State of the City Report for 2014 (562.1 KiB, 316 hits)
Presented January 20, 2015
By John C. Tkazyik, Mayor
Good evening Chairman Petsas and Members of the Common Council and welcome to members of the public, staff, Department Heads and community leaders. Please also join me in welcoming New York State Senator Susan Serino, Chairman of the Dutchess County Legislature Rob Rolison and President and CEO of the Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce Frank Castella Jr.
Congratulations to Councilman Chris Petsas for his recent election as Chairman of the Common Council. Chris, I look forward to working with you, the new leadership team and the entire Common Council in 2015. Only by working together can we tackle the obstacles we face and keep Poughkeepsie moving in the right direction. I’m hopeful 2015 will bring a heightened level of civility and professionalism in these chambers, and with a more dignified atmosphere we can enhance development and instill confidence for all those looking to do business here.
Every year at this time we bid best wishes and farewell to the past year’s retirees. This past year after many years of service we congratulate Jon Vena, Lorraine Dansky, Bill Beehler, Don Cocker, Maria Elena DiCarmine, Firefighter Jeff Moseman, 43 year veteran Detective Sergeant Walt Horton and 35 year veteran Commissioner Rich DuPilka on their retirements and thank them for their service to the City of Poughkeepsie.
Ladies and gentlemen, I humbly present to you my final State of the City Address in my eighth year as Mayor and I can’t help but be flooded by a myriad of emotions. I began my journey in public life 13 years ago in these very chambers as the Councilman representing the 3rd Ward and the neighborhood where I was born and raised. When I first took office in 2002, the issues of the day were crime, economic development and keeping taxes in check. When I became your Mayor in 2008, those same three issues were at the top of the list and I suspect those same three issues will remain paramount to the residents of Poughkeepsie and the next Mayor you elect in November later this year. My friends, that 21 year old Councilman is not the same 35 year old Mayor standing before you today. I have dedicated my entire adult life to Poughkeepsie, I was raised by this City and in this City is where my heart and soul will always reside. Being Mayor is more than a job, it’s been my passion, my heartache, my motivation and my life. As I reflect on my tenure here I think about all we have faced together, the positive steps, the missteps, the tragedy, the successes, the laughs, and sadly the tears.
Just a few dozen miles down the Hudson River two New York City Police Officers were ambushed and murdered senselessly in their patrol car. Unfortunately Poughkeepsie knows first-hand the grief and anger the NYPD is experiencing with the killing of New York City Police Detectives Liu and Ramos. Our worst day, my worst day, was the day we lost an 18 year veteran of our police force to a needless act of violence. Detective John Falcone was what a police officer should be; dedicated to his job and dedicated to his community. In February 2011, he lost his life protecting the life of a three year old girl. A tragedy that brutal, a tragedy that will forever haunt his parents, his fellow police officers and the citizens of our community, a tragedy we must never forget and a man’s legacy we must always honor. Poughkeepsie weathered that tragedy by an outpouring of unity and support not through divisiveness. Our hearts and prayers go out to the families, friends and the NYPD for their loss. Please join me in bowing our heads as we pray for the safety of all police officers, first responders and military personnel and for the souls of those taken away from us while keeping us safe.
Pause for Moment of Silence
On this day of January 20th, 2015, Pursuant to Section 3.02 of the Charter, I report to you on the State of our City and in my final year, we still have much to do, much to report and I remain determined to leave Poughkeepsie better than I found it nearly 8 years ago.
When I was elected Mayor seven years ago; we faced an operational deficit of over 6 million dollars, we have removed the structural deficit built into our budget practices. When I became Mayor, there was no fund balance, the once healthy fund balance had been depleted. Seven years ago, the City of Poughkeepsie had over 80 million dollars in combined debt and debt service payments were over 10 million dollars annually. We have cut that debt by over 30 million dollars and subsequently the debt service payments are now under 6 million dollars annually. When I became Mayor, City Hall was closed for business, we re-opened City Hall, we remain open for business and the red tape has been cut. During my tenure, single family home sales are up 7.5%, average single family home sale prices are up 6.5% and average days a house is on the market is down by 5.5%. Seven years ago, development was stagnant, developers lacked the confidence to invest in Poughkeepsie. We put an end to pushing away development and can point to many great projects both finished and in the pipeline. To mention a few, The Bonura Family are our partners on the southern waterfront owning and operating the successful Shadows and Grandview, the major expansion of Vassar Brothers Medical Center, the Walkway Over the Hudson, the Luckey Platt building, the Hoffman Street Bridge reconstruction, supermarkets back in our City, the Market Street Transit Hub, The Poughkeepsie Commons Project, increased veteran housing, the ongoing DeLaval and Dutton development, and the restoration of the Hoffman and Reynolds Houses at the Upper Landing Park.
