Mayor Shayne Gallo sounded many familiar notes Monday, April 28 in a nearly two-hour speech billed as a “state of the city address.” He reiterated pledges to reform the culture of city government to make it more transparent and accountable, address stubborn quality-of-life concerns and use partnerships with other government entities and the private sector to make changes the city can’t afford on its own.
The information-dense address also pointed to concrete progress on a few key initiatives, including funding for a major overhaul of the Broadway corridor, increase investment in city parks and an upgrade in the city’s bond rating that will make borrowing for big-ticket items and capital projects cheaper for taxpayers.
Gallo spoke to an audience of about 125 in the council chambers at City Hall. While it’s being called, by the mayor and others, a “state of the city address,” Gallo declined to issue a formal address to the Common Council as mandated by the city charter. He chose instead to speak at a time when the council was not in session and address the speech to an audience of city employees, business and religious leaders and citizens. At least seven members of the council, including Majority Leader Matt Dunn, were in attendance, as well as Kingston City School District Superintendent Paul Padalino and HealthAlliance CEO David Scarpino.
At several points in the nearly two-hour speech, Gallo sounded the theme of Kingston as a city of vast untapped potential and described his job as “holding up a mirror” to allow residents to see the unique opportunities it offers. “The individualism of our city gives us a sense of pride,” said Gallo.
During his 2011 campaign and ever since, Gallo has touted the need to address quality of life problems and blight in Midtown, especially along the Broadway corridor. In Monday’s speech, he pointed towards progress in that effort, notably, the acquisition of nearly $6 million for improvements along Broadway. The money, obtained by the city’s Office Economic Development & Strategic Partnerships through the state’s Consolidated Funding Application process, will pay for sidewalk repairs, new traffic signals, tree planting, bike lanes, curbing and other amenities. Gallo said the work, which will be carried out in phases over the next few years would radically, and positively, impact the main artery connecting Uptown, Midtown and the Rondout.
“In five or six years, when this is all done, you won’t recognize the area right here in front of City Hall,” Gallo told the audience.
Gallo also pointed to the implementation of new design guidelines for the Broadway corridor which had already resulted in the removal of unsightly signage and other eyesores. The mayor added he would continue to tackle blighted properties in Midtown with a new part-time building inspector dedicated to the neighborhood and the continuation of the block-by-block inspection program.
Gallo also pointed to progress on a centerpiece of his Midtown Revitalization Plan which had been stalled for lack of funding. Early in his administration, Gallo pledged to move Kingston police headquarters from its current location downtown to a vacant former Bank of America building at the intersection of Broadway and Henry. The move, he said, would help stabilize the city’s most crime-prone neighborhood and attract investment to the area. In 2013, the Kingston Local Development Corporation took title to the building, but the plan stalled when Congress failed to act on a measure which would have made Kingston eligible for funding under a program designed to help rural communities pay for public facilities. In his address, Gallo announced that with backing from Congressman Chris Gibson, the measure had finally made it through, clearing the way for funding the police station project. Gallo, however, said the move actually happening would be contingent on the city actually getting the money.
“Unless this project can be funded without any impact on the city budget or reduction in services, I will not recommend that it be done,” said Gallo. “That will be the litmus test.”
With the city facing major infrastructure challenges, Gallo said he would work with the council to prioritize the most pressing issues and develop a capital plan to fund remediation and upgrades. That effort is likely to benefit from a recent improvement in the city’s Standard & Poor bond rating from A+ to AA-, which Gallo called the highest rating ever achieved by the city. Gallo credited careful budget management and the implementation of stricter fiscal controls for the better rating, which will allow the city to borrow money at a 0.49 percent interest rate. “That’s free money folks,” said Gallo.
Gallo also pointed to $667,000 in investment in city parks. The money comes from state and federal grants and a bond approved by the Common Council. It will go to replace bathrooms at Kingston Point, Hasbrouck and Forsyth parks as well as playground upgrades at Van Buren Street Park and upgrades at the Hodge Center in Midtown and the Rondout Community Center. Gallo also announced new summer recreation opportunities at the Rondout Center.