Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Merger of the Village of Pelham and the Village of North Pelham in 1975

In January, 1975, the United States was suffering through a devastating recession that had begun in November 1973.  A quadrupling of oil prices by OPEC and massive government spending due principally to the Vietnam War led to stagflation in the United States.  The country still was reeling from the oil crisis caused by the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo.  Moreover, the 1974 stock market crash was still fresh in the minds of Pelhamites as they watched with concern as inflation and unemployment rose.  The unemployment rate peaked at 9% in May, 1975.

There were, at the time, three villages that comprised The Pelhams:  Pelham Manor (incorporated in 1891); North Pelham (incorporated in 1896); and Pelham (known as the Heights and incorporated in 1896).  Pelham Manor had a substantial "industrial" area within the village but separated from most of the village by the Hutchinson River Parkway.  The Village of Pelham Manor had the lowest taxes of the three because the industrial area at that time provided the "bulk of the tax base."

Taxpayers in the villages of Pelham and North Pelham were unhappy with their tax situation and, of course, were feeling the effects of the recession raging about them.  There were pressures in Pelham and North Pelham to allow increased industrialization to improve the commercial tax base.  

Officials of both villages feared the effects that increased industrialization would have on the residential character of the area.  They realized, however, that they had to take steps to alleviate as best they could the tax pain felt by their residents.  The trustees of both villages decided on a bold move.  They proposed to merge the villages of North Pelham and Pelham into a new, larger village to be known as the Village of Pelham.

Town Supervisor Joseph A. Trotta said "The Pelhams will be just like a small city in 25 years."  Frank Milon, a trustee of the Village of North Pelham, said "In 25 years there will be one village.  It's the only way we can maintain our uniqueness.  We're surrounded on three sides by metropolitan areas -- New Rochelle on the north and east, Mount Vernon on the west and the Bronx to the south.  If they decide to expand, we might see a major change in the Pelhams."

The debate began.  Indeed, it was a spirited and vigorous debate with rowdy public hearings and vocal proponents and opponents mixing it up throughout the two villages.  Village officials hoped for annual savings of a quarter million dollars -- a substantial proportion of the combined annual budgets of both villages.  The bulk of the planned savings were expected to come from combining the two village police forces since the "First Fire District" (as it was called at the time) already combined to serve both villages.  Village officials believed that by combining the two police forces (which had some vacancies at the time that would not be filled and some planned retirements that would not be replaced), they could save $205,000 without laying off any employees.  

Opponents claimed that the claimed expected savings failed to account for substanial costs that would be incurred in combining the two police forces.  Among other things, opponents claimed that the figures ignored the need to incur additional expenses to create consistent uniforms, patches, and equipment across the two forces including the need to re-equip and re-paint police vehicles.

The battle raged while the Village of Pelham Manor watched.  The vote on the proposal was scheduled for January 30, 1975.  That day 55% of the eligible electorate turned out for the vote, a very high turnout.  When the votes were counted, the proposition easily passed 1,519 to 417.  About 78% of the voting public supported the proposal.  It turned out that although the opposition had been vigorous and loud, it was a vocal minority that opposed the merger.

Within days other municipalities looked to the Pelhams for leadership.  Indeed, the local newspaper in Tarrytown, The Daily News, editorialized as follows:

"But in times like these, when economic considerations have taken on heightened importance, the implications of maintaining virtually duplicate municipal functions may be examined with a bit more objectivity than heretofore. . . . NO DOUBT the time has come for another look-see in the Tarrytowns."

Today's Pelhamites know the rest of the story.  The two villages merged in June 1975.  Most importantly, the residential character of the small Town of Pelham was preserved.

*          *          *          *          *

Below is text from a handful of the myriad news articles that appeared in 1975 about the merger of the two villages.  Each is followed by a citation and link to its source.

"In Unity They May Find Hope


'It's only a dream, but I think we can do it,' said Joseph A. Trotta, supervisor for the Town of Pelham, as he offered his predictions for Pelham's future.

'The Pelhams will be just like a small city in 25 years.  Our government will be efficiently run, using modern systems and methods.  We'll be able to keep the character of the area while also keeping taxes low.'

Referring to Pelham's diverse population, he said, 'The town is good for both young and old.  The livability of the Pelhams is suitable for all backgrounds and incomes.  People here like the atmosphere of a small community.  If we can keep costs and expenses stable, we can stay like we are.'

Supervisor Trotta's dream is shared by many of the area's nearly 14,000 residents.  They represent three villages, North Pelham, Pelham and Pelham Manor, with populations of 5,000, 2,000 and 7,000 respectively.

THE ELECTED representatives of the villages, mayors and trustees alike, echo the residents' feelings.  Maintaining the atmosphere of the Pelhams is central to their remarks.  

Mayor John S. Johnson of North Pelham, said, 'We have a very stable population, who desires the area to remain essentially the same.  We've held the line against urbanization since 1936.  I think we can continue to do so.'

The villages of North Pelham and Pelham are presently engaged in merger proceedings.  The trustees proposed the merger as a step toward efficient government and tax savings.

RESIDENTS will vote on Jan. 30 on the merger.  If passed, it will signal a new era for the area, perhaps, as some hope, establishing the groundwork for the eventual merger of the new village with Pelham Manor.

Mayor Jennings T. Smith, of Pelham Manor, said, 'If we can control the tendency to industrialize, as is the case when an area gets larger, we can remain essentially the same.  The citizens of the villages must decide that question.  I believe they prefer a residential area and will keep it that way.'

Pelham Manor is the wealthiest of the three villages while also having the lowest taxes.  An industrial area, within the village's boundaries but separated from the residential community by the Hutchinson River Parkway, provides the bulk of its tax base.