Although there are dozens of successes to highlight there still remains many exciting projects on the horizon such as; a supermarket project proposal by McGrath Realty at the Crannel Street lot, the Pelton Mansion Project which would preserve the historical portion of the property and involve the construction of brownstone residences along with Wheaton Park improvements. We are optimistic that the PURA site at the corner of Main and South Bridge streets will be developed and are excited about new residential housing developments on Pershing Avenue restoring even more city owned properties to the tax rolls.
My friends, in the past seven years we have done everything we can within our limited resources to combat violent crime, increase foot patrols and maintain our police force. As an inner city, with a finite tax base, fighting crime has been and will continue to be our primary challenge. During my tenure Albany has done nothing to curb pension costs, Washington damaged the already broken healthcare system, state aid has been cut, workers compensation insurance premiums have soared, sales tax revenue sharing has been reduced, the housing market crumbled and allegedly we are in a recovery, however it is a jobless recovery that doesn’t seem to benefit Poughkeepsie’s citizens. Despite all these factors, we have not laid off a single police officer or a single firefighter because above all, my driving force has been public safety for all that live and work here.
Our first responders are second to none in the Hudson Valley Region in what has proven to be a difficult job, especially in Poughkeepsie. During 2014 there were two officers involved with fatal shootings and in both cases the subjects attacked uniformed officers while responding to a call for service. Both cases were reviewed by the Grand Jury along with an internal investigation and determined both officers acted appropriately within the policy and procedures of the police department. We need no reminder that being a police officer is a dangerous job and I thank God every time an officer returns home safely to his or her family.
During 2014; our 911 center handled 15,370 calls to 9-1-1, 70,362 calls to the seven digit land lines and 10,429 wireless calls. In addition, we handled over 100 overflow calls from the county for police, fire and EMS during the severe storms we endured last year. Also in 2014, the camera system enhancement became fully functional. Viewing is available at the front desk and also in the dispatch center. We have seen many benefits from the new system and its increased value to our police department. The system has aided our Detective Bureau in many of our investigations and we’ve expanded its ability to operate at night. Further, the new system added a remote viewing area to another section of police headquarters to allow a dedicated person to monitor the cameras such as officers on restricted duty. Finally, with outside funding we are further expanding the system to include locations at Main, Rose and Cannon Streets.
I am in constant awe of the performance and effectiveness of our Police Department. From 2013 to 2014; homicides were down from 8 to 3, shooting victims were down from 28 to 13, robberies were down from 103 to 94, rapes were down from 17 to 7, aggravated assaults were down from 172 to 160, burglaries were down from 183 to 158, and vehicle thefts were down from 27 to 15. The Illegal Gun Tip Program I launched in 2010 pays rewards for the recovery of illegal handguns and offers additional rewards for tips that lead to an arrest with an illegal handgun. During 2014, a total of 5 handguns were recovered under the program and so far three have led to arrests. Additionally, outside the Tip Program a total of 43 guns have been taken off the streets and 32 people were arrested as a result of recovered handguns. Please join me in applauding the efforts of the entire police department, sworn officers and civilians.
Among our first responders, firefighters are often overlooked but dollar for dollar the City of Poughkeepsie enjoys one of the finest fire departments in Dutchess County. On average, fire personnel are on site and operating at the scene in less than 3 minutes for all 4,189 calls. This is a remarkable response time that has improved by over 2 minutes in the last seven years. The men and women of the Fire Department were involved with a variety of calls last year; there were 33 structure fires, 124 non- structure fires, 8 multiple alarm fires, 12 vehicle fires, they provided mutual aid 24 times and assisted outside Emergency Services Personnel 1,967 times. Last year there were ZERO civilian deaths on the Fire Department’s watch and only 3 civilian injuries. These phenomenal statistics are no accident, fire personnel trained for a total of 3,760 hours last year and continue to provide professional and efficient services for far less tax dollars than neighboring districts. Let’s have a round of applause for all the members of the Fire Department.
Delivering these core services while keeping tax increases in the single digits and restoring the fund balance has been a major hurdle for my administration complicated by a partisan State Comptroller choosing to kick us while we are putting the City’s finances back together after years of imbalance. I say to him now, it must be easy taking pot shots at a Mayor from the cheap seats in Albany which is so inherently corrupt and wouldn’t know the first thing about building a balanced budget. Albany bureaucrats can fire off as many reports as they like, but managing a City like Poughkeepsie and getting the job done to meet payroll is something the Comptroller can’t or won’t understand. Since my very first day, to my very last day December 31st of this year, not a single tax dollar will be spent unless it’s absolutely necessary. This is highlighted by the fact that the average budget increase during my tenure is .65%. I have been vigilant and will keep a watchful eye on expenses, revenue streams and continue to deliver services with the highest rate of value for every one of our constituents.
To that end, Poughkeepsie will embark on an energy savings project converting our City’s lights to LED. Phase I of the project will replace 1,880 pole lights with savings estimated at over $400,000 in the first year of operation in addition to earning $190,000 in grants from NYSERDA. My goal is to complete Phase I before FERC increases our rates estimated at anywhere between 20-40%.
