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10 Questions: Sleepy Hollow Candidate Jennifer Lobato-Church

SLEEPY HOLLOW, N.Y. – Elections for village trustee are less than a month away, and The Daily Sleepy Hollow is preparing by asking the candidates 10 questions about local issues, what they hope to accomplish and why residents should vote for them.

Six candidates are running for three open seats on the board of trustees. Incumbent Karin Wompa is running alongside Jennifer Lobato-Church and Susan MacFarlane under the Democratic and Better Government lines. David Bedell, Daniel Scott and Sean Roach are running under the Sleepy Hollow Independent line.

The following questionnaire was filled out by Lobato-Church. For previous questionnaires, visit our topics page .

Please tell us a little bit about you:

I am Regulatory Advisory Counsel for the Royal Bank of Scotland in Stamford, Conn. Prior to working in the financial services industry, I was a prosecutor in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office. I have a BA from Rutgers University, a JD from Brooklyn Law School and an MBA, which I pursued at night while working at the New York Stock Exchange, from Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College.

I live in Sleepy Hollow’s Webber Park with my husband and two daughters, which is also where I grew up with my three brothers (although it was North Tarrytown back then). After being away for several years, I moved right back into the neighborhood when I purchased my first home in 2006. My family tree has deep roots in this village: my great-grandfather Tony Drahos built the walls and planted the trees in Sleepy Hollow cemetery. His son, my Uncle Frank, is still working there after 50 years of service. My grandfather Hugh “Flop the Cop” Fiorella was a police officer here, and his brother Gene “Mouse” Fiorella is still an honorary Volunteer Firefighter. My Father Emmanuel Lobato was a village trustee. General Motors employed my grandmother Therese Fiorella and my mother Susan, as well as many aunts and uncles. My grandmother worked for the Rockefellers during the summers when she was growing up, as well as the Soda Fountain known as “Packers.” I have an aunt, uncle or cousin living on just about every street in this village and many, many memories of playing in neighbors’ yards, the parks and the diverse neighborhoods of this village. The reason why I moved back to Sleepy Hollow is simple…it’s home.

What qualifications make you the best candidate for village trustee?

I am an attorney with an MBA. By training, I am an issue spotter, analytical and rational. I am good at identifying risks, considering the bigger picture and working with a team to put a plan in place to remediate deficiencies, as well as to strengthen controls to prevent repeat failures. I am adept at documenting and implementing policies and procedures to ensure the plan is memorialized and easily recreated on a regular basis. All of this creates a transparent process that holds people accountable.

What committees and organizations are you involved with in the village and area?

I currently serve the village as Chair of the Police Advisory Committee and sit on the Zoning Board of Appeals. I am also active in the Webber Park Association. That is the wonderful thing about living in Sleepy Hollow now: the Mayor and the Board appreciate the community’s concerns and interests and react to them. When Mayor Wray was elected, I asked him for opportunity to become involved in the community. He later presented me with the opportunity to serve on the ZBA. Although I no longer work in law enforcement, it is my first love and passion, so I was thrilled when Chief Kapica instituted the PAC, which Chief Camp continues to champion. It is group of civilians who sit with the Chief and have an open dialogue about residents’ and the PD’s concerns and observations regarding activity in the community. PAC has been identifying and tackling issues such as trespass and vandalism in village parks, drug activity and quality of life issues. Our biggest challenge now is to get the New York State Department of Transportation to respond to our petition to evaluate the dangerous intersections at Beekman/Bedford Road/Route 9. Finally, the residents of Webber Park had complained for years to the prior administration about the traffic on New Broadway, specifically speeding cars and drivers (including tractor trailers) who did not belong on the street but had missed the turn down the hill on Route 9. I conducted a survey of my neighbors and evaluated the street signs in the neighborhood, then drafted a memorandum to the Board with both my findings and recommendations for corrective action. As a result of my efforts, the Board both lowered the speed limit on New Broadway and erected the “Webber Park” sign at the entrance of the neighborhood to alert drivers that they were leaving Route 9 and entering a residential area. I hope that, by reading this, more village residents will realize that there are outlets in the village to raise their concerns and ideas for improvement, and that people, like the Mayor, Board and Chief, really do listen.

How would you address the tax cap and residents' concerns about higher taxes?

I too am concerned about higher taxes. Westchester County suffers some of the highest taxes in the nation, and I would not want to see Sleepy Hollow’s go unnecessarily higher. Fortunately, the current administration has done a great job at keeping our tax raises between zero percent and two percent over the past few years. While I believe that this should be the goal every year, I believe it is important not to restrict the Board’s ability to generate revenue in the event of an economic emergency or to fund urgent projects. The tax cap is a great idea in theory, but the state has not given adequate guidance as to how to implement the requirements that are consequential to the cap. As a result, it is not clear to me what recourse a capped municipality has, if any, to generate tax revenue in the event a special project (such as construction of a new water tank or an environmental cleanup) needs funding. I believe it is more responsible to maintain a lower tax increase each year as a matter of policy, but allow the flexibility of raising taxes should the need become critical.

What would you do to help revitalize the downtown business district?

I see revitalization of Downtown Sleepy Hollow to be a multi-prong approach. We need to ensure that the General Motors development plan continues to progress. This development site, once complete, will incorporate park land, the River Walk, land to be used by the Hudson Valley Historical Society in its mission to educate and preserve a critical piece of our history, retail space and private housing. This should attract visitors who want to spend their days (and their money) enjoying our local businesses and services. It will also generate tax revenue for the village.

