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City of Rochester

Testimony Before NYS Assembly Standing Committee on Cities






WEDNSEDAY, OCTOBER 11, 2006, 10:30 A.M.



Good Morning. I want to welcome and thank Chairman Brennan, Chairman Schimminger, Chairman Morelle and Chairman Hoyt, as well as the members from your respective Committees for coming to our great city today to discuss the looming financial challenges that are facing upstate cities in New York.

In January of this year I traveled to Albany and testified before the Joint Fiscal and Local Governments Committees on the 2006/07 FY Executive Budget. At the time I said, "Ladies and Gentlemen of the Legislature – Rochester needs help." You heard our call and responded with an additional $17.9 million in Aid and Incentives to Municipalities (AIM) for the City of Rochester.

We witnessed your generosity once again this year after the unexpected collapse of the South Avenue Garage helix structure. Our delegation and the Speaker came to our assistance with $12 million in capital funding. We are deeply grateful and I am pleased to report that we have re-opened part of the facility and have made significant progress towards long-term improvements.

The additional state revenue, that I previously referenced, represented a 33% increase in aid for Rochester – the largest percentage in the state and the largest total in our City’s history.

I want to pause here to thank our local State Delegation, our leader and Dean of the Delegation, Assemblyman David Gantt, Joseph Morelle, Susan John and David Koon. As well as, a special thanks to Speaker Sheldon Silver and the Assembly staff. Their commitment and dedication to the quality of life for the residents of Rochester and the entire state deserves our thanks and gratitude.

The culture in Rochester has changed. In the past, my predecessors had come to our Delegation and to the leadership in Albany for bricks and mortar projects. These efforts were important to the community at the time. Rochester generally was doing better economically than the rest of Upstate New York. Our history was that of being the oasis of economic strength while our neighbors had faltering economies.

Throughout the 90's, we led the state in manufacturing, exports, job creation and many other measures. But the relentless downsizing of our major manufacturing employers - Xerox, Kodak and Bausch and Lomb, combined with losses in other manufacturing industries, has finally put our city in the same dire straits that has been experienced by Buffalo and Syracuse over the past several decades.

So last legislative session, our state aid approach was different. I came with one request and only one – to provide us the tools to help revitalize Rochester. In my Inaugural Address in January, I laid out my vision for our city. We will achieve this vision only through improving public safety, education and economic development.

We involved the local community forming the "Fair Share Coalition." This group was convened by Sandy Parker, President and CEO of the Rochester Business Alliance. It was a collaborative effort between business, organized labor, faith communities, healthcare, non-profits and government to call attention to the changes that had occurred in Rochester’s economy. And with one voice, we worked together to make our city’s needs known and to rally support behind the increased funding. The Coalition’s goal was not to criticize, but to request the ways and means to allow us to promote self sufficiency and address our City’s three priority areas.

Bolstered by the additional state revenue, our Team at City Hall set out on an ambitious agenda focused on public safety, education and economic development. I want to share with you some of the results that were made possible, in part by your assistance. We have made excellent progress:

