Column: Transition points for 2014

Mayor-Doug-FrenchRye praised in NYS report
for its financial prudence
The city was acknowledged last week by New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. “White Plains and Rye are on solid financial ground,” the comptroller said. Further, he added, “each municipality has been able to encourage economic development and cultivate financial stability for residents and taxpayers. To maintain these positive conditions, I urge city officials to continue to budget prudently and remain vigilant when it comes to long-term financial planning.”

The recession hit us hard five years ago when our financial trend lines were going in the wrong direction; rising unemployment, declining fund balance, rising debt and taxes, declining revenues and grants, declining property values, and rising pension and healthcare costs. Despite the challenges posed by the property tax cap, the city’s focus on sound fiscal decision-making and tough budget choices has put Rye in excellent position as the economy rebounds.

Labor agreements
The city has made significant progress in changing the trajectory of labor costs and the growing total cost of compensation of employees to include salary, retirement benefits and healthcare benefits. It is imperative that healthcare continue to be a key component of all negotiations given its impact on Rye’s future financial sustainability.

Flood mitigation at Westchester County Airport and surrounding area
Central to flood mitigation for Rye is the surrounding development in and around the Westchester County Airport. The city is moving forward with the county on a 2014 plan to double in size two catch basins to retain more stormwater runoff at the airport as well as to incorporate stricter regulations for retention within the surrounding area.

Senior affordable housing
The city has made great progress in making available affordable housing, including the Cottage Street development, the settlement of a lawsuit to retain rent control at Highland Hall and the PILOT—payment-in-lieu of taxes—for the upgrade improvements at Rye Manor. I am pleased to have worked with the county the past year to bring forward a new development for senior affordable housing at the Theodore Fremd county-owned property. The project will construct 54 units of age-restricted housing located in two buildings, limited to those over age 55 and consisting of 44 one-bedroom units and 10 two-bedroom units. The proposed units would also be affordable and would count toward Rye’s contribution to the 750 units of fair and affordable housing Westchester County is obligated to provide as part of a stipulation of settlement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Sustainable Playland
As the Sustainable Playland project moves through its review from the county Board of Legislators, the city is seeking participation in the planning process through its land use boards similar to the above mentioned project on the county-owned Theodore Fremd site.

Downtown, train station, safe routes and infrastructure improvements
The rebuild Rye initiative is in full swing with fully funded infrastructure projects in design for implementation in 2014 including downtown intersections, safe routes to schools projects and the repaving of the lower section of the city-owned portion of the train station road/parking lot. However, several key roadways that are county-owned remain in disrepair and need repaving.

Police station/courthouse
The Office of Court Administration has issued a safety report from 2009 which outlines needed safety improvements to the existing facility. The city has put forth a plan for improvements to be made in compliance of about $1.25 million as part of the city’s Capital Improvement Plan.

Public access and transparency
Changes in technology to lower costs have allowed other communities to broaden their public access to residents so that meetings of boards and commissions, not just the council, are televised. Many decisions with respect to local land use and membership funds are decided on which the public has limited view into those decisions. The city needs to televise more public meetings, per my recommendation, so that residents can stay up-to-date and be better informed and participate on the policies and decisions that impact them.

Whitby Castle food and catering proposals
Proposals have started to come in for 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. This is the right strategic move for the city as governments are not set up properly to run restaurants.

Thank you
Thank you to the many volunteers on our boards and commissions along with our professional staff, who have worked together to transform the city during one of the most challenging periods for local municipalities given the regular extreme weather and prolonged economic recession. There were many, many accomplishments and the city is much stronger for it. And thank you to the residents. It has been an honor to serve you as mayor and I plan to remain active in our community as I have for the past 25 years.