State of the City Address 2017 – “Safer, Cleaner, Stronger”
Mayor Rob Rolison’s 2017 State of the City Address, as delivered at the Cunneen Hackett Arts Center
February 22, 2017
I would argue that one of the most breathtaking scenes anywhere in the world is a sunrise over the City of Poughkeepsie.
The sun peeking over the hillside; the first light of the day glistening off the water; the warmth of the sun on your face as it continues to reveal its full majesty – illuminating a breathtaking view that appears to transcend for miles up and down the mighty Hudson.
And even on those foggy mornings, there is something near magical and inspiring as the sun’s powerful yet elegant rays cut through and lifts the haze off the river to reveal our new day….
One year ago, I stood before you to report that our City was one of transition.
A needed transition from a burdensome past into a feeling of hope and optimism for what the future could hold if we all worked together and helped to move our city in the right direction.
One year ago, I spoke of our plan to make Poughkeepsie: Safer, Cleaner and Stronger…
After one short year, I am pleased to announce to you that today the people of Poughkeepsie are safer; our city is Cleaner; and our future is stronger than ever.
We know all too well that any efforts to make our city better fail if we cannot keep our residents, businesses and visitors safe.
During this past year our public safety entities have done a phenomenal job doing just that.
Our fire department responded to a total of 4,383 service calls — 2,373 of those calls were EMS related and 52 calls were structure fires of which 25 required multiple alarms.
Our department also responded to 59 mutual aid calls.
This year Fire Department personnel were responsible for 57 lifesaving actions from medical emergencies, fire rescues and drug overdoses.
The average response time is an amazing 2 minutes and 17 seconds from dispatch to arrival!, This is 10 seconds faster compared to last year. In an emergency, every second counts.
And for the 3rd year, in partnership with the Red Cross, our department installed smoke detectors throughout the City. This year over 250 were installed to assist our community.
Thank you to Chief Marc Johnson and all our Poughkeepsie Firefighters for all they do for us.
And a special acknowledgement goes to 4 department members who are celebrating 43 years of service. Deputy Chief Ed Decker, Captain Mike Brophy, Lieutenant Bill Ringwood and Firefighter Mike Marinucci.
All 4 of these men were hired on the same day — January 7th 1974.
We thank you for your service, dedication and bravery and we congratulate Firefighter Mike Marinucci, whose last tour protecting the citizens of this City is tomorrow.
And our Police Department continues their incredible work to keep Poughkeepsie safer.
Last year, we saw a decrease in property crimes as well as our 5-year average for violent crimes.
This past year, with the help of the City Council, we enacted a plan to address aggressive panhandling and I am happy to report that has all but since disappeared from the Central Business District.
Last year we set a goal to increase our foot patrols and we have done so.
In 2016, four new officers joined the police department.
At the beginning of this month, we recognized 8 recently promoted officers.
- Gerard Cummaro, Sergeant
- Michael Egan, Sergeant
- Jason Deigan, Sergeant
- Sean Fitzgerald, Detective Sergeant
- Sean McCarthy, Lieutenant
- John Zeltman, Lieutenant
- Richard Wilson, Police Captain
- Tom Pape, Police Chief
We have applied for a $370,650 GIVE Grant — this stands for Gun Involved Violence Elimination
Last year, I spoke about the proposal to bring a SNUG program to the City of Poughkeepsie.
I would like to thank Assemblyman Frank Skartados for advocating for the money for this program. In partnership with Family Services, the city has been awarded $300,000 to start a SNUG program in the City of Poughkeepsie.
The SNUG program will have individuals on the streets after acts of violence, specifically shootings, to help stop additional shootings from occurring, which all too often happens. What we know is that many shootings that follow each other are related. Having individuals with credibility on the street to talk to people about stopping this violence will go a long way into keeping this city safer, and less people being harmed.
And we must acknowledge our dedicated and important partners in public safety — our 911 dispatchers. In the last year they answered over 81,521 phone calls.
Thank you to Chris Bodin and all our 911 dispatchers.
We are truly blessed to have the dedicated men and women of the City of Poughkeepsie Police Department and I would like you all to join me now in thanking Chief Tom Pape and members of the City of Poughkeepsie Police Department and support staff.
While keeping Poughkeepsie safe needs to be our top priority, making our city cleaner continues to be an important component of the revitalization of this city.
One of the things that has been most important to me is the cleanliness of our streets.
In 2016, our DPW, utilizing our street sweeper, clocked 2,382 miles on our City streets and collecting nearly 60 tons of debris.
