This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Address. In many ways, 2011 will be a transition year for all of us in the City of Troy. With less than 11 months left to serve in a position that was not always easy, plenty complicated, and forever rewarding, I hope tonight to start this year off right, and push this City forward as best we can. We all face difficult situations, and this administration has had its fair share of political battles. These issues that we all hold dear to our hearts should not keep us from moving forward. Tonight, I’d like to renew my pledge that I will sprint to the finish of my tenure, and hope that each of you will join me. Hopefully, together, we can even make some more progress before all is said and done. Whoever succeeds me in this office will face great challenges that they have little control over. Healthcare costs continue to skyrocket, while pension price tags in New York State continue to rise unchecked. These issues frustrate us on a daily basis. On Tuesday, Governor Cuomo announced cuts to our state funding, funding we use to keep your taxes lower. This, and other costs beyond our control, will need to be addressed during the next budget cycle. The lesson is that you can do more with less, and in this economic climate, you must do more with less. One of my regrets as Mayor is not doing enough to promote exactly how much more the City of Troy accomplishes these days with significantly less personnel. It is my hope that this passion for going above and beyond, given to me early on by my parents, and adopted by many Troy employees, will become a long-term reality in our hometown and not just an exception to the rule. The lure of creating titles and appointing high salaried staff is attractive to an elected official; it can make the job much easier. But there is no need to give into the temptation. For years we have reigned in many of these costs by drastically cutting senior staff positions across the board. These appointed positions are the lifeline of political parties, and we have done well by the citizens in cutting salaries that total in excess of $700,000 annually from when I first took office. There is no chief of staff, budget director, policy analyst, or any other of the unique titles of the past. We now make due without even the basic senior staff positions such as a Treasurer or Public Works Commissioner. The numbers do not lie; they are readily available for review, and it is easy to track the dramatic rise in uncontrolled cost, and the reduction in certain staff areas. In Troy, bipartisan support has allowed us to negotiate contracts with the three large unions to help lessen the cost of government for our residents. As those contracts expire, and negotiations begin, change will be met with reluctance. To the residents I say, be wary of anyone who tells you they can provide a reduced tax burden without that change. People say a lot to get elected to office; do not be afraid to question the reality of it. Every summer brings the dreaded task of assembling the budget for the next year. Many of the numbers are fixed contractually or based on solid estimates. Lately, we have faced huge increases in the bills we receive from New York State. Million dollar increases in pension costs alone can wreak havoc on the soundest of budgets. Each year we cut and then cut some more. It gets tougher each and every year, but
we are able to manage, because we make difficult decisions. It was only a few years ago that we were able to eliminate over one million dollars a year in unauthorized healthcare payments that were being paid year after year. My administration only proposes a tax increase as a last resort. The average tax increase in Troy since 2005 is just 1.4 percent. It’s tough to use the word “just”, even now I wish we could have done better. Our budgets have provided stability and have survived the sharpest scrutiny. New Yorkers are taxed to the limit, we have done our best not to add to the burden. Despite all of this, Troy is much better off than it was just 15 years ago. While other cities talk of looming multi-million dollar deficits and massive layoffs, Troy is in solid financial shape. We have spent the last several years preparing for what others are facing today. As a result, we have surpluses, and our bond rating has increased twice in the past three years, and we are on solid ground even after accounting for the troubles that plague every municipality in New York. Years ago city leaders wanted to sell city hall to dig us out of debt. Today the old city hall will make way for new development along the river in the heart of downtown. New jobs, new residents, and new tax revenue will be the result of the vision to seize the opportunities available to us and capitalize on what this city has to offer. Great things will happen there as we improve our city’s connection to the river and the park, everyone will benefit. Yes, progress takes time, but we won’t give up, we’ll stay the course, and we won’t settle for less than the residents deserve. We must continue to push for what benefits the entire City, to push for a better future. To that end, the future site of a permanent City Hall is a decision that will not be made by me alone. The current site works well enough as a municipal building and speaks to the belief I have in doing more with less. Extravagant riverfront views and classic architecture are not a priority for city hall, function and accessibility is. We have another option in the River-Triangle buildings, and I look forward to the Council presenting a plan for that building, if it is indeed the path they choose to pursue. There is a lesson there of course. Just two years ago I was threatened and nearly forced to sign away the rights we had to that building, and at the same time expose the residents of Troy to great financial peril, all in the name of saving a business that could leave the City. As business friendly as we aim to be, the people must come first. Selling a valuable building for less than it was worth, and without approval from federal authorities, was not something I would entertain. Today, we own those buildings, free and clear. They generate significant revenue for the City and give us many options like a future City Hall, a visitor’s center, or incubator space for new business ventures. It is vitally important in today’s climate to welcome business with open arms. It is through an increased property base, new sales tax revenues, and the attraction they provide to visitors, that new business will help us grow our community. Troy is saddled with an extraordinary amount of property owners that pay no taxes. These schools, hospitals and agencies provide valuable services, but, at the end of the day their presence requires that the average citizen pays more to make up the difference.
