January 7, 2013
City looks at year ahead
The city Common Council held a retreat Saturday morning, with the focus on the positives of 2012 and what the council would like to accomplish this year, such as reducing city blight, increasing revenue from nonprofits and working on developing a high-density area of the city.
The retreat was at The Community Restaurant on Main Street. Mayor Brian Tobin, all council members — aside from Alderman Dan Quail (R-5th Ward) who was absent due to prior commitment — City Administrator Mack Cook and Corporation Counsel Kelly Colasurdo attended.
At the beginning of 2012, the council had a weekend retreat at the Ramada Inn, drafting the Common Council’s Core Values, a seven-page packet that outlined goals for the next two years.
With one year gone, the council discussed the good and the bad at the breakfast. Accountability, resident satisfaction and communication among council members and with the public were some of the issues outlined.
Alderman Carlos Ferrer (D-6th Ward) said 2012 was a good year for the council, citing teamwork and a willingness to tackle important issues instead of being stagnant.
“I feel we worked so well together,” Ferrer said. “We had our moments, yes, but I think it was a good year for the council.”
Alderman Linda Ferguson (D-7th Ward) agreed.
“I can definitely say this was not a bad year for us,” she said. “There was a lot going on and I’d say we did a good job of making sure we did our jobs as aldermen.”
One of the bigger issues talked about was blight, dilapidated houses and buildings in the city.
Cook said there will come a time when the city needs to invest in its infrastructure, which will require borrowing money. He said the city’s plan to lower its debt is going to help with that. Coupled with the city’s improved bond rating, which Standard & Poor’s upped from B+ to AAA-, will allow the city to borrow the money it needs in the coming years to invest in that infrastructure.
Tobin said the blight issue is not one that is solely the government’s job.
“Talk with the neighbors in your wards and get them communicating,” he said to the council. “It’s not a government or a police job, but this is for everyone. Not only will it help with the issue of blight, but it will bring the community together.”
The Rental Registry Permit Law, which was amended in 2012 after a three-year battle, will go a long way in helping the city reduce blight, Tobin said.
In June 2009, the council approved an amendment to the City Charter stating that all rental properties need to be inspected by the codes office every three years. A group of landlords sued the city, saying it violates the Fourth Amendment guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure.
After much discussion and work, the amendment finally went into effect beginning Jan. 1.
Some on the council thought the law might not be enough.
“Look at other municipalities who’ve been under that process,” Alderman Tom Michales (R-8th Ward) said. “We really can’t just go around fixing issues until we find a direction.”
The city’s image was also a topic of conversation. The annual Cortaca football game, a rivalry game between SUNY Cortland and Ithaca College, was a black eye of sorts for the city in 2012. There were arrests and many city residents complained about how the city was not prepared for the game.
Tobin said he has formed a committee to deal with the next game in Cortland, which will not happen until 2014.
“We do a good job of cleaning up after events, and we get a lot of help from the community,” he said.
Tobin and the council agreed that the city needs to host more events that immerse the college and the community. There will be discussion at future council meetings about this.
Ferrer brought up the issue of nonprofits in the city, and the financial burden they place on the government. The city can charge non-profits usage fees for sewer and water, but not much beyond that. On Jan. 10, there will be a meeting at the Ramada Inn from 1 to 4 p.m. to address the issue. Ferrer said members of the council will be present.
“We need to figure out a way to get some financial assistance from them,” Ferrer said.
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