Mayor Rolison’s State of the City Address
Watch: State of the City Address (Poughkeepsie Journal)
In 1855 a single engineer proposed the construction of a railroad bridge to be built across the Hudson River. The idea, met with mockery and ridicule, was at first set aside; then met with a variety of delays; and then several financial challenges.
But after much resolve, on December 29th, 1888, the first train crossed the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge – at that time, the only Hudson River Crossing between Albany and New York City.
Since then, our bridge has undergone much transformation. From a busy thoroughfare moving goods and materials throughout the Industrial Northeast, a gateway connecting passengers to the Midwestern and western states, and acting as a vital link for war freight during World War II.
Ultimately, shrinking industry and shifts in population and the addition of new bridges, roads and faster modes of travel left our bridge in a state of decline. And then in 1974 a fire, followed by years of neglect and decay was seen as a sure sign of its final days.
However, vision and foresight has reinvented our bridge into a Historic Park enjoyed by the masses, inviting people into our City and serving as a beacon of our historic industrial past and visionary and idealistic future.
The transition of that bridge is symbolic of the state of our city. Today, the state of our Queen City is one of transition, but is on the move.
The first step in ensuring that our transition is fully capitalized on is to create a safer Poughkeepsie.
Poughkeepsie has an active fire department working to keep our residents safe around the clock. In the last year, fire calls are up over 300 to 4,402 responses. This includes 17 active fire calls that required all hands working or additional alarms; 2,532 EMS calls and 63 mutual aid runs – all which have increased.
And with all this activity, response times average 2 minutes and 27 seconds from the time of dispatch to the truck being on the scene.
Thank you to Chief Mark Johnson and our Poughkeepsie Firefighters for all they do for us.
To ensure our department remains a strong and effective crew, I am happy to say that with the help of a grant from Congressman Maloney, we were able to add 7 new firefighters to our ranks. Many thanks to Congressman Maloney for his help to keep Poughkeepsie safe.
Since taking office, we have also acted on our plan to decrease crime.
We have already created a more visible police presence. Officers are getting out of their cars on a regular basis as we increase foot patrols in our central business district.
At last’s nights City Council meeting a new ordinance on aggressive panhandling was discussed and may be enacted to hold these individuals accountable. As spring approaches, we have plans to increase foot patrols further and put more officers on bikes.
We have instituted our GIVE policing details. This program uses crime data to identify areas of high crime and gun violence within the city, allowing us to target our policing efforts on those areas.
And to continually monitor and assess city safety, I now receive regular situation reports on the state of all crime in our city and am reviewing stats on a weekly basis while receiving real-time crime data from the police department.
And yes, if needed, even the Mayor has gotten in on the action of deterring crime in our city.
All kidding aside, I am pleased to announce that an arrest has been made in that graffiti incident. This was due, in part, to the action of our community who provided important information that aided in the apprehension of the individual responsible.
Making Poughkeepsie safer is a community effort. Now, by no means should residents be taking crime fighting into their own hands, but as the old adage tells us – if you see something; say something.
Because the only way to a safer Poughkeepsie is if we have your help to know where crime is occurring and where issues of safety impede on the quality of life of our residents and business owners.
In an effort to increase communication, we are looking to implement a 311 system. This system will be installed in the Mayor’s Office as a dedicated hotline to answer and respond to non-emergency-related inquiries from residents and business owners.
All of these plans only work if we have a community committed to this partnership, but equally, you must also have a police force dedicated to doing all they can to protect our city.
We are truly blessed to have the dedicated men and women of our police department. I would like you all to join me now in thanking Acting Chief Tom Pape and the members of the City of Poughkeepsie Police Department.
Thank you for your willingness to work with me in the first months of my administration and doing everything you can to help make Poughkeepsie safer.
I also want to make clear, that while at times, there may be an unfair perception of crime in our city, our police have worked hard and have shown real results in fighting crime.
Violent crime is down 17%; property crime is down 8%; firearm crime is down 38% over the last 5 years and overall violent crime is down 32% over the last 5 years.
I also want to take the opportunity to thank our 911 dispatchers – who are equally an important partner in fighting crime. In the last year they answered over 85,000 phone calls. Thank you to all our 911 dispatchers.
While we are all committed to our vision for a safer Poughkeepsie, it does not imply that we are immune to tragic events caused by senseless violence.
I ask you all to please take a moment of silence in memory of 18-year old Poughkeepsie High Senior Caval Haylett, Jr. [PAUSE]
Thank you. And we also send our deepest condolences to Caval’s family and friends who, during this difficult time, look for answers and peace.
This heartbreaking tragedy needs not be in vain. This should be a rallying cry for us to unite together against these murders and thugs who cowardly lurk in the shadows of our city.
And if, for an instant, they were to emerge from the darkness, they would find a city that stands together; a city that stands shoulder to shoulder regardless of color, or religion or age or any barrier that is said to divide us.
