Rye Mayor Doug French delivered the following Rye City State of the City address to the council and public this evening, January 9, 2013:
2013 STATE OF THE CITY ADDRESS
French — Mayor, City of Rye
Good evening to those of you
who are here tonight or watching at home.
It is an honor to once again, for the fourth year now, to stand before
you as Mayor of the City of Rye
and present the State of the City address. As
I represent Rye across Westchester
County and New York State,
our way of government – volunteers working simply for the benefit of their
community continues to be the envy of all others.
In a book about Rye’s
history, former Rye Librarian Marcia Dalphin wrote: “First as a Village and then as a City, Rye
has had an efficient government; its Presidents, Mayors, Trustees, Councilmen,
(and Committees) have been sincerely devoted to its welfare – men and women
with no financial gain, have labored faithfully and long – often at personal
sacrifice – to direct their Village into ways of progress, to keep it
financially sound, and to make Rye a pleasant place in which to live and bring
That is Rye. That is who we are and what we continue to
strive to be. And it works. In that spirit, 2012 was the year of
accomplishment. The City accomplished a great
deal this past year that makes ours a better community, and I want to thank
those that serve the City from the paid professionals to the volunteers for
their extraordinary efforts, hard work and long hours. And as we look to 2013, we continue to face
challenges from the Great Recession and Mother Nature and threats of the
unknown, but the hard work and foundation we have put forth in 2012 and the
resilience we have shown has positioned the City for great things in 2013 and
beyond. The State of the City of Rye is strong.
The key to our success and
our future rests on 5 fundamental principles:
1. A Continued
Focus on a Strong Financial Position
Investment in the Basics
3. A Renewed
Commitment to Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
Relationships with our Institutions and Gov’t Partners
Management Oversight and Governance
1. A Continued Focus on a Strong Financial
According to a report from
the New York State Comptroller, he states –“For the past 5 years the financial
trends in our municipalities and school districts have become of heightened
concern.” At a time when grants have dried
up, elastic revenues are flat, and assessments have declined, in Rye, we have been the
financial stewards by providing property tax relief for our residents, holding
the line on expenses and restoring our fund balance.
For the 4th year
in a row, the City has delivered a solid
budget that keeps taxes low and continues to deliver the same level of
services. The tax rate increase is 2.7%,
under the New York
State property tax levy
cap. The property tax increase for the
last 4 years has totaled only 8.1% — or an average of just 2% per year. During
the period of 1999 to 2009, property taxes rose 6.3% on average per year for 10
The City’s undesignated fund balance (our savings
account) is at $4.3M or back to a healthy 14% of the annual operating budget,
which is good for the City’s financial position and AAA rating.
results speak for themselves. But it
does not end there. We need cost
certainty, and in 2013 we hope to have that with our union contracts that have
been expired for years. Fair and
affordable labor deals that not only look at salaries, but healthcare is a
necessity. The City was pleased to come
to agreement with the clerical unit at 0%, 0% and 2% salary increases
over the period along with an increase in the cap for healthcare
contribution. The City was also pleased
to assist the Rye Free Reading Room in their agreement with their union. As
we plan ahead, the City has engaged its Citizen’s Finance Committee to look at
financial and operational issues for long-term financial sustainability. In our 4-year plan, all things being equal,
by 2016 the City could be running at an annual operating deficit of $2.4M. We will be diligent in exploring all options and will share those with
Investment in the Basics
The second key to our
success is that we need to continue to focus on capital investment in the
basics not only to prevent higher costs in the future, but also to reflect the
active nature of our community.
Last year at the SOC, I
stood before you and said the City was crumbling. The City had gone through a period of
expansion, building new buildings, but the basic infrastructure, roads,
sidewalks and sewers are worn. After nearly 6,000
votes cast, a record for any bond in recent memory, Rye residents overwhelmingly passed by 3 to 1
the two bond referenda for $1.86M to address critical infrastructure and safety
needs in and around our downtown and schools.
The Central Avenue bridge —
Despite years of regulatory and compliance delays with the New York State
Department of Transportation who is funding the project, the perseverance of
City leadership paid off and we received final approvals, awarded the project
and will complete construction this year.
1037 Boston Post Road site – The
Council reversed the decision to develop a Police Station/Court House facility
at the site for $25M, reviewed zoning options, lease options, and has put the
building up for sale. The City will
review bids later this month.
2012 marked the first significant progress toward flood
mitigation since the 1940s. The first
phase of the city's flood mitigation plan, the Bowman Avenue Spillway Sluice
gate, got final funding, project approvals, and was installed. The sluice gate will regulate upstream water
flow to help flood mitigation efforts.
The second phase is to retain more water upstream, starting behind
Bowman Dam. Fundamental hydrology analysis
has been done to identify retention options for future projects and we will continue
this year to test and gauge water flows.
Through code enforcement and a resolution from the Council to Boards and
Commissions, a heightened awareness was implemented to ensure that individuals
and businesses make smarter/safer decisions for preparedness downstream. A Rye Flood committee was established
to advise the Council and assist the City in the implementation of the City’s
flood mitigation plan and to monitor upstream development.
