Sunday, March 20, 2011

Statement by Don Moore, Common Council President Organizing Common Council Meeting, January 10, 2011

This is the second of the precious two years during which we are privileged to work together for the betterment of the City of Hudson, to fulfill our oaths of office, to accomplish the work set before us, and to help the people of our City understand the challenges as we see them.  We must act and we must communicate.

We have many specific opportunities some of which I will speak to in a moment.  The most important challenges we face are these.  We must maintain the local business growth we now enjoy, creation of jobs and how people in Hudson get to jobs -- transportation, and we must increase our tax base while at the same time looking to restrain spending in the face of reduced resources.  Couple this with the very real, and in many ways desirable possibility that the Governor and the State Legislature by the end of this year may establish a two percent cap on annual property tax increases.  The Governor believes such a cap is a matter of fairness to local tax payers.  He proposes this action at a time when the State's budget is in deficit, state costs will be cut, and our local costs are rising.  We certainly wish him well.  At the same time, it is only prudent that we keep a very close eye on our wallets while we see how this works out for him.

Hudson is fortunate in its budget for 2011.  We had and still have a general fund surplus.  We held our property tax increase to under 2 percent.  There is some comfort we can take in this -- but for how long?  I firmly believe that the Council must play a part in addressing each agency of the City to help determine where efficiencies can be accomplished now and for the years ahead. We will not do this alone.  The Mayor, the Treasurer, and I have the lead on budget formulation. But what I have learned in my first year as Common Council President is just how few people there are who make this government work. We are operating a 21st century government with a 19th century structure.  It works because we have no choice.  What makes it work are many skilled hands working cooperatively, as many as we can possibly convince to put a portion of your efforts in service to the City.  

Volunteers.  I am a tremendous fan of our fire department.  I am so for many reasons.  But the one most on my mind is that those 500 active and inactive members are a shining example of giving time and talent to our community, of volunteerism that adheres to thoroughly professional standards, with little thought of a return other than the sure knowledge that they protect the City.  They exemplify as do many others, this virtually unpaid Common Council is another excellent example, of putting time aside for the City.  In his first inaugural address, President Kennedy said this, “united, there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided, there is little we can do." 

Careful spending.  Cooperation.  These must be our guiding  principles.  And I believe they are. The record of the last year has shown that Hudson's elected officials have worked together. These are not times when any of us gets to rest on our laurels.  So what do we have ahead of us?

Since property taxes are at the top of many people's lists -- we are all aware of the controversies surrounding the 2010 assessments -- one initiative the City will soon sign is a contract with a highly respected property tax assessment firm to complete the city-wide revaluation and to do so with professionalism and transparency. Much of the current controversy remains centered in court proceedings.  Those actions will take their own course.  But in times such as we are living through, when real estate for home owners and small businesses is so much a part of what value many people hold, fair and accurate assessments must be a foremost goal of the City.  We will have more detail on this initiative soon.  But I can assure everyone that the Council must and will be an active participant in this process.  Credibility equals openness. Openness is inseparable from participation.      

Economic development, especially the small businesses that today make up the life blood of the City's economy, must continue to be a primary focus of the City's resources and advocacy, both financial and people.  I am delighted that the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce will locate its offices at the foot of Warren Street and that the renovated historic Washington Hose building will be its new home.  I am convinced that the economic vitality of the City will be measurably improved with that anchor at the gateway between Warren Street and the waterfront.  The Hudson Development Corporation will be a co-tenant of the Chamber and a leading program intended for that facility will be job counseling and playing a strong part in revitalization of underused properties owned by the City.  

We will also pass the Local Waterfront Development Program, the LWRP, and I hope that plan will spark new development and a fairly substantial increase in our property and sales taxes. The LWRP should be back in our hands from the Department of State within a month or two for Council review.  Once approved, I look forward with the Mayor to assembling a group of active and dedicated people into a new LWRP Advisory Board to help the city solicit further mixed use development -- commercial, residential, environmental, and recreational -- on our waterfront. The LWRP is a complex undertaking with many interlocking parts that involve matters of law -- who owns what and who regulates what, land use planning, grant writing and fundraising, environmental research of our bays and their remediation -- to name just a few of the moving parts. Once adopted, we need do everything we can to maintain momentum in bringing the LWRP's plans to life.

The Mayor has also announced a number of promising initiatives either as issues of spending or law that have and will come before the Council:  a new configuration of programs for youth, new programs for senior citizens, new cooperative agreements with the County to improve public transportation within Hudson and with Greenport and Albany; and consideration of a new restaurant on the waterfront.  

Finally, there is a concern that is uppermost in my consideration as an elected official representing the entire City.  That is the issue of the most vulnerable among us: those without jobs, or adequate housing, those who may be homeless.  This aspect of what government can and must do is where cooperation with the County and with private social services agencies is paramount.  Although often among the most intractable problems, time and again we have shown that if we work together, what we believe is unattainable is within our reach. We can dream, but can we see our way clear to fulfill our goals?  We can. No all of them, but certainly many.  Take one step at a time -- together. Then we can translate our beliefs into action. 

In that spirit, I leave you with a thought from Italian poet and activist Danilo Dolci, "Words don't move mountains.  Work, exacting work, moves mountains".  

Let's get back to it.  Thank you.  It is an honor to serve with you.