Remarks on the 2018 Budget
Remarks on the 2018 Budget
For the second year in a row, Village residents will experience a 0% tax rate increase. This Board worked hard to find a responsible balance of conservative fiscal practices with progressive investment in our community.
We are fortunate that the Village experienced an increase in the estimated revenue from sources other than property taxes. This is one of the components that allows us to increase investment in infrastructure, meet contractual salary and benefit increases, as well as progressive initiatives related to economic development and safe, affordable housing—all without raising your taxes.
We spent much of 2017 soliciting input from the community. This feedback has been memorialized in the reports from the Downtown Revitalization Working Committee and the analysis by Kevin Dwarka LLC Land Use & Economic Development Consultants. The proposed 2018 budget includes pathways for moving forward recommendations from these reports.
Among the recommendations being funding by the 2018 budget are
· an economic development consultant ($60k)
· a parking implementation plan ($40k)
· a comprehensive plan revision ($150k)
· a new approach to inspecting rental units to strengthen the influence of the Landlord Tenant Relations Council ($140k), and
· increasing the code enforcement staff needed to address overcrowded housing.
One relatively small budget item from a dollars perspective, that has a profound impact on safety for our community, is staff training. We are very pleased that the Ossining Police Department has invited Dr. Bryant Marks to lead four days of implicit bias training. Each officer will participate in a full-day session with a small group of co-workers.
The 2018 budget illustrates our commitment to prioritizing economic development. To attract businesses to Ossining, we must invest in our infrastructure. At its foundation, local government can be as rudimentary, and essential, as paving roads. We are increasing our investment in road paving by nearly 40% more than we spent in 2017. A good chunk of paving is paid for by grant money through the CHIPS program. And a number of projects are paid for by ConEd when they have road restoration to do, as we saw this summer on Croton Avenue, and as is happening right now along Ryder Road.
By this time next year, folks who stroll down the Sing Sing Kill Greenway will be able to admire Ossining’s iconic double arch bridge as never before. We will no longer be walking beneath the black netting that currently protects pedestrians from the Broadway Bridge. Beyond the engineering improvements required, the Village will be taking the opportunity to recreate the historic facade, both above and below. This major infrastructure project will mean some interruption of traffic. To minimize impact, the construction schedule is focused over the summer months.
One long awaited, game changing initiative that will get underway this year is proactively engaging with the DOT to transform the NYS roads that divide our community. This is an effort that will take years to fulfill, and the time to re-engage is now. The epicenter of our traffic flow headaches is the Rt 9/133 intersection. Village Manager Debbie McDonnell has begun meeting internally to prepare a strategy of what we are asking for when we meet with the DOT. Assemblywoman Galef is onboard to help facilitate our coordination with the state agency. Stay tuned for more information on this high priority project in the coming months.
Trustee Quantel Bazemore and I recently met to discuss recommendations from Kevin Dwarka’s report of the Housing Needs Assessment. Many of the recommendations are either already underway, or will be furthered by several of the items funded in the 2018 budget. With the new fee schedule voted on at the same time as the budget, we have taken our first tangible step toward a major shift in the Village’s affordable housing policy.
I’ve asked Corporation Counsel Kahan to research affordable housing set-asides in other municipalities so that in January, we may begin this discussing a more progressive approach to our policy. It will be important to have a new affordable housing policy in place (or underway) early in the year, prior to updating the Comprehensive Plan. If we move forward with the proposed levels, we would be, I believe, the most progressive municipality on affordable housing in the County.
Smart policies, strong infrastructure, and the resources to guide and implement these priorities are essential for the economic development that makes a diverse, vibrant community. Westchester is one of the most expensive areas of the country to live in. Ossining remains more affordable than many of our neighbors, and we want to do what we can to preserve the ability for residents of all income levels to make, and keep, this Village their home. Investing in our community, while maintaining a 0% tax rate increase for the second year in a row, is a big step in that direction.
It is an exciting moment to participate actively in shaping the change we wish to see for our Village
· This Village can turn a sanitary sewer project into a glorious greenway.
· We have seen empty storefronts become thriving local gathering spaces.
· The decrease in our energy demand by upgrading to LED streetlights offers enough savings to keep our tax rate increase this year at 0%.
· We have passed laws to expand opportunities for entrepreneurs to open their businesses of tomorrow right here in Ossining.
· We have invited hundreds of people to live in luxury on our waterfront, and thousands to enjoy sunsets from the new Henry Gourdine Park on the Hudson.
Ossining is poised to see major change happen in our downtown. We have a thoughtful and collaborative Board of Trustees, with a willingness to make big decisions about the Village's future. Critical leaders of our staff are capable of implementing big projects for Ossining. And we have the solid fiscal standing to invest in infrastructure that will benefit our community for generations to come.
