fewer times and places for diverse groups of residents to convene – summer at the town pool brings intangible value far beyond the cost of admission. While we plan to look at how every dollar is being spent, I consider the hamlet camps and pools to be necessities.
Patch: How would you describe the relationship between the town board and the merchants in the hamlets? Is there anything you would change?
Vulpescu: The town board should be the biggest cheerleaders for our town businesses. Vibrant downtowns with useful and successful businesses are critical to the ease and enjoyment living in Bedford. When I was growing up here, Bedford Village was known for having only antique stores and real estate offices. The village itself was an antique (or a dinosaur). It took years, but now the stores are varied, interesting and useful. The introduction of diverse businesses creates a virtuous circle in which they add magnitudes of value through a larger customer base spending more time and more money. Boards can also study the market and seek synergistic businesses or gaps in the business base. Partnering with other stakeholders, the board can introduce marketing and public service to increase visibility, In addition, issues of safety and security and other services impact the willingness and availability of patrons and employees. Naturally, parking, downtown wastewater management, police visibility and utilities impact what businesses the town can support and to some degree their success.