Column: City Council updates: Results matter

As the election silly season winds down this week, the fundamentals of the city have never been stronger, despite enormous economic and storm-related challenges. The city’s financials are strong, infrastructure improvements are underway, future improvements are funded, labor contracts have a new way forward, Rye Golf Club is back on the right strategic path and residential development and its long-term impact are being further reviewed. With proven results, the city is much better off than it was four years ago and is on the right path.

A solid YTD financial performance
The council heard from the comptroller this week, and the city’s conservative financial approach continues to put the city in a strong financial position as the economy starts to pick up. Elastic revenues such as sales tax, mortgage tax and permit revenues are up YTD and are estimated to be well ahead of budget at year end. Expenses continue to track to budget. The city’s fund balance has been fully restored and is strong. The council and I will hear the proposed 2014 budget at our next meeting, and I am anticipating that we will again be under the tax cap in 2014 for the fourth year in a row without impacting reserves, but maintaining service levels.

Labor arbitration award: Employee health care contributions
One of the major concerns the city has had is the growing and trending total cost of compensation of employees to include salary, retirement benefits and healthcare benefits. It is important that all employees contribute to their individual and family healthcare premiums. The State of New York Public Employment Relations Board has released an award this week in the compulsory interest arbitration filed by the Rye Police Association. The scope of this award includes changes in health insurance contributions so that now all active members will contribute. We greatly value the work of our employees and now that the arbitration is settled, it’s time to move forward. The last labor agreement was settled in 2003, so I encourage our public safety unions to join us at the table and restart further negotiations as soon as possible to find common ground.

Development impacts on our neighborhoods and schools
Ten years after the adoption of the zoning code amendments, there continues to be resident concerns regarding the bulk or scale of residential construction. The council has opened up a public hearing to address a potential change in the code. Building activity in Rye is high. Many residential applications involve substantial renovations or demolition of existing residences and construction of new homes that are significantly larger than the homes they replaced. 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.

Whitby Castle food and catering proposals
The city will be moving forward to identify an experienced food and beverage service operator for Whitby Castle to include banquet/catering, restaurant and snack bar or any combination thereof. The city took over that responsibility in 2006, which is around the same time the alleged theft began by the former club manager. With the assistance of the Rye Golf Club Strategic Committee formed earlier this year, the city and the commission have started the process for the request for proposal. This is the right strategic move for the city as governments are not set up properly to run restaurants.

The Rye Community Emergency Response Team
Rye CERT was formed after Hurricane Sandy to coordinate and implement a citizen preparedness plan that supplements the city’s emergency plan so that all residents are better informed well prior to an emergency and can take appropriate action as needed.

Rye CERT has proposed having the Smart 911 service available to the community to handle the volume of calls for assistance during disaster periods. Smart 911 allows citizens to create free online safety profiles including photographs, premise and health and rescue information. When a citizen dials 911, their profile automatically appears in the 911 center, helping call takers and first responders. The 911 system is operated by Westchester County. Smart 911 is a commercial service that provides an external database of information supplied by participants who register. The city is reviewing the proposal as there is no cost to the participants of Smart 911; it is paid for by the municipality.

For more information, please contact me, the city manager, a Rye City Council member or visit the City of Rye website. Office Hours of the mayor by appointment by e-mailing dfrench@ryeny.gov.