And so that Caval does not die in vain, we must continue to stand together stronger and more resolute that we will root-out this element of evil from our city.
Making Poughkeepsie safer needs to be our first priority, but we must also focus on a cleaner Poughkeepsie.
To fully realize our plans to increase safety, restore peace of mind and ensure a great quality of life, we must address the problem of vacant and abandoned houses – and we have.
We’ve identified the top 12 problem properties and have created the Neighborhood Stabilization Team to tackle the problem. Many of these locations have been cleaned up and there are plans to take down several others.
Every Wednesday, our dedicated sanitation workers target and cleanup another property. They have also taken to cleaning up various locations through out the city, many of which have not been given this kind of attention in several years.
While this is ongoing in our sanitation department, our other DPW crew members are equally involved in meeting the needs of keeping our city clean and our infrastructure in good working condition.
I would like to share with you some current statistics of our DPW activity since the beginning of the year:
- Street Sweeper – 168 Hours on the street
- Abandoned properties abated – 25
- City owned properties cleaned – 7
- NY State Properties cleaned – 3
- City Parks Cleaned / Tree thinning – 2
- Main St Cleaning – Daily
- Violations Issued – 180
- Catch Basins Cleaned – 7
- Fire Hydrant Repaired – 7
- Water Main Leaks repaired – 5
- Water Main Leak repair assisted – 8
- Snow Fleet – Completely Functional
- Leaf Machine – Functional for Spring Clean-up 3/9/16
- Graffiti Blaster – Functional and on streets 3/17/16
- Seasonal Lawn Equipment – Ahead of maintenance schedule
- Salt Shed – Max Capacity 800 Cubic Yards
- Walkway signs Installed – 100
- Street Signs installed – 50 plus
- LED Lights Installed by City Electrician – 250
- Shared Services – Meeting with Spackenkill for bus repair program
- Shared Services – Meeting with County for Bus Routing
Please join me in thanking our DPW crew, under the direction of Chris Gent, who has made the commitment with me to make Poughkeepsie cleaner and improve our resident’s quality of life.
We are also taking a close look at improving the city’s cleanliness and safety by looking at various design aspects. We will conduct a complete comprehensive review of parking throughout our city, specifically the downtown business district. We are also replacing the planters downtown that have become a garbage filled eyesores, with garbage receptacles. They will be new solar powered trash receptacles that compact trash within the unit and placed in specific areas to gage their effectiveness.
We are also taking a look at what some people may consider the “little things”. But it’s the little things that will make a big difference. Like cleaning up our entrance ways into the city, making all our city owned property look presentable and keeping the grass trimmed around the “Welcome to Poughkeepsie” sign.
Poughkeepsie will once again be a place where visitors will want to visit and spend time and residents will be proud to live here. Settling for anything less just isn’t right and it’s certainly not the Poughkeepsie way.
Make no mistake, while optimism is higher than it’s been in years and Poughkeepsie is fighting to get back on the right track, there is still much work ahead of us.
Our biggest challenge is undoubtedly the need to make Poughkeepsie stronger and more fiscally sound.
For too long this city has robbed Peter to pay Paul. We have incurred debts with the City’s capital Fund and other parts of our city’s budget. We have struggled to meet our obligations to the Poughkeepsie City School District, Dutchess County and others.
Our cash flow issues have created problems of meeting payment obligations to vendors we do business with.
While this is an ongoing problem and we are looking for better ways to handle this challenge, we need to once and for all confront and address the city’s $11 million fund balance deficit.
Our recent bond downgrade by Moody’s is a direct result of this. We can no longer look the other way on this issue. The time is now to take concrete steps to remedying this. Until we do this, we will not see our bond rating increase.
Since day one, we have worked to address the financial health of our City. I established a fiscal advisory group made up of city, county, finance and budget personnel, along with our financial advisors and other members of the city government, including the city council. This group meets weekly to discuss our fiscal challenges.
Not only have we had the benefit of the county’s finance team, but we’ve also had the benefit of financial assistance from the county. This assistance has helped us develop a more comprehensive and real time reporting of financial trends as it relates to our budget.
We are working with the State Comptrollers Office on our fiscal challenges, and meeting with the representatives from that office on Thursday of this week.
We have sent a letter inviting the Governor’s Financial Restructuring Board to take a look at the city and have been advised they are reviewing our application. We look forward to meeting with them soon to discuss our next steps.
Given our situation, we cannot afford to be too proud to ask for help. It’s the responsible thing to do for the taxpayers.
And even though we are in a precarious financial state we have begun to payoff our debts to the school district and the county. Because, like you and me and all our residents – this city must and will meet our obligations and be accountable for our debts.
Another essential piece to righting our fiscal ship is to hire a new and highly qualified City Finance Commissioner. I am pleased to announce that a national search has begun to find a new commissioner. Many thanks to our Acting Commissioner Bill Brady, who returned to the post when asked, until the search concludes. Thank you Bill.
