Editor's Note: This is the complete text of the supervisor's State of the Town address delivered at the annual town reorganization meeting on Thursday night.
Town of Clarkstown
Supervisor Alexander J. Gromack
January 3, 2013
State of the Town
Thank you and good evening.
Let me start by once again extending my sincerest wishes to all our residents for health and happiness in the New Year.
Tonight, I thought we could spend some time looking at the major accomplishments of not just 2012, but the last eight years, in addition to looking forward to 2013.
First let me address the tragedy of 26 people being murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It reminded us there can be nothing more sacred or important than the safety and security of our families and loved ones. We are also reminded that no school, movie theater, shopping center, mall, house of worship, community or town, is immune or shielded from the acts of a terrorist or a deranged individual. Connecticut was just too close to home, our home.
And while we can never guarantee our absolute safety against these potential acts of violence, we can make sure we are doing everything possible for our safety. In Clarkstown, we are truly blessed to have one of the finest and most professional police departments in the country. Not because I say so but because national studies confirm so.
In the coming weeks and months, the men and women of the Clarkstown Police Department will continue to do as they have in the past, conduct various forms of outreach to our schools, pre-schools, religious institutions, shopping centers, malls, movie theaters, and many others to reinforce what we need to know and do should we ever be confronted by the unthinkable act of a terrorist or deranged killer. Our Police Department uses the best practices in the nation for these types of situations. In fact, one of our drills was filmed by the New York State Police and used across the state and nation as a model.
While the Clarkstown Police do have the very best plan in place, and do hold security and training sessions with our schools and others each and every year, their continued outreach will further that commitment to insure our residents have the very best chance to be protected should tragedy strike.
However, ensuring our safety is a partnership. While the Clarkstown Police continue to train and run drills with the community, there are certain measures the community needs to take too, changes that need to be made, money that needs to be spent to upgrade and enhance your security.
Approximately two years ago, the Town, with the cooperation of the school districts and the Clarkstown Police Department, began the preparation of a comprehensive grant application to the State, seeking funding for a joint safety initiative. Among the items for which we sought funding were a keyless entry system installed at all schools, new cameras with interconnectivity to the Clarkstown Police, terrorism training, autism and sensitivity training and remote lockdown capabilities. In the wake of the unspeakable atrocity in Newtown, I commit to revive this effort to obtain funding from the State so that our school districts’ safety programs will continue to be a model for all to emulate.
In my 14 years in the State Assembly, I voted for a number of laws named after children which were drafted in the wakes of tragedy. Laws like Amber’s Law, Kendra’s Law, Kieran’s Law, Megan’s Law, Timothy’s Law, Jonathan’s Law and Leandra’s Law. And while these laws were certainly well-intentioned, I submit that if we’re voting on a law named after a child, we’re acting too late. Prevention is the key. The lives of our children are our most precious asset.
Another important component of our security system here in Clarkstown is ‘Ready Clarkstown’, a new state of the art emergency notification system which will allow the Clarkstown Police to contact residents and businesses on their home or business phones, cell phones, email, text or any other electronic device within minutes during an emergency. Please visit our website and be sure you and your family are registered so we can alert you in an emergency.
There are many other challenges ahead of us, as we struggle with economic and financial concerns over which we have no control, such as the County's fiscal crisis and our national economy but before talking about our future, I think there's a great deal of wisdom in an old English proverb that says, “You can't know where you're going until you know where you've been.”
So where were we eight years ago?
Let’s talk about Capital Projects.
Eight years ago there were over 150 flood prevention projects across our Town that were going nowhere. Projects that were intended to stop homes, businesses, and family memories from being damaged or lost forever as a result of flooding. I remember during my first few months in office touring one of our residential neighborhoods that had been flooded. My daughter was with me and as she saw the damaged homes, the people bringing items of furniture and rugs out to the street to be picked up as trash, she looked at me and asked, “Why should people have to go through this?”
Not only was her question valid, but I was struck by the realization that the same thing was happening all across our Town over and over again.
The Town Board and I dedicated over $15,000,000 dollars in capital projects to complete 125 of those 150 flood prevention projects. That effort continues with twenty five more projects in planning, ten of which will begin in 2013. We have also initiated a joint study with state and federal agencies to further explore flood mitigation proposals to help those long suffering residents in West Nyack along the Hackensack River.
Eight years ago, our downtowns, the centers of our small businesses, an anchoring place for our neighborhoods and hamlets had been neglected. Traffic problems, crumbling sidewalks, lack of parking, and struggling businesses had transformed places where residents wanted to shop and congregate into places to be avoided.
