Mayor Rolison delivered his State of the City Address in writing Tuesday and presented a video highlighting the challenges the city has faced during the COVID-19 crisis — and the opportunities that lie ahead.
“Throughout this crisis, many within our community have made great sacrifices. Some have lost loved ones, and all of us have experienced tremendous stress, anxiety and even fear,” said Mayor Rolison. “But the past year has also seen the greatest collaboration among the public, private and nonprofit sectors since World War II. It has sharply reminded us just how intertwined our lives really are — how much we all depend on one another, how the individual choices we make impact the lives of those around us, not just our own, and now it has brought extraordinary opportunity for transformation to our great city.”
The Mayor thanked the city’s employees, particularly the first responders — including public safety and public works employees — for their exemplary work during the pandemic.
He reflected on the city’s comprehensive response to the crisis. “We quickly cut nearly two million dollars in planned expenditures, instituted a hiring freeze, established new rotating shifts for city employees, passed a local law authorizing partial payments on property taxes, cancelled our annual sale of delinquent tax liens and worked with our partners in County government to ramp-up testing for COVID-19. Our community engagement office, city staff and members of our Common Council found numerous ways to help, from promptly disseminating accurate information via social media, to distributing hundreds of lawn signs advertising the COVID relief hotline that had been set up by the County’s Department of Community and Behavioral Health.”
The mayor also highlighted 2021 initiatives, including:
-- Using funds from the American Rescue Act to address a dramatic financial shortfall and create a reserve fund for the city.
-- Moving forward with police reform efforts as outlined in the city’s report responding to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order 203 regarding policing. The city will partner with Dutchess Community College and the City School District to begin a “Pathway to Policing” Program, aimed at hiring city residents to the police force. The city also intends to expand the PILOT program began last year, which imbedded a full-time employee of Mental Health America of Dutchess County within the Police Department. The city’s Procedural Justice Committee — which includes police officers, other city officials and members of the public and had a significant role in the development of the reform report — also will continue to address community concerns related to police issues.
-- Creating a “PKGO-Parks Plan” that will commit more than $3 million over the next three years to city parks, rebuilding and replacing aging and dilapidated infrastructure.
-- Advocating that a youth center gets built at the former YMCA site on Montgomery Street. The mayor is urging the Common Council to sell the property and the long-vacant and deteriorating building to Dutchess County, which in turn would spend up to $25 million to build a state-of-the-art youth empowerment center in the city. The 35 Montgomery Community Coalition — which includes Dutchess County as well as education and health care leaders — wants to create a multi-use facility that would provide services connected to their respective missions in the community.
-- Reducing the number of vacant properties, already a major success story for the City of Poughkeepsie. Through the efforts of the city’s Anti-Blight Task Force, established in 2018, the number of vacant properties in the city has declined from more than 600 in 2016 to fewer than 200 today.
-- Designating city staffers to study local housing trends, anticipate future needs and identify barriers to housing in the city. This work will be assisted by Pattern for Progress, a leader in data-driven research for the furtherance of social policy in the Hudson Valley region.
-- Creating a new Comprehensive Plan, something that hasn’t been undertaken in more than two decades. The Comprehensive Plan will provide a vision for future growth and development in the city, and the public’s input will be sought as the blueprint is developed.
-- Helping businesses that have been financially hurt by the pandemic. The city is bolstering its “PKGO Forward Economic Recovery Plan,” allowing restaurants and retail businesses to expand outdoor seating and displays in response to social distancing requirements. The initiative, which involves no fees for applicants, is assisting business owners of restaurants and retail stores in our city. The city created an easy-to-use, one-page certification request form and a quick, illustrated guidebook to help businesses be innovative during the COVID-19 crisis.
-- Fostering the Children’s Cabinet that Mayor Rolison and Poughkeepsie City School District Superintendent Dr. Eric Rosser created to build a shared vision and cradle-to-career agenda for child and youth development in the city. Over the last year, the Children’s Cabinet has selected an executive committee, facilitated partnerships to create Wi-Fi hotspots to help students in need of internet access during the COVID-19 crisis. It also recently launched two citywide Working Groups in “early childhood” and “out-of-school enrichment and learning.” Additional groups will soon be launched focused on “health and wellness” and “civic, career and college readiness.
-- Tackling major infrastructure projects such as renovations to the Liberty Street Parking Lot, a $1.2 million project funded by a New York State Green Infrastructure Grant. The city also will undertake construction projects on both the Washington Street and Garden Street bridges.
“We are proud of what we have accomplished under these unprecedented circumstances,” said Mayor Rolison said. “But we are steadfastly focused on the future, and it’s a bright one for the City of Poughkeepsie.”