by Alexander J. Gromack, Clarkstown Town Supervisor
Here is the text of Clarkstown’s 2014 State of the Town address, presented by Supervisor Alex Gromack on Jan 7, 2014
President Abraham Lincoln said, “You can’t escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” Thank you and good evening.
First, let me extend my sincerest wish to all the residents of Clarkstown for health and happiness in the New Year. Once again I have the great privilege of presenting what is now my tenth annual State of the Town address.
I humbly thank the residents of Clarkstown for their continuing support and confidence and pledge all my energy and efforts to keeping our Town a great place to live, work and raise a family.
Professional speech writers suggest that you start every speech with a joke or funny story. President Jimmy Carter once did this when delivering a speech in Japan with a story that lasted about one minute. He was surprised that the audience broke out in such laughter and that it only took the interpreter 10 seconds to retell it. After the speech Carter asked the interpreter how he told the story so quickly and how he got such a big laugh. The interpreter responded, “I told them, President Carter just told a story. It was not very funny, but please laugh now anyway.”
The purpose of the State of the Town address is to provide residents with a summary of what we have accomplished during the past years and to identify the goals for the coming year. It is a difficult speech to write and harder to deliver because many of the accomplishments are described in numbers; like the $450,000 dollars saved through consolidation of the Receiver of Taxes and Town Clerk, and over one million square feet of new commercial developments, and the 2000 new construction and permanent jobs created with the Shops at Nanuet, and the 100 senior housing units built or under construction, and the reduction of 75 government jobs, and the $38 million received in local, state and federal grants, and the two hundred acres of open space saved, and the $15 million tax stabilization fund created. While we have spent millions revitalizing our downtowns and upgrading our infrastructure through sound fiscal planning and strong financial management we have secured and maintained a AAA bond rating, the highest that any government can receive; that has saved our taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest payments. As impressive as those numbers are, they only tell part of the story.
Our achievements have been recognized by others. We received two awards for our Comprehensive Plan, one from Pace University Law and another from the New York Planning Federation. We have been continuously recognized as one of the safest towns in the country as well as one of CNN Money Magazine’s 100 best places to live in the nation. We were named #1 Booming Suburb of New York by Coldwell Banker Real Estate, and recently received a $90,000 grant from the state of New York for our consolidation efforts of the Town Clerk and Receiver of Taxes.President Teddy Roosevelt once said, “This country will not be a good place to live in unless we make it a good place for all of us to live in”.
The same holds true for any community. That has been the goal of this administration: to make Clarkstown a good place for all of us to live in. While we all may choose different ways of doing it, we all want to make this world a better place for our families and our children. Some of us choose to do that at our jobs, some in volunteer work in the community, membership in business or civic organizations, coaching a sports team, participating in church and synagogue groups, and perhaps most importantly being good parents. Some of us have chosen public service as the way to make our contribution to our community.It was President John F. Kennedy who said, “Every mother wants their child to grow up and become president, but no mother wants their child to become a politician.”
I believe that the primary job of government is to provide for and protect the safety of its citizens. They should feel safe and secure on their streets, in their homes, schools, businesses and in their futures.
That is why we have and will continue to provide the necessary resources to our Police Department to recruit, train and keep professional and dedicated police officers on the job. That is why we built a state of the art communication tower that facilitates inter agency communication. That is why through our Ready Clarkstown program we have improved our ability to notify and communicate with residents in real time during an emergency. That is why we have worked closely with our volunteer ambulance corps and fire departments to help them provide the very best service to our residents. That is why our Police Officers are in our schools each and every day. That is part of why we are one of the safest Towns in the nation.
Our downtown revitalization projects have not only transformed our hamlet centers into attractive, pedestrian friendly streets where small businesses, restaurants and specialty shops can compete with our two regional malls. We have designed and constructed them to become the hubs of our communities where families can walk along Main Street, meet with friends, visit pocket parks, attend street fairs, and shop in safety.
The majority of our population are homeowners. Our homes are our largest investment in both money and time. The value of our homes are impacted by the homes that surround us. None of us want to see that value reduced as a result of illegal or unrestricted residential development. Laws and regulations do matter in the Town of Clarkstown.
We want our neighborhoods to flourish not fail. That is why we created the new Comprehensive Plan that established specific zoning laws that permit and encourage sensible land use for residential and commercial development, but prohibits the type of unrestricted development that threatens the nature and composition of our neighborhoods. We revised our Town Zoning Codes and strengthened our code enforcement efforts by establishing a zero tolerance for unsafe or illegally occupied residences.