We all have heard, over and over, that small businesses are the engine that drives our economy.
Something had to be done and something was done.
We have revitalized hamlet centers in Congers, Nanuet, and Valley Cottage. Major revitalization has been completed in New City, the seat of our Town and County Government, with the remainder of the project being completed this year.
We have begun work to revitalize Central Nyack, beginning with fixing a flooding problem that has plagued that neighborhood for far too many years, and we are currently involved in the planning process for the West Nyack revitalization. All of these projects have been designed and constructed with the input, involvement, and participation of community groups, area residents and, through our efforts, many of these projects have been supported in part with local, state, and federal grants.
In fact, during the last eight years, our Town has received over $31,000,000 in federal, state and local grants to offset the costs of our capital projects. That's $31,000,000 that did not have to be borrowed by the Town, or repaid by our taxpayer base.
It is important to remember that every one of these projects provided hundreds of construction jobs to our local contractors and union members and the completion of the downtown revitalizations has, and will continue to bring increased retail jobs for our residents.
I recognize, however, that some have expressed concern about our Town's commitment to these and other capital projects, and question the wisdom of bonding for such projects.
Let me address those concerns. Every municipality bonds for major capital projects to spread the costs over a number of years, benefitting the people using those facilities today and into the future. It's a similar process to buying a house and taking out a mortgage.
When we apply for a mortgage, our credit rating is one of the major factors that will impact what we will pay in interest charges for that mortgage. We also do some shopping around to get the best interest rate. As we all know interest rates are currently at historic lows and have been for some time. If you are going to borrow money, now is the time. We are also getting a record number of competitive bidders for our projects giving us very low costs. It’s a buyer’s market.
Our Town has a AAA bond rating, the best that any municipality can have. It is significantly higher than the county’s and even better than the federal government's. That AAA bond rating translates into millions of dollars saved in interest charges for the bonding. That's millions of dollars the Town doesn't have to pay back. That's millions of dollars saved by taxpayers. So the next time you hear someone say that the AAA bond rating doesn't mean anything, you might want to ask them if millions of dollars saved in interest payments means anything.
Our infrastructure improvements have also included road and highway work, culvert repair, facility upgrading and renovation, sewage system repairs, purchasing highway vehicles, new recreational opportunities like the Congers Lake Trailway, and a host of other improvements and repairs.
These improvements are all designed to keep our Town a place where the things that have to work, work well and in a manner in which our residents expect and deserve.
Someone once said, “If you don't pay for your infrastructure repairs today, you will pay dearly for them tomorrow”. We have decided to pay for them today to keep our Town a great place to live, and to prepare our Town for the future.
In addition to our downtown revitalizations aimed at increasing our small businesses base, we have made a concerted and successful effort to attract large commercial, industrial, and retail establishments to expand or relocate in our Town.
Our award winning Comprehensive Plan, which was designed with the input of residents at a host of hamlet and town wide meetings, established a number of corridor studies that led to flexible zoning which allowed for commercial development without negatively impacting our residential neighborhoods.
As a result, new businesses such as: Kohl Industrial Park in Congers, Brega Bus Depot in Valley Cottage, United Structural Works in Congers, Lowes Home Improvement Center in Nanuet, Stop and Shop in New City, and the much anticipated 2013 reopening of the Shops at Nanuet, have brought and will bring hundreds of additional construction jobs and permanent job opportunities to our Town and our residents. According to the Rockland IDA, the Shops at Nanuet alone will create over 1,100 permanent facility and retail jobs and approximately 1,600 construction jobs.
There are also a number of projects the Town and the Rockland IDA are collaborating on and together they will bring approximately another 130 permanent jobs to Clarkstown. This is in addition to other projects in the planning stages that will create hundreds of new job opportunities for our residents.
My friend, Al Samuels, President of the Rockland Business Association, said, and I quote “The fact that Clarkstown made economic development a top priority sets it apart from the rest of the community”.
So you see our investment in capital projects has not only helped our residents directly but it has made our Town a place where businesses and families flourish.
Clarkstown’s fiscal health is reinforced by the fact that we still have a $15,000,000 surplus, which will continue to stabilize taxes, and the fact that Clarkstown’s economic future remains strong, vibrant and growing is good news for the State of our Town and our residents.
I have focused the first part of tonight’s address on our economy because our economy is the driving force that impacts our standard of living and the quality of our lives.