Further, in partnership with the Town of Poughkeepsie we are working toward a $20 million Joint Water Project upgrade mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency for the Joint Water Plant. The upgrade includes the replacement of a centrifuge, which filters out unwanted by-products. Also beginning this year, by direction of the Department of Health we will be constructing a new water reservoir and refurbishing the existing reservoir located at College Hill and replacing century old water distribution lines. These projects will be financed by the Environmental Facilities Corporation subsidy in order to reduce the impact on local tax dollars. Another EFC subsidized project is to improve the sewer pumps and the sewer lines throughout Poughkeepsie. Constant infrastructure maintenance is necessary to maintain the quality of life, deliver core services and attract development.
In addition, towards the end of 2013 and continuing through July of 2014 over 6,200 antiquated water meters were replaced with new and exceptionally accurate equipment. The scope of this project was huge, city-wide and was completed on budget and on time. Since the implementation of the new meters the water/sewer fund increased by over 1.1 million dollars.
Moreover, a message to the legislative branch, your actions and in-action has a profound impact on our City’s financial stability. Your inaction for five months and manipulation of the original proposal on parking meters cost the City a significant amount of revenue. Your action on the sale of city owned properties and building in fictitious revenue of over $1,000,000 to balance your budget is precisely the type of budget practices that weakened our fiscal position. This action coupled with the purchase of historic property we can’t afford will cause a significant cash flow shortage in 2015. Perhaps my vetoes were a waste of ink, but your overrides are irresponsible and I will not stand down when it comes to protecting the City’s coffers and the precious dollars collected from the taxpayers.
It is the administrations intention to negotiate in good faith and settle our four bargaining unit contracts, your action or inaction will once again be significant in moving Poughkeepsie forward. The police, fire, civilian and water plant employees deserve a contract and when we are done negotiating your “yes” vote will be expected. Furthermore, challenges that face us this year, in addition to the next Common Council and the next Mayor, will be the transit and sanitation systems. We must end the subsidy to the bus fund or turn it over to the county for a unified mass transit system. It defies common sense for the taxpayers to be bank rolling two competing mass transit bus systems within our city limits.
I continue to believe that the sanitation system should be privatized. The sanitation service is one of Poughkeepsie’s major expenses and should be eliminated to balance the budget and help keep tax increases below the state mandated cap. For long term fiscal solvency, the private sector must be enabled to provide this service to our constituents at a cheaper rate than the government can provide. The Common Council continues to reject this reality but I remain resolute that the City of Poughkeepsie should not be in the sanitation service or competing with private haulers. To pretend that transit and sanitation aren’t problems is a disservice to the taxpayers and those that rely on these services. A year from now someone else will be standing here but these perennial issues will likely remain a burden.
I am happy to report that my successor will not be starting that journey from ground zero as I did. Poughkeepsie is a safer city than it was seven years ago and is on a far better financial footing as well. My successor should also not be under any misconception that being Mayor is a part-time job. It isn’t, and the Common Council should set the Mayor’s salary to be commensurate with the high demands of the job and require my work schedule on whoever holds the seat. Poughkeepsie deserves a full-time Mayor who will be dedicated to spending as much time doing the job as I have. We are on the verge of another renaissance and the next Mayor, with the support of the Common Council, will have the incredible opportunity of keeping Poughkeepsie on the path forward and building on our progress.
There will be programs and services that you want to fund, and the Mayor may have to tell you no. I felt that seven years ago I had the mandate to do more with less and we have. The City’s workforce has been reduced through attrition and this was done out of necessity because over 70% of our budget is comprised of salary and benefits.
You haven’t always agreed with me, you will not always agree with the next Mayor either, and the next Mayor may not always agree with you but the voters expect that disagreements be discussed amicably, with civility, courtesy and tact, remaining focused on Poughkeepsie’s well-being.
We have one year to go, join me in making the most of it. It will be my intention to hand the next Mayor a city in better shape than I found it, with money in the bank, a budget that is balanced, an economy that is more vibrant than the one we started with, a place where people want to live and work with better parks, cleaner streets and safer neighborhoods. Let us continue down the path of progress, and set an example of what can be done when nine people with divergent views come together and decide to get positive things done for the benefit of those they serve.
In closing, being your Mayor has been the greatest honor of my life. It is a role I grew into and it is a calling I will cherish forever. I thank you for the challenges, I thank you for your friendship and I thank you for the opportunity to serve. Poughkeepsie is a wonderful place, with wonderful people with an amazing workforce of whom have made my time as Mayor the most rewarding experience of my life. Although the Charter limits the Mayor to two terms, public service is in my blood and while I close out this chapter of my career, I know a new chapter is yet to be written. Thank you.
May God Bless you and May God Bless the City of Poughkeepsie.
John C. Tkazyik