One area in which we were very aggressive in 2016 and continue to be this year is the cleaning and abatements of vacant properties, both commercial and residential. In 2016, DPW completed 140 abatements of various properties last year. DPW also issued 1,120 sanitation violations.
We have begun to demolish some of our top identified problem properties, starting with 375 Church St. and we will continue this practice. We have identified the ones that need to be taken down.
One of the challenges we face as a City is the lack of financial resources to take buildings down, with the cost of that being anywhere between $35,000 and $50,000 per take down. There is currently no money budgeted for this and there has not been for quite some time. We are actively pursuing state funding and looking at other ways to accomplish this task.
We continue work with our Neighborhood Stabilization Team created last year is on the front line of identifying and remediating these problem properties.
We received in 2016 a $150,000 grant from the State Attorney General’s office to create a program to address Zombie properties. The funds will be used to establish best practices in addressing vacants and blight, hire staff for code enforcement, staff to track and follow up on vacant property registrations, bank properties, and legal fees necessary to insure compliance.
We were able to pave 15 streets we will continue paving at that pace in 2017.
Please join me in thanking our Department of Public Works, under the direction of Chris Gent, whose team is truly committed to the work we rely so much upon.
I would also like to personally thank Chris, who has been enthusiastically willing to hop in a truck with me every time I call to remove a mattress from the side of the road.
Along with other signs that our great city is on a better path, our financial position is improving as well.
In fact, preliminary estimates of our 2016 year-end results show a small positive variance to the budget. This means that we will not add further to the city’s deficit, which had grown to a staggering $13 Million Dollars.
Our 2017 budget, while not perfect, is realistic and an accurate assessment of where we are and where we need to be to continue on the path of fiscal stability.
The days of budgeting for unrealistic revenues, and the practice of underestimating expenses are behind us. . That wasn’t right — and it wasn’t fair to the taxpayers of our city; and it needed to stop immediately. And we’ve done that.
For the first time in many years we are making a payment on our $13 Million dollar deficit in 2017 and we will be developing a long-term plan to address that deficit. This deficit is not going away unless we act, and when I say “we” — I mean all of us — together… the administration and the City Council.
As I announced in last year’s address, it was our goal to undertake a national search for a new City Administrator and Commissioner of Finance.
I am pleased to announce that we accomplished just that.
Please join me in recognizing our new City Administrator, Debbie McDonnell and Commissioner of Finance Marc Nelson.
Their expertise and hard work has already having a positive impact and I know they are both excited about contributing to our city’s revitalization.
I also want to take a moment to recognize Ron Knapp. His dedication, service and commitment to this city which has spanned over 40 years.
He rose through the ranks of the City of Poughkeepsie Police Department to become its Chief, a position he held for 21 years.
And then, when I asked him to help on an even greater responsibility — he then stepped in…or better yet, stepped up to become our acting City Administrator.
Let me be clear about this. The progress we have seen during the first year of this administration would not have been possible without Ron Knapp. Please join me in a great big thank you to Ron for all he has done for this City and what he will continue to do even after retirement.
A City Government is only as strong and productive as the employees who work there. I also want to take this opportunity to thank the great employees of our city. Every single person on our team, the City’s team, is important to the tremendous work and growth that has occurred over the last year.
I have felt the boost in morale, and every one of you should be proud of what is happening in our city. And as I try to remind you often…OUR WORK IS IMPORTANT!
Because we have such a dedicated and committed team we have been able to accomplish so much.
We have developed better communication between departments and developed a true team approach to working for our City.
We have made new investments in equipment; made important structural and organizational changes that have benefited the City and its workforce.
We have worked very hard on our very important partnership with the Poughkeepsie City School District. Such as the active participation of the Police Department in all of our schools. Programs like the “Cocoa with a Cop” program has enhanced our police-community relations, which is always so important for this City.
I am particularly grateful for the relationship I have with Superintendent Dr. Nicole Williams and the entire staff of the Poughkeepsie City School District. Most importantly, I value the relationship I have been able to establish with the students. I have said this often, that some of the most gratifying and encouraging times as the Mayor has been spent with the students of the Poughkeepsie City School district.
Just it is important to have a partnership and relationship with our school district, it is also important to have a strong partnership with the other elected officials at the various levels of government that represent the City of Poughkeepsie.
Senator Schumer and Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney both provided assistance in securing federal dollars for our Fire Department and Police Department.
Senator Sue Serino, who in 2016 was able to secure necessary funding for critical needs in our Police and Fire Department such as police vehicles and other capital needs. In our Fire Department, funding was secured for turn out gear along with monies to help replace windows to the Clover St. Fire House — which is an overall energy saver.