If we cannot shift the burden of our growing welfare state onto tax exempt entities, then we must do all that is possible to invite new people here to help us. The best way to do this is to be aggressive and proactive. If it means you must take heat for demolishing six dilapidated buildings in order to make way for a brand new seven story hotel and popular restaurant, you must push forward. Even if a few people call your house at 9 o’clock to complain about the potential traffic associated with it. When a developer comes to town and wants to build 200 units of housing on a previously vacant parcel of tax-exempt land, you do what you can to make it happen. Certainly, you listen to the concerns of residents, you address them thoroughly, and you move forward with the project for the greater good of the community. Those 200 units could be completely finished some time next year, and for the extra 200 cars on Oakwood Avenue, the City will have an influx of new people calling it home. Relationships with non-profits can be difficult. But the benefits they bring should not be glossed over. Significant new development is taking place in our Downtown and much of it centers on the presence of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and its growing campus. You can bemoan the fact that the majority of projects the University undertakes are tax exempt, or you can work hard to take advantage of it in order to benefit the city. Two years ago, we benefitted from the rehab of a rundown hotel on Sixth Avenue that was housing everything but tourists. Today, thanks to significant investments made by business people associated with RPI, we have hundreds of students living in Downtown. They shop in our stores, they eat in our restaurants, and they bring energy to an area that is thirsty for more involvement from a new class of residents. This fall, the $7 million Congress-Ferry Street redevelopment project was completed and this spring, work will begin on the upper portion of Congress Street. Today, construction began on the new mixed use building project on the new Sixth Avenue between Congress and Ferry. By this summer the developer pledges to have completed enough units of housing to bring several hundred more students Downtown, all while adding 17,000 square feet of unique retail space. Our role as City leaders must be to encourage these types of development, to remain positive, and reduce the number of barriers instead of creating new ones. You also must encourage the smaller businesses that truly do make this place a community and a wonderful place to live. Once again, the manner in which to do this is to be aggressive, be willing to embrace criticism, and focus on the bigger picture. We’ve been able to help generate employment opportunities like the 100-plus jobs created at IBT Global and to retain and create jobs at smaller businesses like Helmbold’s and Old World Provisions and the Leahy-Bocketti Funeral Home. Soon we will again assist Minissales Restaurant as they grow their family owned business. Also, without our support, the Troy Food Co-Op known as the Pioneer Market would have never opened its doors. Finally, you must be willing to stick to your guns when recruiting new businesses. Several years ago I got it into my head that a Dinosaur Bar-B-Que would be a tremendous asset for Troy, and we went about courting them fast and furious. We brought in the owner, John Stage, toured him around town and talked to other successful business owners, and eventually convinced him that he could make it here.
