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members of the press: Let me begin by drawing your attention to important event: On Friday, April 20th, Ulster County will observe the 200th anniversary of the death, in Washington D.C. of Vice President George Clinton. This ceremony will take place in the graveyard of the Old Dutch Church, here in Kingston. His titles and accomplishments are many: Ulster County Clerk for 52 years, Brigadier General of the NYS Militia and the Continental Army, First Governor of New York, serving a total of twenty-one years and fourth Vice President of the United States, serving with both Jefferson and Madison. He is truly the founding father of New York State government. Although mostly associated with the executive branch of government, he served in the legislative branch as well, first as a member of the Colonial Assembly, then the Continental Congress, the NYS Assembly and finally as Presiding Officer of the U.S. Senate. His portrait is one of two that watch over the proceedings of this Common Council, along with that of his trusted friend George Washington. I chose this introduction because so much of the history of our state and nation is located here in Kingston. Our historic roots run deep into the very bedrock of our democratic way of life and support and nourish the government of this city today. The price that was paid by those who lived here during that time was a dear one, the loss of hearth and home, the loss of land and the means of survival and oftentimes the loss of life itself. We are the heirs of those who went before us and paid that price and we are the heirs of those who assembled and deliberated and provided us with a structure of government. On April 20th we commemorate not only George Clinton the man, but the institutions of self government which he helped to found. This Common Council is part of that long tradition of village trustees and representatives that leads right back to beginning of our government. We stand in a proud tradition of citizen legislators, representing the place were we live, the neighborhoods we speak for and the people who elect us to this office. There is a thread that runs from this meeting here tonight all the way back to the beginning of our democracy, binding together families who have for centuries called Kingston their home. There are, for example, 70 graves at the Dutch Church that belong to Revolutionary War soldiers. They rest in a field with their Commander, around his monument, heroes of our republic. Sadly, the thread winds through history directly to this meeting, where tonight this Council will adopt a resolution to install a plaque honoring Army Pfc. Doug Cordo, who died last year in Zabul, Afghanistan. Just nineteen years of age, in a place far from home, he gave his life in the defense of his country just as those Revolutionary War heroes
did. This Council will tonight pass and send a resolution to the Mayor asking that a section of Pine St. be designated in his honor. But the past is just prelude: for the world moves on quickly and the challenges of the past are replaced by the challenges of the future. It is those challenges that this Council of citizen-legislators must face, for they demand nothing less than the same total commitment as those who have gone before us. The first commitment is to an open and free discussion of the issues we face. This majority of the Common Council is dedicated to an effective, open process of communication such as has rarely been seen before. Not only are our committee meetings and caucuses open to the public and well advertised, but now they are often live-streamed as well, giving residents the opportunity to participate on a level not imagined just a generation ago. This majority of the Council reaffirmed our commitment to this principle in our adoption, last year, of a city wide policy on the use of social media to communicate with our residents, which we intend to use as a bench mark measure of transparency in government. Communication is the core of our process here in the Council; communication with the Mayor’s Office, communication with our department heads, communication with the public. The process must be open and it must involve the critical evaluation of information as it is provided. No matter how pressing the issue, no matter the volume of business, critical examination and the time to ask questions is an integral part of the work we do here. I am confident of the talent, intelligence and dedication of the members of this majority caucus and I know of their resolve to conduct business in an open, critical process which will well serve the residents of Kingston. To insure the transparency of all we do in city government, this majority caucus will introduce ethics legislation, called for by the NYS Attorney General’s office for all local municipalities. This legislation will cover all appointed, as well as elected officials of Kingston government and will protect residents from the conflicts that have recently plagued our government. I am confident that ethics legislation is an important first step to re-establish citizen confidence in the agencies of our government. Certainly, it is with gratitude and confidence that we address the employees of the city of Kingston as partners in government. Together, we are the face of government, whether it is behind a trash pick truck, a Fire Department pumper or a Police Department patrol car. The crucial services provided by our city departments also need to be customer friendly and efficient. Increasingly, I see department heads proactive in addressing the needs of their constituents, whether in fighting crime, providing recreation or managing the city’s aging infrastructure. Nothing less than firm determination to manage within a budget and provide the necessary services will work in the present financial situation. The majority caucus will stand with city employees, department heads and the Mayor as we look to inspire confidence in our agencies and financial stability in our budget.