In addition, the Senator also assisted with monies for necessary repairs in our parks system — specifically our two pools in Pulaski and Spratt Park.
I must also thank Assemblyman Frank Skartados, who has secured close to $2 million for new fire apparatus, police vehicles, and funds to help alleviate much of the capital costs needing for improvements on our City owned buildings.
A thank you to County Comptroller Jim Coughlin for being able to authorize additional shared services money that allowed us to increase our staff in the Finance department — which is a critical part in everything that this City does.
County Executive Marc Molinaro — my colleague and friend whose support for this City has been immeasurable as well. From the placing of County Resources in City Hall to help with planning and economic development. Through the hundreds of thousands of dollars we receive through the County’s shared services program along with the taxpayer stabilization fund.
I want to say something about the relationship between the County Executive and myself. I follow government as closely as anybody else does. I see where governments work together, and I see where they don’t. I have heard this several times but I know this to be the case — there is no City Mayor and County Executive in this state that have a closer working relationship than Mark and I do. It is good for this City, it is good for this County, and this region, and I am proud to be a part of it. Thank you, Marc, for your continued support and dedication to not only Dutchess County as whole, but this City, which I know you care so much about.
Our nonprofit partners must be recognized as well. This city has an incredible amount of nonprofit organizations targeting the needs in our community. I realize it is their dedication that makes the sense of community in this City so strong.
In 2016, I created by executive order an Arts Commission, which people asked me to do. I have selected the 3 individuals that I get to appoint to the Commission. It is now up to the City Council to appoint their 3, and I look forward to that, so that this Arts Commission can get to work.
We look to the future with much anticipation as we explore more ideas to strengthen our city through the development of new ways to deliver services and bold initiatives that will ensure that we will continue to be financially viable and responsible while delivering the most needed and efficient services to our residents.
Initiatives such as:
In 2017 the City will implement new technology (IWorq’s) that provides a way for citizens to report issues in their neighborhoods and around the City through the use of a phone ap or online template. It can be used to report pot holes in the streets, lights out, garbage, and other issues.
Dutchess County provided a grant to the City for DPW. By working with the new City Administrator, the department is utilizing a team approach to handle daily tasks and to come together for emergencies such as snow events. The grant will provide the necessary upgrades to computers and software to facilitate information sharing and software standardization that will allow the staff to cross train for various functions and again, work as a team to serve you better.
This year the City will hire code enforcement officers who will work with property owners to maintain their properties. The city has not had officers for many years.
This year the City will create its own Parking Department to help improve permitting, payments, enforcement, and to look at better signage for visitors to find open lots.
The Financial Plaza Deck will receive a much needed upgrade both structurally and new ticket equipment will be purchased. This will provide easier access to the plaza and quicker exits by using upgraded payment technology. This will also improve parking for downtown functions.
One of the most precious resources any community has is its drinking water. Poughkeepsie recognized this in 1872 when we became the first to produce filtered water. This shows you the commitment that this City has in supplying clean water to its residents.
As a member of the Joint Water Board in partnership with the Town of Poughkeepsie, I am happy to report to you that a new $18 million upgrade has been completed to improve water facility. 9.38 million gallons of high quality drinking water is produced every day at our Water Treatment Plant.
With that going on at our Water Treatment Facility, the City has also invested in water quality through a brand new water storage facility at our College Hill Reservoir. We will be replacing the single water tank, with two above ground tanks that will give us the redundancy that we need in water storage while also providing greater water flow when needed. This will help our Firefighters in the performance of their duties, and will increase water pressure throughout the City. We hope to then repurpose our old reservoir area into new park land for visitors at College Hill.
Many may have noticed the Anti-littering campaign called “POUGHkeepitclean” through the Middle Main Initiative at Hudson River Housing. They were instrumental in getting the garbage can wraps on the middle main area and are working with DPW to address litter in the central business district.
Last year I spoke about projects that were going through various planning stages in the City and I am happy to report — -
The new Vassar Brothers Medical Center is being built.
The Waterclub apartments along Rinaldi Blvd are close to completion and many of the apartments are occupied.
The Dutton project, north of the Walkway, has received necessary approvals and we are awaiting the groundbreaking ceremony.
The Queen City Loft project at Main and Bridge St., also ready to break ground.
The Cardinal court project, at the former site of Kings Court on Cannon Street is underway.
I have always said that this City is the “City of Connections” A major point of focus in 2016, and moving forward, is the development and revitalization of our downtown central business district — the economic engine of our City.
Through our City center connectivity initiative we are looking to make our downtown streets safer and livable for all users — this means walkable and bikeable, and connected to surrounding neighborhoods.
