Council Votes to Go Ahead with Bond; Next Move Is the Taxpayers’

One of the biggest decisions the Council made in the course of a four and a half hour meeting was the adoption of a bond resolution to be included in the November 6 referendum.

Published September 26, 2012 5:00 AM
4 min read

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One of the biggest decisions the Council made in the course of a four and a half hour meeting was the adoption of a bond resolution to be included in the November 6 referendum.

 

By Robin Jovanovich

 

At the September 12 City Council meeting, Mayor Doug French began by saying that “the evening’s agenda reflected the challenges of the economy. It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work. Costs continue to rise. Our contributions to retirement funds continue to rise. The Police Department has been without a contract since December 2008, the Fire Department since 2009.” The Mayor added that it was his plan to lead “an informed discussion on decisions for the long term.”

 

One of the biggest decisions the Council made in the course of a four and a half hour meeting was the adoption of a bond resolution to be included in the November 6 referendum.

 

Initially, the Council was planning on adopting two bond resolutions, one for sidewalk improvements and reconstruction of city streets; the other for improvements to the Police/Court facility and the Rye Free Reading Room. In the end, they combined the projects into one resolution.

 

After lengthy discussion — some of it more combative than informed — the Mayor, with an eye to keeping the 2013 City budget under the tax cap and the cost to taxpayers as low as possible, did a straw poll. He asked each Councilmember to list which projects they would vote for and which they thought could be deferred.

 

“Tonight is decision time,” said French. “We need a supermajority of five votes.”

 

Councilwoman Laura Brett was inclined to defer upgrades to the Police/Court building, particularly since they had no assurance from the Office of Court Administration (OCA) that even after the City made improvements they would not be required to do more costly renovations or build a new and larger facility. Her fellow Councilmembers agreed with her assessment.

 

Corporation Counsel Kristen Wilson explained that the OCA’s chief architect had informed her the City’s current proposal is “suitable and sufficient.” She added, “We will never get any final written approval from OCA until the public approval of the bond.”

 

Former City Judge John Alfano, who was in the Council Room, warned, “The Court System is an autocracy. Anytime you deal with them, you need to get it in writing. The space problems are not new and the City Court has been functioning very well. I don’t see the rush.”

 

Once the Council agreed that it was going to defer the Police/Court upgrades, it appeared the Council might defer the Rye Free Reading Room building projects, which included sprinklers and door dams with improved ADA access. Board President Fran Rodilosso made a good case on behalf of the library. “The building has millions of dollars of materials and equipment, which need protection. The building itself is a jewel. Including these small improvements — safety and access, which we are trying to do cost-effectively — in a bond issue makes sense. The library serves all the community and has done so with flat to down budgets since 2006.”

 

The Council liaison to the library, Peter Jovanovich, added, “Over the last three or four years, the Board has taken heroic measures to save the library. Through its fundraising and through negotiating a new labor agreement with significant improvements in costs savings, the Board has gone the extra mile. The idea that his historic structure would be without a sprinkler system doesn’t make any sense.”

 

In considering the library’s request, Councilman Rich Filippi mused, “If BP has spent only a million dollars more for that wellhead, they would have saved billions.”

 

As far as the pedestrian and city infrastructure improvements, the Council was in favor of doing the Smith Street Reconstruction, making improvements at the Smith/Elm/Purchase intersection, which include replacing the existing signal with stop signs, new crosswalks, and a bumpout, replacing the Locust Avenue sewer siphon, completing Phase I of replacing the crumbling Boston Post Road retaining wall, from Purdy Avenue to Thistle Lane, and spending $250,000 on sidewalk and road repair throughout town. The projects include sidewalk safety improvements near Milton School, pedestrian improvements at the Grace Church Street/Midland Avenue and Theall/Osborn Road intersections, and the installation of rapid flash beacons at intersections near Rye city schools.

 

There weren’t five votes to make the recommended improvements and add a turning lane at the Purchase/Theodore Fremd/Purdy intersection. The estimated cost, $475,000, was too deemed too high. Several Councilmembers suggested asking the City Planner to recommend another less costly solution to what most agree is a dangerous intersection, especially for pedestrians.

 

“Twenty years from now, people may wonder why we didn’t fix all of our problems,” said Councilman Filippi. “Yeah, we have survived with Fremd and Purdy, but I have a neighbor who was hit crossing that intersection. We say we will do it next year, but next year never comes. I would be willing to go higher. If you are going to do something, do it completely. It always costs more to do it later.”

 

Councilman Julie Killian responded, “The Purdy/Fremd improvement would be really amazing to have, but in this environment, this may not be the top priority.”

 

Councilman Joe Sack said pointedly, “I think I’m still absorbing the news that we are going to be able to stay under the tax cap. It’s not accurate for the Mayor or the City Manager to say that ‘we are managing to failure’ or that ‘the City is crumbling.’ The question is in this difficult economic environment what to do.” His conclusion was that, “We’ve lived without improvements to the Purdy/Fremd intersection and I think we can survive another year.” Further, he was in favor of cutting out reconstruction of the Elm Place and Smith Street intersections with the goal of reducing the project cost to an even $1 million.

 

Councilwoman Catherine Parker reminded Councilman Sack that there is a sinkhole on Purchase Street that must be fixed.

 

In the end, the Mayor proposed spending $1,850,000 on essential safety projects — “The City is crumbling. There are things we must fix.” — and $176,000 on sprinklers and door dams for the library.” The vote was 6-1 in favor of the bond resolution. Councilman Sack was the lone no vote.

 

City Manager Scott Pickup said that the bonding costs would drop to $140,000 or $150,000 and the tax impact below 1%. He added that the City budget he would propose for 2013 would be below the tax cap.”

 

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