Additionally, I am pleased to announce that a national search for a City Administrator is underway. Special thanks to Ron Knapp, Acting City Administrator, who assumed this role. He has been an invaluable asset to this city and we appreciate all of his efforts.
Both of these searches are made possible through a very generous grant from the Dyson Foundation. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Dyson Foundation, specifically President and CEO Andrea Reynolds and Chairman Rob Dyson. Thank you for your commitment to Poughkeepsie.
We are changing procedures and protocols within our finance department. One example is the implementation of a new quarterly fiscal reporting process for all departments. This will assist the finance department in monitoring current budget expenditures and will become an essential tool in managing our current budget and in preparing future budgets.
The process for developing the 2017 budget begins now.
There will be future procedural changes and a new way of doing business in the city. Our success will hinge on the men and women who work for this city to be on board. I can tell you that this city is blessed with hard working and dedicated people who care about the place they work.
Thank you to each and every one of our city employees for your continued commitment and for creating a strong partnership with me and sharing my vision to make this city stronger.
I ask all of you to please help me show our support for our city workers and department heads.
I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank Judge Katherine Moloney for her 10 years of service and we welcome newly appointed Judge Tom O’Neill who will be assuming office on April 1st.
The Administration & the City Council are already working together to understand our fiscal challenges today and as we move forward. Only by working together, can we make the decisions necessary to improve the city’s finances.
At this time I would like to take the opportunity to thank my colleagues on the City Council for their dedication and hard work to make our City a better place.
Recently, as many of you know, we lost one of our own. Councilman Tracy Hermann who represented the 8th Ward.
I can think of no better way to honor Tracy’s memory and his love and commitment to this City than through the appointment of his husband, Matt McNamara as Tracy’s replacement on the City Council.
Welcome to Councilman McNamara, our newest member of City Government. I look forward to working with you.
Over the course of the next several months, many ideas will be researched and explored as we seek to make significant steps to turn our financial picture around in a manner as quickly as possible.
This will require bold action. I ask the city council to join me as a partner in finding solutions and making decisions that have long-term solutions in mind to fixing this city.
And while the challenges before us are great, there is no shortage in optimism about the future of our city and our economic resurgence.
In the last year, single-family home sales are up 7%; attached home sales are up 20%.
Building permits for new construction and improvements are up nearly 100 from last year.
People are choosing Poughkeepsie again.
There are currently $830 million in proposed development projects including the expansion of Vassar Brothers Medical Center. An expansion we need and welcome.
We currently benefit from strong partnerships with the Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Poughkeepsie Alliance, the Downtown Poughkeepsie Partnership, Pace University Land Use Law Center and several private developers.
And the Hudson River Housing Middle Main Initiative is helping to revitalize the heart of our city.
We are blessed to have many non-profit organizations throughout our city who weave an incredible value to the fabric of our community by delivering much needed services to our seniors and children; the underserved; and those just in need of a helping hand.
We also enjoy a strong arts community who bring an intrinsic sense of sophistication and refinement to the culture of our city. And I’m happy to report that individuals and organizations are calling this city daily, to set up and plan events in our City. So if anyone who wants to host an event in the City of Poughkeepsie, give us a call!
One of the most important partnerships for the continued success of our city is the one we have with our City School District. Thank you to Dr. Nicole Williams for your ongoing support and partnership. I look forward to continuing to partner with you to serve the future generations of this great city.
We have recently spoken to a gentleman from Pittsburgh, Bill Strickland, who has dedicated his life to making the lives of America’s youth better and brighter. We will travel to Pittsburgh to take a look at a program he uses, in hopes of modeling one after it, for Poughkeepsie’s youth.
We’re also pleased that $500,000 was approved, last night, by the County Legislature, for a comprehensive review of youth services in the City of Poughkeepsie.
Also we are grateful for our elected officials at the federal, state and county levels. The continued support of Senator Schumer, Congressman Maloney, Senator Serino, Assemblyman Skartados, and County Executive Molinaro has been incredible and will continue to be integral to the rebirth of this city.
There has also been no shortage of people calling and offering their help and assistance to turn our city around.
I’m proud of the partnership and friendship we have with the faith-based community. They play such an important role in our City and look forward to continuing the important work we have ahead of us.
Through this showing of support, unity, cooperation and volunteerism, I am confident that Poughkeepsie’s best days are ahead of us.
So much like our Historic Bridge, we may explore an unconventional evolution that is lead by bold thinking and the coming together of people from vast backgrounds and experiences.
And much like that bridge, our City is prepared for her transition into a new positive Day.
As the saying goes, it’s always darkest before the dawn.
But the sun is rising in Poughkeepsie. A new day is dawning. The buzz is back and it’s the buzz of optimism and hope for our Queen City.
Thank you very much. God Bless you and God Bless the City of Poughkeepsie.