by Andy Stewart, Orangetown Town Supervisor
Here is the text of Orangetown Supervisor Andy Stewart’s 2014 State of the Town address which was given on Jan 7, 2014.
Good evening, welcome to Orangetown Town Hall, and Happy New Year!!
Thank you for braving the cold weather, the “polar vortex,” to join us for this important event. – thank you for coming, and Thanks also to Mary White, Monsignor O’Keefe, Rabbi Pernick and Danny Costello for helping us, through beautiful song and spiritual blessings, to remember why we are here. Why are we here? We are here to re-affirm our commitment to public service as elected officials. You are here because you believe in local government and democracy and especially because you are all heavily invested in Orangetown – as residents, property owners, parents, business people, and town employees and civic leaders. I, and the rest of the town board, work for you!
In the next few minutes I want to say a bit more about our goals for 2014,
then I will gladly yield to my colleagues on the board and listen to their goals. Your goals, Denis, Tom, Paul and Tom, like my own, derive essentially from your responsibility to our diverse community and your understanding of what our town government – it’s departments, staff and capital infrastructure – really require to succeed. I value your perspective and I pledge my labor, as the only full-time member of our town council, to carrying out our shared agenda. In its essential terms, I think this shared agenda has five elements, and for each I’ll make note of an example or two about what I am talking about.
- Balance the budget: By this I mean preserve town vital services while keeping our budget under the tax cap – something we have done together for the last several years, but at substantial cost to our reserve fund and long term capital spending – a situation that becomes more dire year by year. We have to find new ways to save money. For example, next week we will vote on a proposal to privatize the operation of Broadacres golf course under a short, three year contract with Applied Golf, keeping the golf course open, saving the town hundreds of thousands of dollars and, because it would be a short-term contract, retaining our ability to use this land for clean commercial tax payers development if desired within the framework of the overall redevelopment of the RPC lands. Let’s do this, and then go on to the next great idea.
- Grow the tax base: Foster economic development, such as our success with Bloomberg, Orangeburg Commons and Cerovene, to name a few big new businesses, and smaller ones like the Andean Brewing Company in Blauvelt – these new businesses keep taxes lower for the rest of us and create jobs and important services. Pfizer and Rockland Psych are our biggest and most pressing concerns – and I will say more about RPC in a minute. I’ve met with local chambers of commerce in Pearl River, Nyack, and Piermont, and organized a business summit in town hall last year which I hope to repeat this year as part of an on-going effort to market Orangetown to prospective businesses and help build a strong local business network.
- Preserve Orangetown: Preserve and protect our conservative zoning philosophy and overall quality of life through a militant defense of the basic principle of local control, the independence of our land use boards, having a strong legal team downstairs in Town Hall, and fostering an alert and engaged citizenry who we really listen to. We are against overdevelopment and we value small-town life. Please let me know if you, or somebody you know, would make a good addition to our land use boards – for example, right now we have a vacancy on the Architectural Review Board.
- Help People: from serious crime to potholes and dog licenses, from business investments to small home renovations and complaints about property maintenance, people need help from the town and it is our job to help them get what they need as quickly as possible and assure them their tax dollars are being put to good use. Our staff is great at this as are the emergency service groups who respond to events like Superstorm Sandy and the fire on Clausland Mtn. Also, it is easiest to help people when the people already know who to talk to about their issue, and we have to look for more ways to educate our residents about our services. Ways to help people understand where to go for help and how to get involved include: Recent expansion and promotion of the town open house event, our well-attended tours of the sewer treatment plant and Sparkill watershed, the highway open house, and expansion of our email “blast” list. A more modern, interactive website could improve public access and save staff time as well.
- Innovate! In the course of helping people, and pursuing the other goals just mentioned, we often identify ways we can do just a bit better for our residents. A small example is we started offering recycling at Veterans Park this past summer. A bigger example would be our new Emergency Operations Center which can be up and running in under an hour in the multipurpose room downstairs. So our fifth shared goal is to implement well-thought out improvements where needed. Here the role of town employees, department heads and our great citizen advisory committees play truly critical roles in developing policy concepts into practical proposals for the Town Board to review. I’d like to see us using public opinion survey methods, both online and printed, to get a better idea what services Orangetown residents need, and even if there are services that we don’t need to spend money and staff time on.
Again, I pledge myself to this shared agenda and look forward to listening to and supporting my colleagues, staff and community, as we work together in very specific and practical ways to keep Orangetown a great place to live, work and play.