Last year, the Common Council voted to support the 2 percent tax cap imposed on us by the Governor and Legislature. Our tax increase of 1.29 per cent was the lowest of any of the entities listed on the tax bill, smaller by half than the county tax increase, school district tax, safety net charges and library taxes. It is our intention to hold the same firm line on tax increases for the 2013 budget. To do so will require restraint by department heads, cooperative contract negotiations on the part of our labor unions and mandate relief by the state of New York. I am confident that an improving economy and increasing sales tax revenues will help our efforts, but only the most disciplined approach to the next year’s budget will bring success. To have a prosperous city and provide the quality of life we all long for, the city must provide tax relief for our citizens and for our businesses. The Council, last year, provided for the first time a modification of the base tax proportion ratio between commercial and homestead property taxes. It was a difficult and thoroughly researched step under the guidance of the state Office of Real Property Services. To continue to move towards an equity between the commercial and homestead tax base will require an exploration of a number of factors not the least of which is the impact that high commercial rates have on homestead values. Whether this is done through the Comprehensive Plan now underway or through a separate study commissioned by the council, it is very important that we understand the impact of our decisions on base proportion rates. The 2011 budget, department reconciliation close out, will be adopted here tonight, marking the earliest budget close out in recent memory. It is a tribute to the members of the Finance Committee and the City Comptroller that our books are balanced and the budget for last year, reconciled. I mark this because this process, as so many of our financial transactions, forms part of the city wide annual audit process, a process that determines our bond rating and in part the cost do doing city business. Our ability to conduct business and to use bonding as a tool to off-set capital expenditures, has steadily increased over the past few years and is a tribute to the prior administration. One important use of bonding is the repair and replacement of our aging infrastructure, evident to anyone who drives on Washington Avenue or Broadway. This is a challenge the new administration must face and it is heartening to the council to see that the mayor has begun the process of prioritizing capital improvements to our infrastructure. Climate change, antiquated systems and increasing restrictions by the state will put an unbearable burden on the city residents unless creative ways, including proactive projects, grant funding and mandate relief combine to alleviate this process. The use of bonding to replace designated sections of the system is a tool that a good bond rating protects. Our budgets must balance, must be audited and must be rigorously adhered to if we are going to protect our residents, their property and their livelihoods. This majority caucus will protect that process as our fundamental responsibility and will work with this administration on its implementation. Kingston is not alone in facing these challenges. The economic depression hit our neighbors and Ulster County as well. In many ways our future is the future of the Hudson Valley Region, for employment, cost of living, tourism and climate change. We have to
work with other governments to insure the future of our own. Consolidation of services has become the mantra of state and local government and is being rewarded with funding opportunities. Tonight’s vote on the tourism contract with Ulster County is one example, last year’s merger of the Fire Department dispatch service with the county’s was another. These have been important but tentative first steps in the direction of removing some of the layers of government which have developed since the time George Clinton was Governor. Not all layers of government will save money by being consolidated, but all layers of government deserve to have a critical appraisal of the cost of the services they provide. This Council majority will together with the mayor’s office look at those services funded by the budget and seek out ways to remove the burden of duplication., without removing the quality of the services provided. Those services now include citizen initiatives and committees new to this generation of Kingstonians – the Conservation Advisory Council, Complete Streets Committee, Land Trust, Forsyth Nature Center and rail trails. The Common Council has strongly supported all of these initiatives along with the Climate Smart - Green Jobs Pledge, which has already produced new income for the city. These initiatives taken together enhance our existing, vibrant historic and natural resources to insure a thriving tourism sector to our economy. This Common Council intends to be a full partner with the administration in promoting the quality of life issues and a full participant in the discussion on how these reforms will be implemented. I know the mayor looks forward to this partnership as it enhances the resolve of the administration and the likelihood of its success. Communication, critical review, financial disciple, consolidation of services, the tax cap, audit procedures, base proportion rates, bond ratings, infrastructure repair and vital services…..these are all the concerns of this Common Council. The thread of continuity weaves through our government, our neighborhoods and our families. Whether we were born here or chose to live here our community has a richness that sets it apart. This month we honor our democratic founding father whose life of accomplishment is truly extraordinary and we also honor a nineteen year son of Kingston whose life was cut terribly short. We do honor to them both by protecting the gift of government left to us by the one and boldly securing a brighter future that was denied the other. We can do no less. Thank you.
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