  • We created a "Summer of Opportunity" in conjunction with area businesses to provide jobs to our youth to help get them off the streets. Together we provided 550 jobs to city youth and job ready training to a total of 639. We also instituted a "sustainability program" component, where a number of companies will employ these young adults part-time through next summer.
  • In April we launched an aggressive demolition campaign to eliminate a backlog of 450 vacant unsalvageable buildings and funded it with $5.8 million dollars. To date, we have taken down 165 structures and will reach our goal by June of next year.
  • We have applied for the "Restore New York" program that is providing $50 million in state funding to municipalities throughout New York. If our $5 million dollar application is successful, we will expand our demolition program with the ultimate goal of rebuilding our housing and commercial stock and repopulating our neighborhoods.
  • Our Community Development Department facilitated $16 million for a vigorous neighborhood housing revitalization campaign over the next three years. We are going to provide our residents with affordable homes, in which they are proud to live.
  • We started an assertive, anti-truancy campaign. Our children cannot learn if they are not in their seats in the classroom. We are working with the Rochester City School District and the Rochester Police Department to get them off the streets. Since April, our Police Department has had a total of 188 truancy contacts. They responded to 120 service calls that were truancy related. 109 students were returned to "Parent Centers," which are administered by the Rochester City School District, and 68 were returned directly to their schools.
  • We instituted a pilot citywide curfew program in September running through December of this year. Youth who are 16 and under will have to be off the streets from 11:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. on school nights, and midnight to 5:00 a.m. on weekends. We are already seeing positive results:
    • 85 juveniles have been given warnings and directed home
    • 8 juveniles have been taken to Hillside Children’s Center for follow-up
    • 4 juveniles were arrested on outstanding court warrants
  • Our Police Chief, David Moore has a depth and breadth of experience that will restore confidence in the safety of our community. Chief Moore understands that education and economic development are an interwoven fabric that, when strong, will heal this community.
  • Even though we were faced with a budget gap this year that required the elimination of seventy-three full-time positions, I reordered the priorities of my first Budget.
  • We added 20 new police officers in a very difficult budget year because public safety is our number one priority.
  • We have already streamlined the Police recruitment and hiring process from two years down to seven months. This will enable us to get officers trained and on the streets more quickly.
  • Chief Moore has already reassigned twenty-five officers from administrative and desk duty and put them on the street.
  • I recently announced the creation of the Office of Public Integrity that will be headed by Richard Vega, a renowned retired FBI Special Agent. Richard is seated behind me and tomorrow will be his first official day on the job.
  • The Office of Public Integrity will work with our Bureau of Audit to ensure transparency in government and to provide accountability for Rochesterians. We want to maintain our public trust.
  • Many of you know our Commissioner of Economic Development, Carlos Carballada. He is my ambassador with the business community. Carlos is the former CEO of Central Trust Bank and First National Bank of Rochester, and the former Chancellor of the New York State Regents – talk about tying together education and economic development.
  • Our goal is to change the business culture in the City of Rochester. We are meeting with business owners weekly, one-on-one, to see how we can better serve their needs.
  • We want to retain the economic base that we have and create new opportunities. To this end we are launching a "One Stop Shop" for investors, with an eye on streamlining the development process.
  • Public safety and recreational enjoyment of our natural resources is a quality of life issue. We reopened Durand-Eastman Beach on Lake Ontario to the public for safe and legal swimming for the first time in 40-years. We are working diligently with the Monroe County Department of Health and the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation on water quality issues to keep Durand open next summer.
  • We need to bring people back into Rochester to celebrate this awesome city and make it come alive. I am taking the lead promoting the arts and culture as an economic engine to attract people and business to the area.
  • We are making the investments necessary to make that happen. We instituted "Rockin’ in Rochester" this summer:
    • We expanded the "The Rochester Jazz Fest"
    • Instituted the Twilight Criterion Bike Race – now an international event.
    • We brought Music Fest back downtown
    • We began the annual "Liberty Pole Concert Series"
    • The "River of Light Show"
    • "Party in the Park"
    • And, this past weekend we celebrated "River Romance" with activities all along the Genesee River, including a regional Regatta.
  • We are not doing this alone. We are calling on the community and they are responding. We instituted the highly successful "Rochester Clean Sweep" and the response was overwhelming. In April and May of this year, over a period of six-weeks, over 3,000 volunteers turned out to clean up our city, and we collected over 1,500 tons of refuse.
  • These volunteers were not just city residents. One-third came from suburban communities and adjoining counties. The fever is out there and people want to take part in our revitalization. We are sponsoring a mini "Fall Clean Sweep" to take place on Saturday October 14th and 21st.
  • Together with St. John Fisher College, we initiated the Mayor’s Office of Volunteer Empowerment – MOVE. This is a public and private enterprise aimed at sustaining our volunteerism efforts.
  • Next year to improve customer satisfaction we will be implementing "One Call to City Hall". Currently people use "311" for non-emergency police calls. Soon citizens will be able to call that number no matter what problem, or question, or concern they may have and their needs will be addressed in a timely fashion.
  • We have "City Hall on the Road" up and running every month. My senior staff and I literally take City Hall into the neighborhoods.
  • And we have implemented "Rochester By the Numbers." We are providing a greater degree of accountability out of City Hall. We are improving customer service and in the process adding to our rebirth through self improvement.
  • Finally, we cannot really be successful without people living here in the city. They will make all of this possible. We are aggressively pursuing market rate housing in downtown. We have seen the success of such places as Cornhill Landing, Chevy Place and the Sagamore. The Artcraft housing project is now on-line. And we are moving forward with Brooks Landing and the Charlotte Square projects.
  • My office is working to develop mixed-use plans for the Sibley/Midtown complexes that include commercial, retail and market-rate housing development.
  • We also have a responsibility to help provide good quality affordable housing. That is why we have recently completed projects like the Olean/Kennedy, Cuba Place and Newcroft Park developments.

