Today we have our second installment of our interview with Steve Otis, Rye's mayor since 1998 who is going for "four more" (see our first installment here).
Here Otis gives Rye a B+ on flood mitigation and an A for fiscal responsibility. You'll also find out what hockey position Otis plays and where and when he and his wife used to write restaurant reviews.
Rye sustained $80 million in damage in the April 15, 2007 flood. Is Rye prepared for the next “100 Year” flood? What are the most important things we need to do to prepare, how much will they cost and how should Rye pay for them?
1. Implement the current phase of flood repair and mitigation projects. Most of these costs will be supported by outside funding from federal, state, or county governments. These projects are completed or near approval for construction.
2. Identify and implement the next phase of projects where costs will be higher, the need for outside funding even greater, and our reliance on cooperation of upstream municipalities and other levels of government will be more critical. It will take a detailed knowledge of all facets of the flooding issue and the ability to work with the decision-makers at every level of government to be effective going forward.
3. We need to continue to seek an increased commitment from county, state, and federal governments for funding to assist municipal flood mitigation projects. I advocated that the county establish a funding program to assist local flood mitigation projects. Rye will now be among the first to benefit from that $50 million in five-year commitment by the County. The existing programs will not meet the need for funding in NYS or Westchester. I will continue to advocate for new programs and new funding to help communities like Rye.
Teachers in Rye public schools have been operating without a contract for over two years due to a stalemate between Rye’s Board of Education and the Rye Teacher’s Association. What specifically should be done to resolve this stalemate, if anything?
In municipalities outside of NYC, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Yonkers, local governments have no jurisdiction over the schools. We work well with our local schools on areas where we overlap, such as shared recreation facilities, traffic safety, cable television and issues affecting young people. We always hope for a resolution that supports quality education and protects the taxpayer at the same time.
Grade Rye’s handling of the following issues over the last two years on an A, B, C, D or F scale [general Rye City council and staff performance, not specific to one person].
Flooding and flood mitigation (Bowman Avenue dam, Elm Place Wall, Central Avenue Bridge, etc.) – B+
Rye is ahead of most flood-damaged communities in project implementation and in identifying plans for the next phase of mitigation projects. All phases of flood mitigation and repair involve complex layers of permitting and approval by other entities so the pace of all projects is not set by Rye. We continue to have outstanding success in securing outside funds whenever we can. In addition to flood mitigation the emergency responders (police, fire, DPW, City staff, EMT) have been excellent. (see above for more detail on flooding)
Fiscal responsibility including taxes, budgeting and labor relations (Overall budget, taxes, litigation) - A
Rye has a Aaa bond rating, rare in NYS. We have addressed declining elastic revenues aggressively with cuts and by creating our Recession Task Force. Our municipal tax level is among the lowest of any municipality in Westchester and only 16% of the property tax bill. Recent contracts have included cost effective changes in health coverage and we will seek cooperation in future contracts to address reduced revenues because of the economy. The scrutiny we give to the budget process is more intensive than most municipalities. We have been recognized as a leader for our financial reporting and providing public access to key financial reports and documents. (see Financial Reports at www.ryeny.gov) Rye has a long history of frugal operation through constant review of our structure, use of job merging, and success in seeking outside funding to complete community projects. I played a key role in Rye’s successful defense of a $50 million lawsuit brought by Home Depot and will take a strong position to defend Rye against other lawsuits that seek to take advantage of City taxpayers.
Public works including condition of sidewalks and roads and snow, leaf, garbage and recycling removal (no grade)
The current Council has made infrastructure a priority rebuilding Theall Road, repaving and redesigning the Boston Post Road and increasing annual spending on road repaving and overcoming opposition to infrastructure repairs by some no longer on the Council. Our pavement management study demonstrated that delay costs taxpayers money and we continue at an increased pace but at one taxpayers can afford. Our solid waste and recycling program is one of the best in the county with consistency in service a key to success. Our DPW staff does an excellent job in snow removal and in emergencies.
Safety including policing, fire and traffic (no grade)
Traffic safety has been a major priority with the creation of the innovation Traffic and Transportation Committee and with our partnerships with the Rye YMCA Activate America Program, the Safe Rides to Schools program, our Trailways Committee, and our school districts. Many improvements have been implemented, especially around the schools. Our innovative “Road Diet” for the Boston Post Road has been a success. I have been involved in all of these efforts including our efforts to obtain outside funding for improvements.
Rye benefits from dedicated individuals serving us in the police and fire departments. Over the past decade we have rebuilt two long ignored firehouses and renovated parts of the police station. The police headquarters and courthouse require substantial renovation to comply with current standards which I support being accomplished in phases while seeking outside funding where possible to limit the cost to Rye taxpayers.
Schools including quality and labor relations (no grade)
We have outstanding schools, but this is not under the jurisdiction of the City government.
Public recreation including parks and recreational programs With the addition of the Thruway Field project, we will have increased the number of playing fields from 6 to 10 when completed. I have made implementation of the Recreation Master Plan a priority and have led the effort to get projects implemented, especially the new fields at Disbrow Park and Rye Nursery. We have added new parkland at four locations, expanded the Duck Pond at Rye Town Park, saved the Rye Nature Center from closure and used outside funding wherever possible to meet our goals.