I’d like to touch on a few other topics before yielding the podium….these include: RPC, certain financial issues, and lastly, the recent election…
Rockland Psychiatric Center
Thanks also to Congresswoman Nita Lowey, Assemblymember Ellen Jaffee and Senator David Carlucci for sending representatives, to Nadia and Charlotte for helping coordinate this event and to Anthony and Matt, our IT team, for setting up the TV cameras – so “hello”, also, to those Orangetown residents who are joining us via television.
Installing better TV broadcast equipment was just one of my goals for 2013 and it is gratifying to see the new system at work, thanks to great collaboration between our IT team and a wonderful volunteer, David Chilson, who together built our new TV system. David’s son Daniel is a Tappan Zee HS student who volunteers to film our town board meetings. Note that we now not only have better production of our town meetings, but we have the capacity to broadcast pre-taped programs about fire safety, drug awareness, community events, or, for example, meetings of the County Legislature or school board. In 2014, I will be looking for help putting this programming together, under the guidance of our IT team and David Chilson, so let me know if you would like to join this project.
Finally, to my children Jonah and Talia, who are here tonight along with their grandparents, thank you, and I love you. My being town supervisor has imposed a high cost on our family time and I am grateful for your support along with that of my wife Rachel – “mommy” — , who is in Wisconsin right now, where the “polar vortex” has the home field advantage – good luck Rachel! Rest assured, I will not be supervisor forever and life will return to normal!
With regard to RPC: Let us never forget that we hold the two most important cards in the greatest land use issue for the future of Orangetown: we own the land and we control the zoning. And whether we eventually come to own the former Children’s Psychiatric Center or not, we will be vigilant in ensuring that we control the development of this state land. And make no mistake about it: Communities all throughout the Hudson Valley would be happy to have the problem that we have: how to best develop nearly 90 acres, much of it waterfront land with great access to highways and to Manhattan, to reap the highest economic and environmental benefit for town residents.
We will work with our state partners – State Senator Carlucci and Assemblymembers Jaffee and Zebrowski, and the Empire State Development Corporation and the governor’s office – to ensure that our interests are protected and the land is put to the best use for all Orangetown residents. And our new County Executive Ed Day – who I expect to work closely with and who certainly has major economic challenges ahead of him – can also be helpful to us. I have already spoken to Ed and invited him to join me for a tour of the RPC site.
As we seek new tax paying business at RPC, let’s remember our obligation is to ensure that our residents – particularly those in Blauvelt and Orangeburg who are in closest proximity to RPC – are not harmed from what happens at the site – either by an unreasonable increase in traffic or any other undesirable result.
I’ll wrap up with mention of a few overarching issues that I will be working on this year:
- I will continue to oppose United Water’s draconian rate hikes and expensive Hudson River desalination plant.
- I will work with other town supervisors to stop the County from shifting costs for elections, college tuition and shared police services to the towns, and to increase the tiny portion of the county sales tax that towns receive, in comparison to towns in other counties.
- I will continue working with department heads to identify grants for necessary town projects
- I will continue to call for the reform of the Federal “RLUIPA” law that gives religious land owners an unfair right to challenge local zoning authority in ways not enjoyed by secular land owners. The town of Greenburgh just lost a $6.5M settlement because of RLUIPA apparently…
- Lastly, as we celebrate the construction of the last part of our beloved Rail Trail this summer in Blauvelt, and thank the NYS DOT for its redesign of the Erie St intersection on Rte 303, also taking place this summer, I’ll be keeping a close eye on the Tappan Zee Bridge construction process to help the town derive maximum benefit from this epic scaled project.
Finally, given the unusual nature of the election that we just endured, I’d like to share a few thoughts with you. This was obviously a hotly contested election, as evidenced by the very tight result. After this year there can surely be no doubt in Orangetown that everyone’s vote truly matters and that each of us literally has the power to determine the outcome of an election.
To those of you voted for me, I truly thank you for your support and your vote of confidence. For those of you who voted for my opponent, I respect your choice and will work hard over the next two years to earn your support. I commend Walter Wettje for taking the plunge and running for public office. It was only two years ago that I made the same decision, so I know what a tough road it is to put yourself in the public eye and ask your fellow citizens to entrust you with the responsibility to lead.
My take home lesson is that Orangetown voters want their elected officials to be problem solvers not partisans. In my second term as Supervisor I’ll continue to promote non-partisan political cooperation and honest debates around our shared goals. My door is always open.
With that thought I happily pass the podium back to my elected colleagues who I congratulate for their service and for their re-election.