Majority Leader Remarks – delivered March 1, 2011
City Hall, Kingston, NY
William P. Reynolds, Majority Leader
Thank you, Mr. President, my colleagues on the Council and fellow concerned citizens of Kingston. As we look at where this city stands tonight, we all know there isplenty to be worried about – disturbing allegations of misconduct in our police department, gang incursions in Midtown, rising taxes, budget woes and uncertainty about the direction of our future financial commitments as a city. The picture is a troubling one, on many fronts, not just for Kingston but for every city in New York State and certainly throughoutmost of America. But tonight I also have confidence, not just in Kingston but in this Council’s ability to work constructively and with clear purpose toward solutions. And that confidence is founded on what we’ve accomplished justin the past year. Amid all the smoke, heat and angry words over stray cats and unregulated yard sales, it’s important to remember that this Council has achieved some big and meaningful victories for Kingston tax payers inthe past year.
Let me offer you just five examples:
This year, after more than a decade of talking about it, we have finally consolidated the Kingston Fire Department’s dispatch function with Ulster County 911. Lots of folks have said for years it would never happen, but it did, with this Council playing a leadership role in theeffort. And it makes a difference to you. This move alone promises tosave us more than $300,000 a year – or 2 percentage points on your cityproperty tax levy – each year.
And this year, also after many years of talking about it, we actually reduced the city’s investment in the Boulevard transfer station by almost $150,000 a year, while keeping the facility open for the convenience of residents and even expanding its operation to include Saturday. That savings represents another percentage point on your city tax bill. Again, a lot of voices said it couldn’t be done; we did it.
Those 2 moves were key to a third big win achieved by this Council: cutting a property tax increase this year from the proposed 7 percent for homeowners by half, to 3 percent.
Fourth, this city, with the able help and initiative of our corporation counsel’s office, has greatly expanded the scope of our nuisance-abatement law so that now it can be brought to bear on a longlist of offenses, big and small, that blight our streets and diminish our quality of life.
And finally, the three newest members of the Council — Jen Fuentes, Hayes Clement and Andi Turco-Levin – initiated a long-overdue dialogue over many months with city employees and their unionleaders over the city’s health-care insurance costs and what has to bedone to curtail those costs. This is an ongoing dialogue and critical toour city’s financial future, as healthcare and pension contributions nowaccount for no less than $11 million of our $36 million annual budget – fully one-third of expenditures, and with no likely end in sight to double-digit increases in those expenses annually. Solutions are not going tocome easily, but I am much more confident about our ultimate chances of achieving something here now that union leaders and elected officials are finally sitting down to find common ground.
Are our efforts perfect? Of course not.
Is there more to be done? Absolutely. A lot more, in fact.
But we are on the right path, in ways large and small, and I’m confident you’ll see that borne out in the next few months:
Working with Mayor Sottile and Comptroller Tuey, this is the Council that’s going to institute, in short order, new financial controlsthat will prevent any recurrence of payroll or overtime fraud in any city department.
This is the Council that’s going to keep our spending on the prudent, fiscally conservative path, regardless of how grim the budget picture gets in the near term. And this is the Council that looks forward not just to a new mayor at City Hall but to working in synch with that mayor to dramatically raise the bar on how Kingston attracts new businesses, new residents and grows our tax base, so that one day we might leave behind the tiresome annual question of what essential services must be cut this time around.
I can tell you with complete confidence: We are on that path tonight.
And we’re going to make great strides traveling it in the coming year.
Thank you, and God bless the great City of Kingston.