Through these efforts, and with the continued commitment and partnership with local residents and business owners, we can increase mobility and make downtown Poughkeepsie the region’s premier commercial corridor again.
We were excited to learn recently, that through the last round of consolidated funding awards from the state, the City received over $7 million both for public and private projects in our City. It was one of the largest awards given to a municipality in the last round.
And I fully understand that, at times, some of our proposals will be met with trepidation and even uneasiness. That some would prefer the easier way or to go the path of less resistance…
But my friends — there is a reason it is called bold action.
And of course, I always welcome discourse and an honest discussion and dialogue. Through this we will ensure everyone in the decision making process is comfortable that they can make an intelligent and informed decision.
But what I will not stand for, is those who prefer remaining mired in negativity or the spreading of misinformation; or lowering our debate to the politics of personal destruction.
As for our proposal of bus consolidation:
Consolidation of the bus service is the right idea for this city. It will improve the service, promote job creation to our community and increase the safety of our residents — all the while saving us money.
I brought this idea forth because it was the right thing to do.
And tonight, I make you this guarantee — regardless of how bold or valiant an idea, you can rest assured that I will always bring a proposal to you with the best intentions for our city and its residents.
But I also tell you this, for those who would rather go the route of negativity and unconstructive tactics, for those who would rather put your own personal agenda above that our city; for those of you who would rather tear down, than build up…
I invite all of you to join me in the spirit of cooperation and teamwork.
You are all welcome, but we cannot wait any longer. Transit in the City is headed toward a brighter tomorrow and prosperous future.
We are headed in a better direction and the time is now for the bold ideas that will get us there.
And, how do I know we are on the right track?
Don’t just take my word for it. Look at what is happening around our city.
Or Moody’s Investor Services who called our 2017 budget a “Credit positive”
Or the State’s Financial Restructuring Board who is poised to deliver aid to assist our turnaround.
And people are moving into Poughkeepsie. In the past year, single family homes sales are up 26%; attached homes are up 45%; and multi-family homes are up 23%. Building Permits totals are up by 250 from 2015.
And people are coming to and celebrating in Poughkeepsie for a number of events:
- Think Differently Dash
- Walkway Marathon
- Jazz Festival
- Fireball Run
- Bike New York
- LA Guetlagetuza
- Paddy on the Hudson
And many other significant and local events organized by dedicated citizens.
And I am so proud and honored that this past weekend for the second year in a row, Poughkeepsie played host to the New York State Special Olympics Winter Games. We were so blessed to welcome these great athletes and their families to our city.
After the event Friday night, a woman from Syracuse came up to me to tell me that her daughter is a coach for one of the Olympic teams. They’ve traveled all over the state for these events — she told me that Poughkeepsie stands out as the best host City they have ever traveled to.
And if any of you have attended one of our new First Friday events, you can certainly feel the buzz through the successful attendance and excitement generated. I am pleased to announce that First Friday will be celebrating its one year anniversary on April 7 — (mark your calendars and get ready to be there!)
And the response to our current #LOVE #CityofPoughkeepsie Campaign during the month of February has encouraged people to join in and post on social media why they love our city. The response from residents, city workers, elected officials, business owners, parents and students has been overwhelming and shows that love for our city is alive and infectious.
Let me tell you a story about someone who grew up in this City and loved it more than anything else.
That is my wife’s grandmother, Gloria, who we called Gigi, who we just lost. Today would have been her 93rd Birthday. Many of you here tonight remember her. Gigi would be so happy about this love campaign, because she lived her life for others. And doing everything she could, always thinking about someone else and how they were, how their day was going, and how she could make it better. Gigi is the example of what a loving community is all about.
We’ve talked a lot about the team approach. And my partner, on my team, is my wife Lori. She has been part of so many of the things we’ve been able to accomplish in my first year in office. Quite frankly, I couldn’t have done it without her. Thank you Lori.
So much like a Poughkeepsie sunrise, the state of our City is rising.
It is rising, cutting through the fog and brightening the dawn of a new morning.
Poughkeepsie is rising.
Today, I invite you to join me, to rise with our city. Rise up to the challenges still in front of us. Rise up to accept a positive outlook and shun the negative. Rise up to the thought of making Poughkeepsie better than it has ever been.
We have the chance to set the example of what we all need to strive to be: Driven, hardworking and committed to doing great things… for the City.
Which is ONE City.
Together we will make this city great. One street at a time; One block at a time; One neighborhood at a time — and yes if needed, one mattress at a time!
Thank you very much. God Bless you and may God grant continued sunshine on the City of Poughkeepsie.