While 2012 was a time when all municipalities continued to face challenges from the Great Recession and Mother Nature, Rye made steady progress on driving change for its financial sustainability and quality-of-life improvements. As we begin 2013, I’d like to thank those that serve the City from the paid professionals to the volunteers for their extraordinary efforts, hard work and long hours. Here is a summary of some of the 2012 accomplishments:
Holding the line on taxes – Consistent with the last 3 budgets, the City has again delivered a solid budget that keeps taxes low and continues to deliver the same level of services. The revised tax rate increase is 2.7% and well under the New York State property tax cap. During the period of 1999 to 2009, property taxes rose 6.3% on average per year.
Restoring the undesignated fund balance – The City’s undesignated fund balance (savings account) is at $4.3M or back to a healthy 14% of the annual operating budget, which is good for the City’s financial position and AAA rating.
Financial planning -- The City has actively engaged its Citizen’s Finance Committee to look at financial and operational issues for long-term financial sustainability. All things being equal, by 2016 the City could be running at an annual operating deficit of $2.4M and will be exploring all options.
Agreement with CSEA Local 1000 Clerical Unit --The City was pleased to come to agreement with the clerical unit for the contract period of 01/01/2011 – 12/31/2013 at 0%, 0% and 2% salary increases over the period along with an increase in the cap for healthcare contributions.
Joint resolution for mandate relief -- The Rye City Board of Education and City Council passed a joint resolution for meaningful mandate relief from the New York State government.
City infrastructure bond approved by voters-- After nearly 6,000 votes cast, Rye residents overwhelmingly passed by 3 to 1 the two bond referendums for $1.86M to address critical infrastructure and safety needs in and around our downtown and schools.
The Central Avenue bridge -- Despite years of regulatory and compliance delays with the New York State Department of Transportation who is funding the project, the City worked and received final approvals, awarded the project and began construction for completion in 2013.
1037 Boston Post Road site – The Council reversed the decision to develop a Police Station/Court House facility at the site for $25M and has put the building up for sale. The site was appraised at $4.5M prior to the City's purchase in 2006.
Rye Fire Department alignment -- The Rye Fire Department made up of both volunteer firefighters and career personnel has separate reporting relationships. While that model served the City well for decades, we were pleased to work with the Board of Wardens in making changes to the City Charter that aligned resources in conjunction with the City Manager and will allow for better coordination of fire services.
City Council vacancy – The process to fill the vacancy on the Council for Suzanna Keith was completed with the confirmation and subsequent election of Julie Killian.
City Hall positions – The City has hired a new generation of department heads to include the City Engineer, Building Inspector, and Fire Inspector.
Rye flood committee established -- To advise the Council and assist the City in the implementation of the City’s flood mitigation plan.
Flood mitigation sluice gate installed -- The first phase of the city's flood mitigation plan, the Bowman Avenue Spillway Sluice gate, got final funding, project approvals, and was installed. The sluice gate will regulate upstream water flow to help flood mitigation efforts. Thanks to Rye Brook Mayor Joan Feinstein and the partnership we have established in working together.
Shared roadway initiative -- Forest Avenue is a regular thoroughfare for walkers, bikers and runners. This past summer the City re-striped the road to include lane sharrows to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety. The project was funded by the national YMCA’s generous grant of $20,000. In addition, the Traffic and Pedestrian Safety Commission has incorporated visual improvements at the intersection of Forest and Manursing Way.
The distracted driving epidemic -- The City was very pleased to join the YMCA and Safe Routes to School to participate in a series of community efforts to raise awareness on this issue.
Midland Avenue stop signs -- The City worked through Federal and County regulatory issues and installed stop signs to allow for safer crossing at Midland Avenue and Palisade Road.
Old Post Road bridge -- As part of the City’s pedestrian safety initiatives, this bridge was widened for safer passage and was funded by Westchester County.
Quality of Life Improvements
Sustainability Committee initiatives – As part of the development of the City’s environmental sustainability plan, a greenhouse emissions audit was conducted that looked at municipal inputs on actual electricity, natural gas, fuel oil, gasoline and diesel usage as well as community inputs of actual electricity and natural gas usage and solid waste figures, and estimated fuel oil, kerosene, wood, gasoline and diesel usage. In addition, the City was the first in Westchester to implement a plastic bag ban ordinance.
Historic preservation -- The Friends Meeting House and Bird Homestead continued to develop and generate a lot of program activity and excitement after years of being dormant. Further, the historic walking tour from the Rye Historical Society was launched.
A new direction for Playland -- Two years ago when the County Executive first announced they were looking at reinventing Rye Playland, the City sought to make sure Rye’s voice was heard. We established the Rye Playland Strategic Committee to make recommendations on activities that met not only the needs of Rye, but also those of today’s Westchester families. The result is a proposal with great promise from Sustainable Playland Inc. in which a letter of intent was signed to develop playing fields, restaurants, a field house, ice-skating rink, as well as the preservation of historic amusement rides, Kiddyland and more.
Affordable housing project -- As part of the affordable housing settlement and the consent decree between the Department of Justice and Westchester County, Rye opened an 18-unit complex this past August.
Rye Golf Club investigation -- The City began an investigation of the Club Manager and operations which goes back to 2007. The review includes employee conduct, management oversight procedures and future direction of the Club as a City asset and enterprise fund.
Sandy -- Special thanks to our many emergency service personnel -- Rye Police, Auxiliary Police, Rye Fire Dept and Volunteer Fire, Emergency Medical personnel, DPW, and all City staff depts including Building, Planning, Recreation, City Manager's office and Engineering who all worked in concert during this major event. And to the City Manager and Police Commissioner who led the storm preparation and emergency implementation and made the right calls.
Citizen emergency preparedness -- The City and residents began working to coordinate and implement a citizen preparedness plan that supplements the City’s emergency preparedness plan so that all residents are better informed well prior to an emergency and can take appropriate action as needed pre and post emergencies.