he critics will tell you that we gave away the store with Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, and that we gave them millions to come to Troy. Truth is, it was a $350,000 investment that created 150 jobs and will end up generating more sales tax dollars than our most optimistic projections. Dinosaur could have opened in cities that offered them more money, but they chose Troy. Now, their regional customer base has brought new dollars into our city and an opportunity for other Troy businesses to capitalize on their success. The fact is that you have to be cognizant of the silent majority, and believe that if you follow what you know is the right course; things will turn out okay in the end. And now, when I drive by that bustling restaurant, I smile. I smile knowing that there are more than 100 people employed there that may otherwise not have had a job. I smile because each day people are coming from outside of Troy for the first time in many years. All told, we have created over 1100 jobs in Troy and had well over $110 million in new investment in the city. We will keep that momentum going. Much of what we have accomplished over the last seven years has earned the City praise and positive attention. Infrastructure improvements, special events new businesses, and a renewed attraction to historic cities have put Troy in a positive light. Now, our city regularly attracts people who come to visit and enjoy all that we have to offer. People are now proud and happy to come to Troy. It wasn’t always that way. There will always be naysayers. We have work left to do to win over those people and convince them to come and to stay, but I smile because even that as a possibility is a chance worth taking. We won’t give up. While attracting and retaining business is important to a city, having well maintained homes and neighborhoods are just as critical. Now, not only do we identify problems through code enforcement, we are able to provide funding to correct them. Through my Homeowner Housing and Energy Improvement Program we provided grants to 144 homeowners to make structural repairs, replace roofs, paint the exteriors, and replace heating systems. That is $1.4 million in grants to make improvements to homes in our neighborhoods. These preventative maintenance measures reduce the number of blighted properties in the future. It doesn’t stop there though. Later this year we will begin our five year plan to invest $2.5 million in the South Troy and North Central neighborhoods. Streets, sidewalks, infrastructure improvements will make these areas more attractive and livable. Also, with the help of federal funding we were able to implement programs that helped more than 40 families achieve the American dream of homeownership. I promised to keep this address short because I have the unfortunate feeling that the people are sick of hearing from elected officials. They grow tired of promises made and promises broken. So whoever steps into this office next year, there is one piece of advice that will ensure a successful job well done. Follow your moral compass.
I sleep well at night knowing that each decision made over the past seven years was done so with integrity and with Troy in mind. I took what I believed to be the best path available. I’m quite certain that being right every time is impossible, but doing the right thing every time is imperative. There will always be some criticism, and you will never make everyone happy. There will always be an unplowed street or a missed trash pick up that angers someone enough to call you names. Stay the course, follow your moral compass. I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by a capable, loyal, and hardworking staff. There are many city employees that have no trouble giving 110% every day, and I thank them. I am grateful to have had Dan Crawley as Deputy Mayor and Deb Witkowski as Comptroller during much of my term. I want to thank them for their leadership and friendship through our journey. On a personal note, I’ve been blessed with a loving wife that was there for me each and every day- through challenging timesshe has been by my side. There are times when this job can grind you down and make you question whether people care about things as much as you do. It’s a tough place to be. And then they surprise you. Last month, the people of Troy came together and voted with force each day in an effort to win a $250,000 grant for Downtown Troy. Thousands of votes from thousands of people were cast every day as people came together for a common cause to do something great. We may have fallen just a little short, but we will be back at it again soon. You can learn a lot of things, even in defeat. I want to dedicate my final state of the city address to the children of Troy. Especially, Mrs. Testo’s Third Grade Class at Rensselaer Park Elementary School. I had the pleasure of reading to that class last week. These bright, young minds are why we need to continue to work hard to improve our City. There is still much to do in order to make this a better place for them. I am proud to say that the state of the City of Troy is quite strong. We have the right pieces to the puzzle. If we can find a way to work better together- neighbor with neighbor, business with business, and as elected officials, there will be no stopping us. Goodnight and God Bless.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.