What are your three greatest contributions to Rye?
Using my knowledge and experience earned over 29 years in public service, have brought innovation and results for Rye that others would not be able to accomplish.
1. Enhancing Rye through new athletic fields, traffic safety improvements around the schools, innovation to create the Traffic and Transportation Committee and the Rye Senior Advocacy Committee, acquisition of key recreation, flood control, environmental and historic parcels often with significant assistance from outside funding, improvements at Rye Town Park financed through private/public partnerships, rehabilitation of two firehouses, one police firing range, restoration of Whitby Castle, and leadership for Rye in flood mitigation and emergency management policies and projects.
2. Financing Rye through strong fiscal management, Aaa bond rating, finding alternatives to property taxes such as Rye’s Hotel tax (the first municipal hotel tax in Westchester approved by the state), strong and open financial reporting, our innovation in job merging and reorganization through the Job Reduction Review Policy, ability to secure millions of dollars in outside public and private funding to make community projects a reality, and the strong actions we took to address the economic downturn last year. These include adopting a 2009 budget that was $1.1 million lower than the 2008 budget, making additional cuts in 2009 to match elastic revenue reductions with spending reductions, and through creation of the Recession Task Force to plan for the ongoing economic challenges we face.
3. Defending Rye against threats to our community, our neighborhoods, or our community organizations. I have been the leading advocate in Westchester against the proposed Long Island Sound Highway Tunnel that would bury Westchester highways in additional traffic from Long Island and led the City’s seven-year legal strategy to
successfully win City defense against $50 million Home Depot lawsuit. When Rye neighborhoods are threatened by flooding, cell towers, traffic or organizations threatened with closure such as the Rye Nature Center I have been a tireless advocate to protect our community and will continue to use all my knowledge and experience to do so.
What are the three best reasons to live in Rye?
1. Rye benefits from a strong sense of community based upon volunteerism, quality not-for-profits, and a dedicated City government supported by professional staff and volunteers all working together to enhance and support the activities of our town.
2. Rye continues to preserve the natural, physical, environmental, historical and architectural characteristics that make our town special.
3. Rye benefits from a well-run municipal government with policies established by an elected City Council (our current Council stresses nonpartisan merit-based decision-making and public participation.) and implementation delegated to a nonpolitical professional staff.
Where can we find you on a Saturday morning?
On Saturday and Sunday mornings in the winter, I play goalie for the Rye Ranger’s Men’s Hockey team. I enjoy walking our dogs seven days a week. Generally on weekends I juggle community events, work, and family activities.
What are your three favorite restaurants in Rye that deliver?
One great change in Rye over the last decade is the growth in food options. I am very excited about the fact that Rye is now the home to many great restaurants and casual food offerings. My wife Martha and I wrote a restaurant review column together in college and good food continues to be important to us today. We do not get food delivered but have done take-out from just about every restaurant in Rye. I want all of them to succeed and recommend them highly to Rye residents and visitors alike.
Where do you live in Rye?
Martha and I have lived at our house on Lynden Street, off of Forest Avenue since 1990. Before that we lived in downtown Rye in the Arcade building. I grew up in Harrison and attended Rye Country Day School.
How else are you involved in the community?
• Mayor, City of Rye 1998-present.
• 29 Years Experience in State Government.
• I have worked with and supported the efforts of practically every not-for-profit organization in Rye.
• Westchester County Flood Action Task Force, Member
• Rye YMCA Activate America Committee, Member
• Westchester Municipal Officials Association, former President, long-time executive committee member
• Long Island Sound Watershed Inter-municipal Council, Vice Chair
• Rye Conservation Commission, Former Chairman
• Westchester County Environmental Mgt. Council, Former Vice Chair
• Audubon NY, Stewardship Committee, Member
• Rye Recycling Committee, worked to establish recycling in Rye in the 1980’s
• Established the innovative City of Rye Traffic and Transportation
Committee to convert citizen recommendations on traffic safety
problems into implemented improvements.
• Established Senior Citizen Advocacy Committee to better serve
• Rye Project Impact, Co-Chair, Nationally recognized emergency
• Beaver Swamp Brook Inter-municipal Working Group, co-founder.
• NYS Association of Conservation Commissions, Board of Directors, long-time member
• Played a key role in saving the Jay property from development, City acquisition of Rye Nursery, the Rye Meeting House, the Bird Homestead, expansion of the Duck Pond at Rye Town Park, and the addition of new recreation fields.
• In the last year used my experience and knowledge to win county $1.2 million grant for Rye’s Bowman Avenue Sluice-gate Project, secure $1 million in grant funding for purchase of the Bird Homestead property at no cost to Rye taxpayers, won NYS Thruway Authority approval for Rye to lease their parcel on the Boston Post Road for use as an additional recreation field, and assisted the September 11th Memorial Committee in securing approval for the September 11th Memorial Gazebo project.
Tell us your contact information:
Your web site: website will be launched in the fall
Your phone: Home 967-8152
Your email address: firstname.lastname@example.org