We have invested heavily in our open space program to secure over 200 acres of private lands keeping them ‘forever green’ and unavailable for development.
We all understand that new homes and businesses will continue to be built but we have and will continue to work to ensure that those homes and businesses fit into the vision of our Comprehensive Plan, that new construction enhances our neighborhoods and communities, and that our new neighbors are living in a home that is both legal, safe and in character with the surrounding community. That is how it has always been; that is how it will continue to be.
At the same time we are aware of the housing needs of our senior population, our young adults and our volunteers. We created the Active Adult Residence zone which permits the construction of homes specifically designed and constructed for active adults over the age of 55. To date over 100 units have been constructed or are in the planning process. We will continue to work on this challenge and will solve it without compromising our principles and quality of life as we know it in Clarkstown.
Feeling safe and secure in our homes also requires that the infrastructure around our homes is in working order and sufficient to meet our present and future needs. Our drainage system should prevent the constant flooding of homes and businesses that plagued our residents. That is why, in 2005, we created the Drainage Task Force which has completed 130 flood prevention projects.
When it snows we want our roads plowed so we can get to work. We want our Highway Department to have the equipment it needs to do the job and do it quickly and efficiently. We want our roads and bridges to be safe.
We want our sewer system to work, our leaves picked up, our Mini Trans transportation system to be efficient and reliable; our recreational facilities and our Town parks to remain attractive, accessible, safe and enjoyable for Clarkstown residents and for only Clarkstown residents.
We want our town facilities to be energy efficient and environmentally sound in keeping with current technology.
All of these infrastructure issues are part of what keeps our Town and our families safe and secure in their homes and community. It is an investment that protects our futures.
Some have said we have been too aggressive with our capital improvement projects; but I would remind them that Noah’s neighbors also criticized him for building his ark when it wasn’t even raining yet.
That is why we have a long range five year capital improvement plan that prioritizes projects and creates a sensible and rational bonding program that spreads the necessary funding over a number of years.
Some critics have falsely suggested that our capital improvement plan has created a financial deficit.
They confuse and compare our bonded indebtedness with the county’s $145 million operating deficit. The two are very, very different. So let me set the record straight. Clarkstown, unlike the county, does not have an operating deficit of $145 million. We have a balanced budget with a tax stabilization fund of $15 million and growing.
Our fiscal policy and practices have earned us a AAA bond rating, which as I have said, is the highest rating that any municipality can achieve. That rate has not only allowed us to complete necessary repairs and new capital projects but at an interest rate that has saved taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest charges.
So through sound financial planning and prudent spending we have not only made our town a better place today but we have protected its future for our children. At the same time, every decision and act by government is open to criticism and that is part of what a democracy is all about. However, a responsible and responsive government cannot default on its primary responsibility to provide for and protect the safety and security of its citizens just to avoid criticism.
Every responsible and caring parent has had the experience of making an unpopular decision for the protection of their children. Suddenly that moody teenager who’s total vocabulary has been restricted to “whatever” and “uh huh” develops the verbal ability to not only tell us where we should go but is able to share with the utmost confidence where we rate as parents in comparison to every other parent in the world. That criticism stings but we don’t stop being good parents. We don’t stop making hard but important decisions.
A friend recently asked me how public servants and politicians put up with all the personal attacks and slanderous remarks made about them. I shared a story about what happened during a senatorial debate between Abe Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, where Douglas was assailing Lincoln’s integrity and character. To cap his remarks, Douglas called Lincoln ‘two faced’ to which Lincoln remarked, “Mr. Douglas if I had two faces do you really think I would be wearing this one?”
Our Town is strong. It is better today than it was yesterday and I pledge to you that our Town and its government will continue to work to make it even better for tomorrow. We have some unique opportunities in our future.
For the first time in 20 years we have a new county executive and that provides us with the ability to forge a new partnership with county government, a partnership where villages, towns and the county can work together to address mutual concerns rather than working against each other and solving nothing.
We have shown that consolidation of town government saves money and improves services. If Clarkstown can do it, perhaps we can, with the new county executive’s assistance, form an inter-municipal task force that looks at government consolidation of services across municipal lines. It means that some of us may have to give up parochial concerns; but I believe the benefit of consolidation would far outweigh those concerns. Efficiency and savings, what a novel idea! We have done it in Clarkstown; let’s do it together with Rockland County.
