Yes, it is long, but I had a lot to say.
City of Kingston Minority Leader’s Report March 1, 2011
"We Are All In This Together"
I want to thank everyone for coming out tonight. It is so important to have open lines of communication between our City’s government and the people we serve. President Noble, my fellow members of the Common Council and to everyone here tonight, I respectfully submit this year’s Minority Report:
It seems like yesterday I was here before you giving last year’s report talking about many of the same issues. Looking back I spoke with the optimism of a fresh Alderman thinking wheels of government would spin, and change would happen overnight. Now I know things happen slower here than in the public sector, yet my optimism and faith in our great City has not dissipated one bit.
The news of late causes deep concern with budget mandates, dwindling jobs and rising taxes. Alleged overtime discrepancies and questionable actions from one of our most respected public servants has eroded the public trust. These are very difficult times indeed. Let’s look at our roadmap and see where we’ve been, then let’s look ahead to how we can work together to rebuild that trust and begin to turn our city around.
The same topics rise to the surface; loss of jobs, unsustainable pensions & labor agreements, uneven assessments and an unbalanced tax rate scaring away new business. We continue to confront crime and gangs in our streets and inefficient spending at City Hall. The list goes on. Last year we spoke of efficiency and planning, this year we are talking about survival. Since 2007 we have seen our City’s fund balance drop from more than $15 million dollars to less than $4 million in 2009, jeopardizing our financial footing. Uneven assessments resulted in high legal fees and grievance settlements, combined with falling home values this further increases the burden on a property owner. In this year’s budget, for the first time ever, these grievance settlements were bonded, adding to our City’s long term debt. Now is the time for a new way of thinking and doing business. We have successfully combined our Fire Dispatch with the County beginning the process of sharing services and resources which is a step forward. As union contracts expire later this year it is essential the discussions are open, fair, and agreeable for all. If we can achieve sustainable labor agreements we can restore services and make needed repairs to our Parks and Infrastructure. The future of our City depends on it.
In the Mayor’s address he spoke of the wonderful things that have taken place on Kingston’s Waterfront. Where all of this is a wonderful asset to our City, we have 2 other business districts that seem to constantly fall by the wayside. The Uptown shopping district is one of Kingston’s Crown Jewels, yet business owner’s cries for help are swept under the mat, or in this case, the Canopy. Our midtown corridor continues to struggle, yet we ignore chronic violators whose storefronts repeatedly break design and code regulations. Let me remind you that one has to drive down Broadway to get to the Waterfront. More visitors arrive by car than by boat 12 months out of the year and we MUST work to empower these areas. Whether we do it through the creation of Business Improvement Districts or other incentives, when we do it, new jobs will follow. We all have hopes that the Kings Inn property will bring an opportunity to reinvent the neighborhood and create a welcome and much needed place for visitors and residents alike. With community groups engaging in the re-birth of Kingston we can achieve great things. We have some of the most dedicated people who call Kingston home, and they are on the front lines of moving us forward. Members from our community dedicate their time keeping kids out of harm’s way. Take a look at the Hodge Center, the Boys & Girls Club and our own Rec Programs and you’ll see why it is so important to engage our youth before crime and gangs find them. We have a Neighborhood Watch that has helped garner attention to how we as citizens can be pro-active against crime and work with law enforcement to keep our streets safe. We are all in this together.
A key component of our success stems on jobs and job creation. We need to look at all levels of opportunity which includes small business, health care, creative arts, education, history and tourism among them. Until we embrace business by working to equalize the homestead/non-homestead tax model we can’t compete with neighboring communities. The City of Kingston also needs to hold the line on social services and the cottage industry it has become. The amount of parcels off our tax rolls continue to overburden the rest of the community and we must strike a balance between the two by taking a hard look at our zoning laws which permits this to happen and then address it. I am pleased to say that my suggestion of creating a special Laws & Rules Committee meeting each month focusing on our zoning regulations will begin in March and we will work to bring these codes up to date. Doing so will help protect our heritage and historic neighborhoods while working to streamline the process for new development. This will be an ongoing effort that will embrace the expertise of Planning and Building & Safety, combined with community and business leaders working together to move us forward with a strategy for success. This is the first step to a Comprehensive Plan that is so desperately needed and can be done affordably. Making sure that all departments communicate with each other is part of this process. I often witness how the left hand has no idea what the right hand is doing which is inefficient and costly.
As we look ahead we must embrace change. Using digital media and social networking is an easy way to keep the public informed and is cost effective as well. For example during a snow emergency our DPW can alert the community with up to the minute information. In today’s world of instant media we must be part of the revolution. Another component to Kingston’s future should include the inception of a Strategic Plan Committee in order to chart a course over the next 15-20 years to insure future generations of a vibrant and healthy City. We will soon have a new neighborhood with Hudson Landing. It was a long process and we have to acknowledge the commitment of the community and developers who listened to find a common balance.
As outlined here tonight, we have much to look forward to but we have a lot of work to do. This spring our leadership will be defending their actions in a Sexual Harassment Lawsuit. We will continue to fight the County to change the practice of Safety Net funding, and we will wait for the outcome of federal & state investigations in our Police Department. With the opportunity for a change in leadership for Kingston this fall we must insist that these and other issues take a front seat in order to put us on the right track. It is vital that we repair public disconnect and regain the trust of our people. We must hold the line on property & school taxes which are causing homeowners and business owners alike to pick up and leave. And we must have a strong voice at the state level to fight unsustainable and unfunded mandates. Improving the quality of life for our residents along with having honesty and integrity in our leaders, and a transparent and efficient government will move us in the right direction. Once you fix the foundation, the rest of the house can be re-built.
Before I close tonight, I want to be sure to thank those who give their dedication and commitment to the City of Kingston. To our police department who does an outstanding job in fighting crime which is no easy task right now, our firefighters who are there for us within minutes of a 911 call, and to the DPW members who have gotten us through a very difficult winter even through staff cuts and layoffs. Our City would not run without them. I ask that the public continue to be engaged and informed of what is going on. We are all in this together. We love our City and know in our hearts this is the best place on earth to call home. Thank you.
City Of Kingston Common Council Minority Leader 2011