Now let’s take a look at how our government has changed.
In the last eight years, through a reasoned and measured approach, we have reduced our work force by 73 employees; that is a 15% reduction. We did that without mass layoffs, without violating contracts with our employees, and most importantly without serious and negative impacts on the essential services to our residents.
In addition, we took a similar approach to consolidating services and eliminating departments starting with the consolidation of our Purchasing and Insurance Departments, consolidating three separate Town garages into one, and as of January 1, 2014 we will be consolidating the Receiver of Taxes and the Town Clerk's office, to name but a few.
These moves will result in a $2,000,000 savings each and every year. That's $2,000,000 that doesn't have to be raised through property taxes.
We will continue to take a hard look at our departments, programs, and services to find new opportunities to consolidate but we will only consolidate where it makes financial sense and leads to savings and improved operations.
In addition, we will look to the four other Rockland Towns and the County to explore inter-municipal opportunities for consolidation. I am hopeful that our new County Executive, when elected, will be as willing as we to begin an honest, candid, and cooperative approach to this effort.
The five Town Supervisors and Town Board members have already indicated in a letter to the County Executive and Legislative Leaders that we are ready to undertake this effort in earnest.
During the last three years, Clarkstown has come in with a Town Budget that kept taxes historically low and below the State's 2% cap. In 2010, the property tax increase was 1.6%. In 2011, the property tax increase was .06 percent. In 2012 it was 0 percent.
No one wants to raise taxes, certainly not the members of the Town Board or me. Unfortunately, we were not, despite our best efforts, able to duplicate that again this year because of factors beyond our control. The loss of revenue from County sales tax and County mortgage tax and the County's unprecedented and unexpected move to transfer over $3 million dollars in charge backs to our Town, put us in a position where we, like many other municipalities, were unable to stay below the state’s tax cap.
I firmly believe that with new leadership on the County level, eliminating these unfair chargebacks to towns, along with more consolidation and inter-municipal cooperation, the pressure on our Town budget and our property tax payers will be reduced. It will be even further reduced with increased revenue from sales taxes and mortgage taxes, the expansion of our commercial, industrial, and retail establishments and a County administration that puts its fiscal house in order.
Certainly government cannot be expected to be all things to every resident. At the same time Town government should be expected to meet the needs of most of its residents in a fiscally responsible and timely manner.
I often say that government is a little like a restaurant menu. You can't expect your favorite restaurant to have every possible food choice on the menu, but you certainly expect them to have some dishes you like.
Our job is to provide a menu of services and not be afraid of changing the menu by adding new choices or eliminating others.
Our Town has and will continue to do that.
That's why we created flexible zoning to permit the construction of senior citizen housing consisting of both apartment units and single family homes. That's why we built the Congers Lake Trailway to enhance recreational opportunities available to our families. That's why we created a new senior citizen center in Upper Nyack. That's why our improvements at the Lake Nanuet Swim Complex won a state award. That's why we are creating a solar field on the Town's capped landfill. That’s why we have purchased over 200 acres of open space.
That's why our Town has and will continue to encourage and assist small businesses and large commercial, industrial, and retail development.
That's why our Town will continue to pursue cost cutting and consolidation opportunities.
And we will do that like we have in the past, by working together, government and citizen, Town department heads, employees, and elected officials.
All that has been accomplished in the last eight years has been achieved by people working together. No one person has all the right answers but together we will continue to find the right answers and make the right choices. No one person can accomplish all that needs to be done, but together as a team we can accomplish so much.
I want to thank all of you here tonight, from those on the podium, to those in the audience, and those at home, for your energy, effort, and commitment to our Town.
We must continue to work together because it is the only way to address our current needs and to build for our bright future.
We all want to leave the world a better place, a place where our children can do better than we, a place they can be proud of, a place where they want to live, work, and raise their family. A place like the Town of Clarkstown.
Robert Moses, known as the master builder of the mid-20th century of New York City, Long Island, Rockland and Westchester Counties, once said, “Those that can build do. Those that can't, criticize”.
Isn't that what our government should do?
Build for the future, build for our children’s’ future?
Let us continue working together to stay focused on where we are yet look toward where we are going.
Let us do so with a sense of pride and sense of purpose.
Let us do so with a commitment and dedication that respects each other’s needs and dreams for a better way of life.
Let us do so by renewing our partnership with our Town and fellow citizens.
Let us do so for all of Clarkstown.
God bless you and your families.
Thank you and good night.