I hope that you agree that we have kept the faith and are spending our resources wisely to improve public safety, education and economic development. I am a firm believer in accountability. Your increase in state aid is an investment in this community and we have a responsibility to produce results. Rochester has a long way to go and we need you as our partners in this revitalization effort.

Rochester is still a state leader in many areas we are not particularly proud of:

  • Rochester leads New York State in its 2005 per capita homicide rate and so far this year has been difficult as well. We have fewer homicides, but still too many;
  • Rochester leads New York State in our drop-out rate. Almost half our children drop out of school according to the NYS Education Accountability Status Report from April of 2006;
  • Rochester leads New York State in infant poverty rates;
  • Rochester leads New York State in jobs lost -- between July ’05 and July ’06 our employment rate dropped - 0.6%, while most of the state experienced increases;
  • Rochester leads New York State in per capita personal bankruptcies;
  • Rochester is the only upstate city showing no signs of coming out of the recession;
  • Rochester is currently facing a $26.6 million budget gap for 2007/08 that may force us to make drastic budget decisions.

Accompanying this decline in the local economy, the indices of poverty have become more severe. According to Census data for the city of Rochester, per capita income has fallen below the national average and 37.9% of children under the age of 18 are living far below the poverty level.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York and independent sources such as The Center for Governmental Research (CGR) agree that Rochester is the most economically distressed city in Upstate New York. In a report issued earlier this month CGR ranked Rochester 334th out of 367 U.S. Metropolitan areas for job growth.

In September of this year, the U.S. Conference of Mayors released the names of the top three cities experiencing job losses nationally, they are -- Detroit, Rochester and Newark, New Jersey. Much work still remains to be done.

Next year, I plan to ask you once more to please bring Rochester up to par with the per capita state aid given to our neighbors to the east and west - Syracuse and Buffalo. From a per capita perspective Aid and Incentives to Municipalities has been uneven in the past, because of Rochester's healthy economy and the desperate needs of our Upstate sister cities. And the state's investment in Buffalo and Syracuse has paid dividends. Those cities, like the rest of New York are showing signs of economic recovery. But now, it is Rochester that is falling behind the rest of state and the rest of the nation.

This time however, I am proposing to establish a pilot project for FY 2007/08 where our City would used as a model for the rest of the upstate cities. I want to establish tangible and measurable goals that would be used to determine future increases in Aid and Incentives to Municipalities.

I am asking the Legislature to set aside an appropriation for Rochester to be used solely on clearly defined efforts to improve public safety, education and economic development. Mutually agreed upon goals would be established and any future revenue increases would be based on results directly related to the investments. Conversely, if we failed to attain those goals then reductions in state aid would occur until we met the standard. New York State deserves a return on its investment and I am ready and anxious to offer it.

This funding stream not only would allow Rochester to progress towards equity, but if the pilot is successful, would add accountability to the entire revenue sharing equation.

Before I became Mayor, I served as the Chief of Police in Rochester for seven years. As Police Chief, I saw first-hand how poverty, economic disparity, the lack of jobs and the lack of hope all impacted our criminal justice system.

I am sick and tired of seeing our young people senselessly lose their lives in our City's poorest neighborhoods - and then having to tell their families about their murdered children.

In our "crescent area", the rate of murder for young men of color is an incredible 60-times the national average.

It was in my time as a cop that I saw the relationship between education, the economy and public safety. Children who drop out of school to sell drugs and commit violence do so because they lack hope, hope for job and a better life. We must restore that hope. Working together we can.

We are not asking for a hand out. If Rochester, and indeed other Upstate cities are going to thrive once more, then we need to maximize our resources, focus our investments and produce. We owe you and our taxpayers just that.

My Commissioner of Economic Development, Carlos Carballada and Budget Director, Bill Ansbrow will give you further details. Thank you for time and consideration. I will be happy to answer any questions you may have at this time.

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