Though the village saw decreased revenues across the board due to the pandemic, the building department has been an outlier, keeping pace with increased demand for house additions and alterations while residents deal with stay-at-home orders during the pandemic.
In 2019-20, the building department’s revenue shot up $210,265 to $1.4 million. The department’s previous four years were on a steady decline, dropping from $1.6 million in 2015-16 to $1.2 million in 2018-19. Village Manager Steve Pappalardo said it looked like the building department would meet its 2020-21 revenue estimate of $1.3 million, even with the pandemic stalling other village revenue generators.
“Dealing with the Zoom … a lot of folks redo their offices [and] introduce areas for kids,” said building inspector Frank Diodati, who has also been seeing couples build “his and her” spaces so they don’t have to share an office. “Their partners want their own office. So, there’s been a trend in the design aspect.”
Even though village hall was closed from March to June, the building department continued to function, performing inspections and working on building applications, requests for final certificate of occupancies and requests to resolve outstanding permits.
“We’ve seen an enormous amount of people moving into Scarsdale,” said Diodati. “It’s just a desirable place to live and we’ve had a major increase in the number of property transfers that are taking place here.”
According to Diodati, during the pandemic there was an increase in telephone calls, emails and walk-up traffic for building department-related matters. There were so many requests, in fact, that the department installed a drop box outside village hall to minimize the number of people coming into the building.
In June, the building department added two computer terminals in the trustees’ conference room to fulfill the requests.
In 2020, 558 applications were submitted for review to the building department, a 14% decrease from 2019, which Diodati attributed to village hall being closed for three months. Of the 558 applications, 320 were processed by the building department without a review of any land use board or committee, 139 required a Board of Architectural Review examination, 60 had to be reviewed by the Board of Appeals, 26 required an action by the Historic Preservation Committee and 13 were referred to the Planning Board.
In 2020 the zoning board approved 44 in-ground pools, up nearly 70% from the previous year.
The department’s part-time enforcement officer was also working through the pandemic and served 38 violation notices, 32 stop work orders, 11 court appearance tickets, 75 visual obstructions and 37 property maintenance issues. From the officer’s 32 stop work orders, the department generated $14,660 in revenue.
“That’s revenue that we probably would have not seen if we did not have the part-time code enforcement officer driving around and trying to locate work going on without a permit,” said Diodati. “Some of it we do get calls on but a lot of those he did find out there in the field.”
The part-time code enforcement officer is split evenly between the building and engineering departments and is paid $17,500 per year per department. Pappalardo said that when the board first discussed authorizing the part-time enforcement officer position it was thought that the position would end up paying for itself.
“So this gives you a sense that we’re sort of in that range,” he said.
Trustee Lena Crandall considered adding an additional part-time code enforcement officer, especially to cover weekends, which she believes had untapped potential for violations. Pappalardo said the village could look into adding another part-time officer.
The building department’s 2021-22 budget proposal is $688,513, or $3,857 less than last year’s adopted budget. The decrease is due to the department’s longtime deputy building inspector retiring in December. The department is looking to hire someone at a lower rate sometime in mid-February.
Like other departments, the building department also included a proposal for a 5% and 10% cut to the budget.
A 5% cut would eliminate the part-time code enforcement officer and include a $1,000 decrease in office supplies, $1,500 in dues and $7,500 in other expenses.
Diodati said eliminating the code enforcement officer would be “extremely detrimental” to the department.
A 10% cut would eliminate a full-time clerical position, which would cut office productivity by 33%.
“If we were to remove this position, I don’t think I could function at any current rate that we have right now,” said Diodati.