We have shown that government can be business friendly and can successfully encourage the expansion of existing businesses and attract new ones to our Town, creating new jobs and diversifying and expanding our economic base.
Perhaps towns and the county can work together to attract more high tech, scientific and pharmaceutical industry to our county. That will provide even more opportunities for economic growth and provide quality employment opportunities for our young professionals right here in Rockland. We can and will be that partner to our county government.
The promise and bright hope is only a “day” away! Many of our towns and villages share an underutilized and under marketed natural resource: the Hudson River. With a little coordinated planning and a commitment to the environment I believe we can make the Hudson River shoreline a hub for tourism and a vibrant economic center.
Finally, I hope to continue discussing with our new County Executive, Ed Day, the inequity of the current sales tax distribution. The Shops at Nanuet is projected to bring in $15 million of new county sales tax revenue to county government. The Shops at Nanuet is one of two regional shopping centers located in Clarkstown. The Palisades Mall is projected to bring in $40 to $50 million dollars in sales tax revenue to the county. As I have repeatedly argued, our town provides for the essential services to these malls through our town property taxes. That cost should be offset in some reasonable fashion by a more equitable distribution of the county’s sales tax revenue. I hope our “Day” has come for economic fairness to our town.
Our town is leading the way to an economic revival of our state corridors, creating the first municipal solar field on our capped landfill in New York State saving $6 million in electric charges over the next two decades; and we will work with others to make sure the new Tappan Zee Bridge becomes a benefit to our Town and region, not a detriment. Our list is never ending as long as we stay engaged and true to our principles of service, public service.
I have repeatedly used the words we and ours in this address. While I am proud of what has been accomplished in Clarkstown and excited and optimistic about our future opportunities, I know that those accomplishments were the result of people working together to make and keep Clarkstown a great place for families and businesses to grow and flourish. Nothing of importance can be accomplished by any one person but together we can accomplish so much.
My colleagues on the Town Board Shirley Lasker, Frank Borelli, George Hoehmann and Stephanie Hausner deserve much of the credit for the state of our town. They are tireless in their efforts, unshaken in their commitment and we have never stopped working together for the benefit of our town and our residents.
All our officials, Highway Superintendent Wayne Ballard, Town Clerk Justin Sweet, Town Judges Ugell, Johns, Gerber and Thorsen, as well as Police Chief Michael Sullivan, Town Attorney Amy Mele, department heads, code enforcers, clerks, recreation and highway workers and all our dedicated employees, the Town Board and I applaud your dedication and the work you do every day to make our Town better.
A personal thank you to Loretta Raimone, our long serving Receiver of Taxes, for her dedication and service to our Town for the past 13 years. We appreciate her support and guidance in helping with a smooth transition during the consolidation of the Receiver of Taxes office with the Town Clerk’s office.
To our citizen groups, volunteers, civic and business organizations and every resident who has ever attended a meeting, voiced an opinion, served on a committee, sent a letter or visited our offices, thank you for your participation in our Town. Your input makes Clarkstown special.
We recently celebrated the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, one of the most famous and notable American political speeches in our country’s history. His speech and mine have some differences and some similarities. First, President Lincoln’s speech was 36 lines long, mine was 6 pages long. President Lincoln’s speech will always be remembered as great. Mine will probably be forgotten by tomorrow; in fact some of you have probably forgotten it already. But there are some similarities. Lincoln’s speech was hammered in the press and by his critics. It was called political posturing, lacking substance and insufficiently respectful of the occasion on which it was delivered and those were the kinder comments of those who disliked President Lincoln.
The most important similarity is that both of us have tried to speak to the heart of our community. Lincoln spoke of a new national unity and the purpose of government. He asked people to look ahead and put aside differences, to never forget the promise of our nation.
I believe that if our hearts are true, if our minds are open and free of bias, we can accomplish anything we set our minds to. I believe that through all our efforts, our town is better today than it was yesterday and I believe, as Lincoln did, through our unity of purpose, it will be better tomorrow. I pledge to continue to work as hard as I can to make Clarkstown a great place for all of us to live, and most importantly, a place where our families and our children can find a safe and secure future.
Clarkstown…a place they can proudly call home!
Thank you, good night, and God Bless America.