Column: City Council updates

Mayor-Doug-FrenchSchool construction, pedestrian safety projects
and crossing guards
Thanks to all for continued patience and cooperation as the city and schools institute traffic, parking and pedestrian safety initiatives with the start of the school year. New crosswalks, alternate drop-offs, new traffic patterns, new sidewalks, additional parking accommodations and newly paved roads are all part of the safety improvements. In addition, the city has successfully introduced a new crossing guard program. The city has long had difficulty in hiring and maintaining a full complement of crossing guards, often resulting in police personnel filling vacant spots—more than 200 times annually. The city has hired All City Management Services under the auspices of the police commissioner to assume all responsibility for crossing guard services, including recruitment, staffing vacancies and training.

Central Avenue Bridge re-opens
The city proudly re-opened the Central Avenue Bridge, a key roadway in Rye after more than six long years of delays. Long delays have become more commonplace with local projects that require New York State funding with never-ending regulatory approvals, but I want to thank the governor, the state DOT, city staff and the residents for staying persistent in their support and in expediting the project over the last two years.

Rye Arts Center lease extended
Having been approached in 2010 to begin discussions on renewing the lease for the Rye Arts Center, which was set to expire in two years, I was pleased the council adopted the negotiated 25-year extension this past week. The relationship has been mutually beneficial for all and the organization provides a great deal to the community and our children in enhancing our cultural opportunities and quality of life.

Rye’s first environmental sustainability plan adopted
I was also very pleased to have Rye’s first sustainability plan, which has been in development the last few years, adopted this past week. It outlines our shared goals and policies for sustainable development within Rye’s characteristics and provides a guideline for enhancing and preserving those qualities. The plan addresses specific recommendations in energy, transportation, waste reduction, water/land use and community awareness. Thanks again to our Sustainability Committee, professional staff and all of those involved.

The new direction for Playland takes another step forward
The Sustainable Playland project took another positive step this month as the organization submitted its improvement plan to the Westchester County Board of Legislators for approval. The SPI proposal has great promise for Westchester residents. Based on the work the city’s own strategic committee established two years ago, my work on the County Citizens Committee, and resolutions passed by the council in support of Sustainable Playland and the Westchester Children’s Museum, we encourage this project to move ahead as soon
as possible.

Labor negotiations summary
As outlined in a past issue, for the last five years, the city and the Rye Police Benevolent Association have been in negotiations over a new labor agreement. Despite many attempts to resolve outstanding issues, we are at an impasse and have proceeded to binding arbitration. The last collective bargaining agreement between the city and the PBA covered 2003 to 2008 and resulted on average a 3 percent per year—15 percent cumulative—salary increase with no increase in employee contribution to health insurance or other benefits. The PBA has proposed a 3 percent increase for two years, a 6 percent cumulative salary increase with no increased employee contribution to health insurance or other benefits. The City of Rye has proposed a wage increase in the range of 2 percent per year accompanied by increased employee contributions to health insurance and a more flexible step plan for new hires. The city’s proposal reflects the current economic realities facing the city and is consistent with increases negotiated with other bargaining units in Rye and in neighboring communities. The range of salary increases that are possible will depend on whether certain options are chosen, such as adding a health insurance contribution for all non-contributing officers or a less-than-fully-retroactive pay agreement. Salary increases are permanent and compound with benefits such as pension, overtime and holiday pay—which are based on salary—and increase labor costs even further. The City of Rye, in order to achieve financial sustainability, must find a way to balance dramatically increased benefit costs, along with higher salaries, while working within the state-mandated tax cap. That is why we continue to seek contracts—not just for the police—that will lessen the impact of higher benefits costs. We esteem the contributions Rye employees make to our safety and well being, and we respect the need to limit the tax burden on Rye residents.

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