Column: City Council updates

Proposed 2014 budget

The city’s sound fiscal management and disciplined approach for the last five years has again produced another solid proposed budget. Like the previous budgets, this one keeps taxes under the tax cap, enhances current levels of service and retains a very healthy fund balance. However, this budget also puts forward a substantial investment in infrastructure, reflecting the turnaround in the economy.Mayor-Doug-French

Proposed expenditures in the general fund are $34.6 million or $2.9 million over the 2013 budget, but $2.2 million is tied to capital and other projects. These projects include: Blind Brook Wall study, Nature Center Bridge/Boston Post Road realignment, Disbrow Park Master Plan, sidewalks, sewers, record retention/digital document conversion, the city master plan, street resurfacing and $1.25 million for police/courthouse improvements—a huge savings from the original $27 million plan.

Other expenditure increases include employee health insurance expense of $306,000, up 14 percent, salary increases of $582,000, up 4.8 percent, an assistant building inspector and an additional police officer. The proposed increase in the property tax rate is 2.52 percent, or an average annual increase of $92 per average household.

Executive search for a new police commissioner

The council will be hiring a search firm to help identify and assess potential candidates for the position of police commissioner. This is a long-lasting position that is an integral part of many facets of the community that will require the proper professional due diligence, expertise and outreach to find the right candidate. Unlike a police chief position that is part of the union bargaining unit, the police commissioner is part of the city’s senior management team, a structure the city has had since the early 1980s. There will be a representative committee established to screen candidates before a final offer is made.

Appointment process for two City Council vacancies

When there was an opening on the council last year, I established a public process that allowed the council and public to hear from those interested individuals. This included a regular call in this column, and from the dais, over a period of time for all interested parties to send in their resumes and speak with the mayor and council. Further, for all candidates to present to the public at a designated council meeting their qualifications and goals for serving. As of January, the council will be down to five members from the current seven. The two new appointees, appointed by mayor and council, will serve through 2014, with a general election in November 2014. A public and open process for the vetting of council members prior to their appointment is critical.

Upcoming appointment of the City of Rye assistant judge

When I took office in January 2010, I was surprised to find that there was no formal selection process established for one of the most important parts of our city government—the judicial branch. Other than requiring that appointed judges be admitted to the New York State Bar, there was no established screening process—so I created one. For the appointment of full-time Rye City judge, I had each candidate complete a detailed judicial application with their background, experience, opinions and writings. I conducted formal interviews. The candidate applications were shared with the council. The position of assistant city judge is to expire in January 2014 and I would encourage the city to follow the established protocol given the importance and length of the appointment.

Investment in televising more public meetings

Back in the 90’s, I was part of the Rye Cable Committee that led to the investment and placement of television cameras in City Hall. While there was some resistance and debate on the subject at the time, the vision and work of that committee has kept residents informed for decades. The city needs to continue in that direction so that residents can stay up to date and be better informed on the policies and decisions that impact them—and so they can better participate in the process. Public meetings that take place in City Council chambers, such as the Zoning Board of Appeals, or meetings, such as the Rye Golf Club Commission, as requested by the chairman should be televised. As part of the 2014 budget, the city will look to continue these types of investments.

Public hearing on attic law continues

The council is continuing to review a zoning code amendment to address resident concerns regarding the bulk or scale of residential construction. In many cases, the proposed gross floor area of the residences are only a few square feet shy of the maximum permitted floor area. The drafted changes to the local law address bulk and height concerns associated with residential attics and provide greater consistency between the requirements of the city zoning code and the New York State Building Code, and changing how attic space is included in the calculation of gross floor area of a residence.

For more information on these matters, visit the City of Rye Website at www.ryeny.gov or contact me, your City Council members or the city manager.