Neighborhood Conversation at New Rochelle High School
Back in October, I hosted four “Neighborhood Conversations” around New Rochelle. If you weren’t able to attend, here’s a link to my presentation. (This footage is from the final meeting at New Rochelle High School.)
At each of these conversations, I used an interactive application called “slido” to survey the audience and invite questions. Some big takeaways:
• Infrastructure emerged as the public’s top priority, way ahead of everything else. The good news is that the City’s 10-Year Capital Budget invests heavily in roads and other long-term assets, but it was evident that many residents want to do even more.
• Economic development was the chief focus of many questions, with specific inquiries related to fiscal impacts, student generation, construction jobs, and traffic. Given the pace and scale of change in our downtown area, this subject demands ongoing dialogue.
• By about a 2-1 margin, residents believe that New Rochelle is moving in the right direction. For a public official, that’s a very encouraging sign, but I am mindful that this also leaves a sizable minority with serious concerns, and I feel a responsibility to address and engage these critical perspectives, too.
Were these opinions reflective of our community as a whole? That’s hard to say. The folks who choose to attend meetings like this may not be a statistically representative sample of New Rochelle. But, regardless, I was very grateful for the constructive feedback and input.
New Rochelle’s 2019 budget has been adopted by the City Council on a unanimous, bipartisan basis. The budget continues a multi-year trend of expanded investment in infrastructure, along with a modest boost to public safety services, while also maintaining a robust fund balance to ensure ongoing fiscal stability. The 2019 municipal property tax rate comes in below the State tax cap.
Here is the full budget as proposed by the City Manager (but please note that small amendments were made by the Council prior to adoption of the final budget, including a reduction in the tax rate to 1.99%.)
With Assemblywoman Amy Paulin taking the lead, a bipartisan group of state, county, municipal, and school officials have joined together to defend the tax deductibility of charitable contributions. This is a matter of urgent importance to taxpayers in our region, in light of recent changes in federal tax law that sharply limit state and local deductions. There is more information in this press release, and here is the full legal argument from our attorneys. It is difficult to gauge the likelihood of success, but the financial implications are large enough to justify our collective effort.
Please remember to vote today in the New Rochelle school budget election. There’s lots of information about the budget on the School District website. Polls are open from 7am to 9pm.
When the City shares news about programs and initiatives like bike share, kayaking instruction, farmers markets, and wi-fi kiosks, I find that community reaction generally falls into two very different categories: (1) “Nice idea, thanks for doing this,” or (2) “Stop focusing on nonsense and fix the roads.”
I am grateful for the first reaction, but also completely understand and respect the second. Fixing roads should come first, and if nice-but-not-essential programs were consuming more resources than the basics, that would be a big problem. So I thought it might be helpful to share a little hard data about New Rochelle’s priorities.
Here’s how much money the City has budgeted for capital improvements to our roads in 2018: $5,226,007
To add a little detail, the City has an aggressive paving contract, including full resurfacing of dozens of roads, that will get underway in mid-summer and continue through mid-fall. In the meantime, crews have filled hundreds of potholes since the winter and continue to do so on a rolling basis. More broadly, in the context of our 10-year capital budget, the City Council has substantially increased the annual allocation for road maintenance, design, and paving, with the goal of achieving a steady improvement in our street network — and adding “complete streets” features — over a decade. (By the way, an additional $5.1m covers operational costs of our Streets & Highways Bureau.)
By contrast, here’s how much money we will spend on the other initiatives I mentioned above:
Bike Share: $0
Farmers Markets: $0
Wi-Fi Kiosks: $0
All these programs are achieved at no cost to taxpayers through sponsorships, user fees, or private means of revenue generation. Yes, there are other City-supported programs that come at a modest cost, but in every case they are dwarfed by expenditures for core municipal functions like public works and public safety, while delivering significant value to taxpayers and/or leveraging outside resources like grants.
Bottom line: fixing the roads is a higher priority by every metric, as it should be. But why impose false choices on ourselves? If we can address the basics responsibly and also launch programs that improve our quality of life, or expand services for residents, or enhance our environment, or help market our community for investment, isn’t that a good thing? Let’s do both.
New Rochelle’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, which was just released and presented to the City Council by our independent auditors, shows the City government to be in good fiscal health.
At the same time, New Rochelle — like most cities — still confronts long-term fiscal pressures that will require responsible management and priority-setting. Here’s a good summary paragraph from the report’s introduction:
“The moderate growth of the nationwide economy and the economic driven revenue growth of the City as a result of a bold and ambitious multi-stage development plan has improved and stabilized the City’s financial condition in 2017. Although development continues to progress, the City will continue to face considerable financial challenges that include health insurance increases, union-negotiated wage and benefit increases and general inflationary increases that will affect the City’s budget.”
Here’s the full report.