As we enter this exciting year with a focus on bringing into view big changes for development in our downtown, I am going to add a new commitment to my weekly mayoral schedule.
When I took office as Mayor two years ago, I established Open Office Hours every Tuesday from 10AM to 12 noon. That routine has been a very successful way to meet with residents who have concerns, questions, suggestions, or once in a while, just want to have a friendly chat. I will continue to be at Village Hall every Tuesday for Open Office Hours. Emailing me any time is also an effective way to get my attention (email@example.com).
For my second term, as we shift into a focus on planning, zoning, housing, and development of land that is currently owned by the Village, I will be taking a weekly walk. I'll keep up the routine until I've walked every block of the Village. I'll post my starting place and time on FB and the Village website so that you can join me if you'd like.
A Thriving Downtown
In 2016 we engaged in a public discussion about safe, affordable housing that inspired hundreds of tenants, property owners, housing advocates, attorneys, taxpayers, and elected officials to deepen our understanding of the realities and needs of our community. In 2017, the Village will undertake a Housing Needs Assessment that will provide us with not just an accurate inventory of our existing housing stock and conditions, but one of the tools that will help us make well-informed modifications to our Comprehensive Plan, which drives all local zoning regulations. The discussion about safe and affordable housing will continue, and will be part of a larger discussion about economic development.
Ossining today is, in part, a result of decisions made by past Village administrations. Elected officials in the 1970s bought into the prevailing wisdom of their day, and decided that Urban Renewal was a wise idea for our downtown. The results of Urban Renewal, which demolished two of the five corners at the heart of our downtown, have been mixed, at best. The people living in those buildings lost their homes, and our downtown lost beautiful architecture, as well as a whole side of the street which completes the balance needed for a truly thriving downtown.
But as with any major change, there comes opportunity. I am grateful to be Mayor in a moment when we are poised to capitalize on the space that was left by Urban Renewal. Rather than perceiving it as a scar on our downtown business district, I recognize it as an incredible gift for the Village. Where there were once buildings filling each block, we have an opportunity to create a welcoming public gathering space in the heart of the Village. Today these spaces provide parking, and host our weekly farmer's market and a number of festivals and events throughout the year. But the potential for these open spaces to inspire people to spend time in our downtown is nowhere close to being fully realized. At this stage, let's not limit our vision to any particular size and scope of what structures may be built in these spaces, or how parking will be expanded.
Our goal as we actively shape the future we wish to experience for Ossining, must be to create a public gathering place where a mother wants to sit and read a book to her child; a place where high school students gather in the afternoon to share smoothies with their friends; a place where seniors from Maple House rest on their way home from a little shopping up the block; a place where families enjoy ice cream on a hot summer night; a place where co-workers sip coffee during a break from their second story Main St business that thrives in tomorrow's economy—and it’s a business that we could not even conceive of when we drafted our most recent Comprehensive Plan. And yes, sometimes it will be a place that hosts cultural festivals and holiday tree lightings. But to be a success, this public gathering place must be an essential component of a whole downtown that is buzzing with activity on any given Tuesday—with no festival required to make people want to show up.
In recent years, we've laid the groundwork for what's next. A few years ago, the Village commissioned a study by consultants to inform the Board and the community of what a developer would seek to build on the Market Square properties to maximize their profitability. It was almost two years ago, that several community members joined me in workshops and online venues to gather feedback from the community of what we'd like to see happen for these properties. And right now the Sing Sing Prison Museum is closer than ever to becoming a reality. It is exciting to explore how that major institution could impact our local landscape and economy.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the topic of public discussion that elicited an intensity of passion among community members this year, second perhaps only to housing—the roundabout. Construction of the new intersection is planned for the summer of 2017. Ossining will become the only Hudson River community to have a modern roundabout at the heart of its downtown. Because of the dramatically improved safety that roundabouts provide, they are the go-to recommendation by the NYS DOT, and many other states, for any new and upgraded intersection construction. Since even small single-lane roundabouts like the one we will have, require a larger footprint than an electrified signal, roundabouts are often not an option in densely built downtowns. It is only because of the negative space left by Urban Renewal that the roundabout was an option for us to consider in our decision making for this necessary infrastructure upgrade. The infrastructure engineering for this project is underway, but safely guiding vehicles and pedestrians through an intersection is just the foundation. Fully integrating the roundabout as a key component in a vision of place-making as described above, will demand that we consider how to take full advantage of the increased sidewalks, green space, and gathering space, as well as optimal connectivity for pedestrians with the new positions of the crosswalks.
So, our job today as a community, is to actively participate in shaping the change we wish to see for our downtown.
I look forward to seeing you at Village Hall on a Tuesday, on one of my Weekly Walks, or hearing from you by email any time.
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