BY ROBIN JOVANOVICH AND TOM MCDERMOTT
One of the most challenging assignments for every City Council is finding the funds to ensure public safety and maintain and update City infrastructure. Residents pay substantial taxes to live in Rye, but only 17 percent of the total goes to the City; 22 percent goes to the County and 61 percent to the School District.
We sat down with Council candidate Matt Fahey, a registered Independent who is running on the Republican ticket, and walked with Lori Fontanes, who is running on the Democratic ticket, to learn what they think the Council can do to keep tax increases modest and pay for crucial flood mitigation, long overdue capital projects, safe crosswalks, parking lot repaving, and more.
Fontanes’ philosophy is: “Always plan for the worst. I come from a modest background, and I was a Girl Scout who was taught to ‘be prepared’”.
She continued, “While the City’s budget has lots of baked-in costs, the discretionary funds should not only reflect community values but cover what’s coming down the pike.”
Fahey said the fiscal challenges the City faced when he served on the Council, from 2004 to 2007, are not much different in 2022. He’s had lengthy conversations with City Manager Greg Usry about progress on capital projects as well as costs.
“The City will have spent a lot on improvements before I get on board,” said Fahey with a wry grin. “Sewers, road paving, both of which had to be done.” One practice Fahey endorses is the City’s putting funds not spent back into the budget, which he considers a windfall for the Cap-Ex Fund.
Fahey too would like to see more long-range planning. “The City Manager encouraged a ‘holistic fleet plan’. I’d like to see a holistic plan for every major expense; I’m a big fan of planning.”
While knocking on doors and talking to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of residents, Fontanes has registered how many live close to water, how many are elderly, how many have young children. “I’ve seen a condemned home in Hix Park, the impact on whole neighborhoods from storm surges which will only increase because of the climate crisis.”
Watching the fluctuations in the economy and understanding that Rye has “lots of eggs in the financial basket”, she said that everyone who sits on the Council has to be “a leader looking ahead.”
Fontanes emphasized the City needs a goal and a plan. “Plan in general and then price it out. Housing bubbles, economic downturns are predictable. We need to look at problems, not parcel by parcel but communitywide, so we don’t waste precious money. Flooding is a community challenge and there is no rainy-day fund for flood mitigation.”
Fahey, who spent part of his financial career in risk management said “what-if” stress testing is as necessary for municipalities as it is for corporations. “The City needs to rein in spending. We have to live within our means.”
When it comes to Rye’s aging infrastructure, he said, “You can’t just apply band-aids. We need to educate residents on the condition and costs. We need to get ahead of the curve – current bonding is earmarked.” said Fahey, who believes he is the candidate who has the experience and knowledge needed to navigate the City through financial crises.
Lori Fontanes believes that she is the candidate who can motivate residents and business owners to speak out and the one who will find creative, collaborative solutions. “I am not anti-development but for smart development. What are the true costs of large-scale development — loss of space and trees — on quality of life? Do the fees we receive from developers offset the decrease of privacy and quiet?”