Frank Milon, a trustee for North Pelham, said, 'In 25 years there will be one village.  It's the only way we can maintain our uniqueness.  We're surrounded on three sides by metropolitan areas -- New Rochelle on the north and east, Mount Vernon on the west and the Bronx to the south.  If they decide to expand, we might see a major change in the Pelhams.'

According to officials, commercial development in the Pelhams will be confined to the occasional grocery store and the corner gas station.

IF THE PROPOSED merger of North Pelham and Pelham is passed, their police departments will be consolidated.  Such a move is expected to save $205,000, in the first year of the merger, due to staff reductions and other economies, according to officials.

James R. Asendio is a staff writer for The Standard-Star, New Rochelle."

Source:  Asendio, James R., In Unity They May Find Hope, The Daily News [Tarrytown, NY; Westchester Commerce & Industry Report Section C], Jan. 21, 1975, p. C30, cols. 1-8
"2 Villages Near Decision on Merger


A merger, be it among corporations or municipalities, is somewhat like a marriage.  Both partners should know the others's [sic] strengths and weaknesses before consummating the union. 

Many residents of North Pelham and Pelham fear the proposed merger of the two villages and believe it will end up on the rocks due to lack of information.  They attribute this dearth of knowledge to their respective board of trustees.

The voters will cast ballots on Jan. 30 to decide the issue.  Many have said the decision will not be an easy one.

IN PROPOSING the merger, the trustees presented the voters with a projected savings and an outline of the new 'Village of Pelham' but did not provide a detailed plan for accomplishing the merger. 

While stating their [sic] support of the merger, the residents asked why no detailed plan was made.  A North Pelham resident said 'in many ways, this is more serious than a marriage.  If this doesn't work out, we can't dissolve it.'

Village of Pelham Trustee Frank J. Milon said, 'I believe we've provided sufficient information.'  North Pelham trustee Albert Zuzulo added 'they trust us to run the village, why can't they trust us now.'

Questions linger and confusion is growing despite two public hearings on the issue.  Characterizing the trustees' answers as 'skimpy' and 'lacking in particulars' one Pelham resident said.  'I still don't know if I'm winning or losing with this thing.'

The trustees said the new board, to be elected in March and installed in June, would be responsible for the actual consolidation process.  Any decision made by the present trustees, they said, would not be binding to the new board.

This means if the present trustees decide to locate the combined village office in the present Village of Pelham building on Sparks Avenue, the decision could be easily reversed by the incoming board.

RESIDENTS called on the trustees to postpone the vote until they could get more information to make a decision.  The trustees said this would be impractical. 

Under state law, the referendum must be held by the end of January for the merger to take effect in June of this year, the trustees said. 

They said a delay would mean losing the anticipated $250,000 savings for the 1975-76 fiscal year and the opportunity to merge while vacancies exist. 

The trustees calculated with consolidated municipal services would be able to save the $250,000 through the elimination of 12 employe [sic] positions.  They said the eliminations would be the result of 'present vacancies' and 'already announced retirement,' not by lay-offs.

A major portion of the projected savings would come from consolidation of the police departments, the trustees said.  Residents have questioned the trustees on this matter several times.

The residents want assurance that the quality of police protection they now enjoy would be maintained.  Several Pelham residents wondered if they were getting a bigger crime problem by merging with North Pelham. 

NEITHER of the police chiefs has been consulted concerning the merger, it was learned.  The chiefs noted concerns about the seniority listing of officers in a combined department; coordination of uniforms and equipment, and charting of new patrol sectors. 

None of the trustees' figures included the costs of equipping the combined department with new uniforms, shields or repainting of police equipment, one resident pointed out.

He also wanted to know how a new chief would be chosen and if the combined department would have police officers paid according to their respective contracts.  Pelham policemen have a higher starting salary under present contracts. 

Zoning and tax assessments also were brought up at the hearings by residents concerned that conflicts might exist between the two villages. 

Pelham has a stricter zoning code, according to the residents.  They wanted to know if their regulations would be maintained. 

The trustees said the conflicts would be settled by adopting the stricter regulation of the two.  This question is still a concern since the present trustees cannot dictated policy to the in-coming board. 

One resident said the basis of computing tax assessments in the two villages were [sic] different and asked if any correction of the situation would be effected.  Tax assessments, the trustees said, was a town function, not theirs. 

Under state law, the First Fire District would become part of the combined village.  The trustees said there would be no change in the service or organization of the fire department.

There might be a conflict in the future because the present board of fire commissioners can be replaced by the new board if it so desires.

The one humorous note concerning the merger is the choosing of a new name for the village.  The trustees are referring to the combined village as the 'Village of Pelham.'  Perhaps popular support of an alternative title would change their minds."

Source:  Asendio, James, 2 Villages Near Decision on Merger, The Herald Statesman [Yonkers, NY], Jan. 22, 1975, p. 9, cols. 1-7

"Weigh merger

CONSOLIDATION of the Tarrytowns, unmentionable here for decades, may be an idea worthy of resurrection at this time. 

Voters this week overwhelmingly approved a proposition to consolidate the villages of North Pelham and Pelham into a single community.  Such a development was as unlikely there over the years as in the Tarrytowns.

But in times like these, when economic considerations have taken on heightened importance, the implications of maintaining virtually duplicate municipal functions may be examined with a bit more objectivity than heretofore. 

Indeed in the Pelham communities, where passions and political considerations run as deeply as here, the vote was 1,519 in favor of consolidation and only 417 against as 55 percent of the electorate went to the polls.  It was an impressive performance. 

NO DOUBT the time has come for another look-see in the Tarrytowns."

Source:  Weigh Merger, The Daily News [Tarrytown, NY], Feb. 1, 1975, p. A6, cols. 1-2

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