There were also many pedestrian safety improvements. Forest
Avenue is a regular thoroughfare for walkers,
bikers and runners. This past summer the
City re-striped the road to include lane sharrows to improve pedestrian and
bicycle safety. The project was funded
by the YMCA’s generous grant of $20,000. In addition, a grant of over $200,000,
thanks to the YMCA for Safe Routes to Schools Initiatives to include sidewalks
and crossings in and around our schools.
The City worked through Federal
and County regulatory issues and installed stop signs to allow for safer crossing
at Midland Avenue. The bridge at Old Post Road was widened for safer
passage and was funded by Westchester
In 2013, we need to look at adding parking to our
downtown for shoppers, merchants, residents and commuters. A decades old problem, and not a simple
answer by any means, but it’s time to revisit our options.
3. A Renewed Commitment to Public Safety and
Irene, Lee, Sandy
and Sandy Hook are just a few events that have
tested our City. Our emergency personnel
have performed exceedingly well, and it’s imperative that we ensure the best
coordination, preparation and communication with our personnel and residents.
We were pleased to work with
the Board of Fire Wardens in making changes to the City Charter that aligned
both paid and volunteer resources in conjunction with the City Manager and will
allow for better coordination in fire services. In addition, our public
notification e-mail and text system – nixle.com that complements the reverse
911 phone calls continues to prove effective and we will look to incorporate
social media in our communication efforts.
resident should sign up for our nixle notification service to stay informed of
emergency, public safety, and weather issues.
Further, the City has begun coordinating and implementing a citizen
preparedness plan that supplements the City’s emergency preparedness plan so
that all residents are better informed well prior to an emergency and can take
appropriate action as needed.
4. Collaborative Relationships with our
Institutions and Gov’t Partners
fourth principle is to foster the partnerships that make Rye what it is. Part of why people come here is for the Arts Center,
Historical Society, Rye Free Reading Room, YMCA, Rye Town Park, and more. These relationships have been critical to Rye throughout our
A New Direction for Playland – In
1929 the director of Playland announced that he “shall conduct it solely out of
consideration for the thousands who come there for wholesome recreation whether
or not that runs counter to the complaints of Rye residents.” Two years ago when the County
Executive first announced they were
looking at reinventing Rye Playland, the City sought to make sure Rye’s voice was
heard. We established the Rye Playland
Strategic Committee to make recommendations on activities that met not only the
needs of Rye, but also those of today’s Westchester families.
The result is a proposal with great promise from Sustainable Playland
Inc. in which a letter of intent was signed to develop playing fields,
restaurants, a field house, ice-skating rink, as well as the preservation of
historic amusement rides, Kiddyland and more.
support this initiative. I also think
the Council needs to drop its tax assessment lawsuit against the County and Rye Town
– in essence suing ourselves — and work with these entities on these exciting
improvements rather than pay lawyers and have the courts decide. A PILOT or impact fee can easily meet the
Town Park – Most of the financial and operational
controls from the Rye Town Park Commission have been fully implemented and the
results. We have established a capital
planning committee to look at opportunities for the park. I have also called for the Commission and our
state representatives to increase Rye’s
representation on the RTP Commission equal to our contribution.
preservation – Thanks to our support, the Friends Meeting
House and Bird Homestead continued this year to develop and generate a lot of
program activity and excitement after years of being dormant. Further, the historic walking tour from the
Rye Historical Society was launched.
Rye Free Reading Room – Contrary to some parting comments by the
Director, the relationship between the City and the Library is very good and
reflects the community. We have invested
in capital, increased the annual financial contribution, and assisted in their
labor negotiations. They have been a
terrific community partner – and most recently with post Sandy.
Committee – This committee has been active in developing
the City’s environmental sustainability plan to look at our community carbon
footprint, recycling improvements and community education. Their efforts reflect the growing interests
of a broad cross-section of Rye
residents. In addition, the City was the
first in Westchester to implement a plastic
bag ban ordinance.
5. Increased Management Oversight and Governance
Governments need to focus on core competencies such as
picking up trash and public safety – not running restaurants. The actions at Rye Golf will prove to be the
City’s Madoff moment going back years and has caused real doubt in the Enterprise
Fund model because although somewhat autonomous entities, ultimately, it is Rye
residents that are accountable for Rye Golf and the Boat Basin. We need to
change these structures for increased independent management oversight and
governance outside of just the membership by incorporating a separate Board of
Directors to oversee operations. More to
come on this as we conduct our management review of these entities. In addition, the City will be instituting new
financial disclosure policies.
So, if we stay on the path
of these five key principles, Rye’s
future will continue to be bright. Again
thank you to our City Manager Scott Pickup, his management team and the City
employees. In particular, Eleanor
Militana who serves both Scott and I, and does a fabulous job. Thanks to our Corporation Counsel Kristen
Wilson who is away tonight and our City Clerk, Dawn Nodarse. Thank you to our many committees, groups, and
organizations — the volunteers who spend hours advocating for their
organizations, serving government committees and planning for our future.
A special thanks to my
colleagues for your public service to Rye. So, on behalf of the Council, we look forward
to 2013, ready to represent you and ready to serve. Thank you.