By Robin Jovanovich
Nine days into his new position as Mayor of Rye, Josh Cohn delivered his first annual message. He began by emphasizing that his was not a “state of” speech, but rather an opportunity to share what he’s observed and what he and his colleagues hope to accomplish — with the help of the community.
He wasted little time getting down to business: finances, infrastructure needs, and continuing challenges.
“A first and very deep concern is the effect of recent federal tax law changes on the City’s financial position,” Mayor Cohn began. What effect these changes will have on home sales and values and Rye’s tax base is not yet clear. “One thing is certain, though,” he continued. “Local taxes have immediately become more unattractive than they already were.”
His view, which is the view of the new Council, is that they must act with “great financial caution.” Noting that the available fund balance is only “about $400,000 above the amount that is our self-imposed bright-line to protect our triple-A rating.”
To that end, one of the first things the Mayor intends to do is “re-energize” the Finance Committee.
With four open union contracts to negotiate, Mayor Cohn said diplomatically, “Our city workers contribute immeasurably to the quality of life in Rye. We honor and respect them. At the same time, we must work within the budget we have inherited and within the uncertain financial environment we face. We must and will be prudent on behalf of the City present and the City future.”
Noting, as every mayor has at least once in his or her time in office, that the City receives only 16% of the tax revenues — the School District and the County receive 59% and 25%, respectively — Cohn said that additional revenue sources and grants and aid are especially important.
Moving on to infrastructure, Cohn stressed that the City “must deal with longstanding and, in some instances, neglected issues.” He remarked on the poor overall condition of the roads. “The effects of our recent weather have underscored the need — deeply — pothole deep.”
On his list of immediate tasks is making sure the New York Rising flood grant funds, “which the City has had access to but been slow to pursue, are deployed” (in a reproval of the previous Council).
Looking ahead, Mayor Cohn anticipates substantial wastewater and stormwater infrastructure improvement costs. Pedestrian safety enhancements will require new sidewalks, grants and aid, and perhaps neighborhood contributions.
He looks forward to negotiating a shared-use agreement with Rye Country Day School on the Thruway property that the school plans to convert into playing fields.
On the matter of going ahead with any of the proposed plans to improve Disbrow Park and the surrounding athletic fields, his view is more multi-pronged. “We respect the Recreation Commission and will hear its selection of one of the consultant’s plans, thought we think the Commission has been inappropriately burdened in this instance.” He continued, “Our consideration will be framed by our regard for the City’s financial situation and its many other needs, as well as by environmental concerns and the thoughts of park neighbors. Our hearing the Rec Commission’s thoughts will certainly enrich our outlook on what might be done at Disbrow, but it will not dictate any particular outcome.”
Having stood up to Crown Castle when they first proposed to install mini cell towers throughout residential neighborhoods, Cohn is not likely to back down if Crown Castle goes ahead and appeals the decision by the federal district court, which dismissed its lawsuit against the City.
Cohn promised that the Council would look at the persistent parking shortage in the Central Business District “with fresh eyes and open minds;” work with the State “to ameliorate the disruption” that the Last Mile project will cause at the I-95 exit off Midland Avenue (expected to take close to two years); and begin a community conversation addressing concerns about residential development.
When communicating with the public, Cohn said, “We will endeavor to treat you as owners. And we hope you will treat us as temporary caretakers (and co-owners), trying our best to work on our collective behalf.”
The Mayor closed by saying, “When considering our plans, I made a list of things I would like the City to do and another list of things coming to get us, whether we like it or not. And so we will work off both lists, — and with your help — we’ll get things done.”