Until the project is complete, there are other ways to continue the revitalization that was begun by the current administration. There is already a grant program in place that provides grant money to business owners to improve the facades of their businesses. Those businesses that have taken advantage of this program are easily identifiable when you walk down Beekman Avenue. We need to work with business owners to encourage more of them to participate. Additionally, improvements can be made to the streets themselves. Adding garbage cans to the area, looking for ways to improve parking so cars do not double park, adding plants and shrubs and patrolling quality of life issues will give an immediate and appealing visual impact to the area.

But most importantly, in my opinion, zoning code enforcement needs to remain a priority. The current administration has done a great job of adding resources to the Building Inspector’s Department and is rewriting the code to make it more clear, which enables building owners to more easily comply and the Building Inspector to more easily enforce the code and prosecute violations. Zoning Code violations are hazards to the public’s health and safety. As evidenced by the fires we had on Beekman Avenue last year as a result of over-burdened electrical outlets, illegal apartments and/or overcrowding of apartments are a danger to the occupants, the neighbors and the emergency service personnel who respond to the scene. They are also a fiscal drain on the village, as more services are provided to the occupants, yet the building owners do not pay additional taxes to compensate those services. I believe we need to ensure the safety of our structures before we can beautify.

What are your opinions on environmental concerns such as the Duracell clean-up and the former General Motors site?

Duracell and General Motors are tragedies for the environment and for the residents of this village. In both instances, the contamination was created by a business. In Duracell’s case, the village had an opportunity years ago to correct the situation but failed. Against the advice of environmental experts, previous administrators entered into a business contract, without regard for environmental testing or awareness, and left Sleepy Hollow with the responsibility and costs of present day remediation. As a result, many people have been living on contaminated soil, and village taxpayers have to bear the costs of cleanup. While this is extremely unfortunate for all, I hope we have learned from it. With the development of the Castle Oil and GM sites imminently before us, I think it is important that we realize that our plans for today affect the environment and peoples’ lives for many years. We need to ensure we hire experts to test, survey, analyze and assess, and more importantly, that we understand and consider what those findings and recommendations are. It is far more important that we spend the time and money getting it right the first time.

What are your opinions on the General Motors redevelopment project and the issues that surround it, such as Tarrytown's lawsuit over traffic concerns?

Litigation is tricky, as well as time consuming and expensive. The General Motors property has been in the hands of attorneys and the courts for 10 years now. Unfortunately, the village is constricted by some legal opinions and decisions that were made during the previous administrations. Fortunately, that should all be behind us now. Once the Tarrytown lawsuit is complete, the village and General Motors should be free to progress with development. I do not believe it is worth re-opening lawsuits, causing more delay and costing the village in legal fees and lost tax revenue. It is far more important to move forward, break ground, start the clean-up and turn that eyesore into revenue generating parkland, retail space and housing.

What are your thoughts on working with other municipalities and government agencies to share services?

I believe everything should be considered. Cooperation is important—it is the sharing of information, costs, services, time and energy. At the same time, cooperation and shared services should not be accepted if they compromise the quality of the service or if the financial cost outweighs the benefit. At a minimum, however, I do not see any reason why Sleepy Hollow cannot establish open and regular communication with other municipalities. At work, I am constantly involved in projects that are conducted by “working groups” comprised of representatives from each department in the firm. Such inter-departmental working groups work like a puzzle, fitting together unique interests, perspectives and expertise. The same idea can work in government, with inter-municipal committees meeting to share information, ideas, lessons learned, best practices and experiences. This regular interaction will lead to positive working relationships with our neighboring towns and villages, and I would like to reach out to other municipalities and open the lines of communication and, hopefully, cooperation.

What other issues need to be addressed within the village?

As many people already know, the village is not in compliance with water supply requirements. While the village does receive its water from New York City, it does not have an adequate supply should the City shut off our water. Building out the infrastructure to compensate for the difference will take strategy and negotiation. While these efforts are currently under way, they have to be guided through to successful completion. I also believe that we need to provide our youth more opportunity to become involved in this community. One idea is to start a Youth PAC, as well as resurrect the Youth Court that I sat as Judge for in my teenage years. Giving the youth a voice in the community instills a sense of pride in themselves and their home. Too many of us are upset by the adolescents hanging out in the parks and the activities we witness there. We need to offer them something else to do—something that is positive and empowering. The Sleepy Hollow Fire Department started a Junior Program, and I have heard remarkable reviews of its success. The village needs to start more programs such as these, as well as continue to support and grow the ones already in place.

Why are you running for the position of village trustee?

I am running for village trustee as a way to give back to my community. I have seen the impact a memorandum to the Board about speeding on a neighborhood street can have. I have seen the dedication and passion that our Police Chief and his department have for the safety of the residents here. I have seen the thoughtful and intelligent work conducted by our Building Inspection Department. I have seen our DPW regularly make their rounds, always with a smile and a wave for me. I have seen this and been impressed and inspired by the people who work in this village to make it a good place to live. The village is poised to undertake significant change. Before us looms the water supply issue, the development of Castle Oil and General Motors, the remediation of Duracell, the revitalization of Beekman Avenue and Downtown. I feel that my training and experience in law and business can help the village successfully navigate through these projects. Success means a profitable, vibrant village appealing to tourists and residents alike, and I would like to see us succeed.

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