* A Third Of A Billion in Capital Investment from Federal, State and County Partners Provides Better Understanding of The Financial State Of The City Through Partnership With New Comptroller;
* $44 million in Potential Obligations outlined
* Largest Street Repaving “Paving It Forward” Announced to target 150+ Streets
* $163 Million Secured For Sewer Infrastructure
* Crime Dropped By 14.2% Since Last Year, 101 Guns Recovered
* In 2 Years Cities Economy Is Heating Up, 13% Increase in The Economy Since 2018
* Memorial Field slated for Fall Opening
* New Capital Investment from MTA on Fulton & South Street Bridges
* City launches first of its kind Wellness Division & Precinct to Reimagine Public Safety
* Building Department Revenues Soar to highest point in several years
MOUNT VERNON, NY — May 3, 2022 — My friends, I am here tonight to tell you about the true State of our City over the next hour so let’s get started.
For the past 2 years, I’ve stood before you and told you that we didn’t know the financial state of the City because we didn’t have insight into it. I had grave fears concerning our fund balances, unpaid debt obligations, and lack of internal financial controls. The January 2022 New York State Comptroller’s report validated these fears. Furthermore, the newly installed Comptroller and our Corporation Counsel have been able to confirm that that the situation is even graver than we predicted. Our City faces outstanding debts that we had no prior knowledge of, and financial obligations entered into by former Mayors for political expedience without going through the lawful processes or having an understanding of the financial state of the city at the time. These potential obligations were entered into without the knowledge or approval of the City Council or Board of Estimate to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.
“The Jewel of Westchester”
• In January 2016, the former Mayor signed a “Wage Amendment
Agreement” with Teamsters 456 going back to 2014, potentially obligating the City to upwards of $5 Million in wages retroactively and potentially more in the future
• In June 2017, the former Mayor signed a Memorandum of Understanding obligating the City to pay $5 Million for the replacement of 2 MTA Bridges
• In April 2019, the former Mayor signed a Memorandum of Agreement with Uniformed Firefighter Local 107 obligating the City to a 14% wage increase over a 4-year period equal to over $8 million
• In August 2019, former Acting-Mayor transferred $3 Million dollars in unaudited Water Department funds obligated to pay our County water bill to the City to address Memorial Field environmental remediation. As a result, the City still owes the County over $2 Million in back water expenses.
• In July 2020, due to financial mismanagement by the former Comptroller and her failure to accurately report and disburse tax collection, the School District took over the collection of school taxes. They have since identified approximately $12 Million in back taxes owed by the City to the Mt. Vernon City School District for which the City is responsible to pay.
• In 2021, the former Comptroller failed to make payments to the New York State Health Insurance Program for employee health benefits resulting in an over $12 Million currently owed in 2021 health insurance premiums.
This outstanding $44 Million listing does not include interest or the millions of dollars in lawsuits and legal debts incurred by the former mayors, the former acting-mayor, and the former comptroller, nor the potential costs associated with matching the PBA, Teamsters 456 and CSEA bargaining agreements with the existing Local 107 judicial judgement. As more Agreements and obligations are unearthed this number may continue to grow.
Though this Administration has stopped the bleeding, and placed internal controls for expenditures, we still have to reconcile these debts. Some of which are unavoidable and indefensible and all of which place an undue financial burden on the tax base which is seen in proposed and adopted budgets wherein payment plans must be incorporated. All of this is taken into account when deciding next steps from bonding, to alternative financing, and the last resort of bankruptcy.
The New York State Comptroller’s audit was also very critical of Mt. Vernon’s budgeting practices. For over 10 years the City has failed to budget for capital expenditures like equipment purchase and maintenance, and infrastructure projects like sewer, roads, parking structures, and municipal properties.
The City has also failed to accurately budget for collective bargaining agreements, retirement, tax refunds, external legal counsel, overtime for public safety, or keeping pace with employee wages in surrounding governments.
The State Comptroller’s Office was also very critical of overestimating revenue and underestimating expenditures as well as the use of one-time revenue generators, like sales of City property to address budget deficits. The combination of these factors created a false fund balance to keep taxes artificially lower than the City’s true needs.
These under-investments have very real impacts on staff recruitment, retention, and morale. In the past 2 years the Mt. Vernon Police Department alone has lost 84 Officers to transfers, resignations, and retirements which impacts public safety. Our unions are still working without contracts since 2018 as we struggle with not only paying for their increases forward but FOUR YEARS of Retro! This puts an enormous strain on employee relations and morale. We have lost the trust of some of our vendors and unfortunately, we’ve lost the trust of some of our residents. Still, this Administration has been hard at work to clean up years of these failed financial practices.
And that cleanup has started with the renewed partnership with Comptroller Morton since January 2022:
• We’ve Collected $8.6 million in property tax arrears and fees
• Paid over $6.4M in outstanding (previous years) vendor debt
• Submitted documentation for the Fire Fighters Early Retirement Incentive, which has potential to save the City millions.
• Negotiated payment plan with NYS Retirement for $14M premium cost to be paid out over thennext few months
• And we Implemented a new wire payment protocol to ensure proper authorization between the Mayor’s Office and Office of Comptroller. So, no more, unauthorized transfers for millions of dollars without approval.
Innovative times call for innovative solutions. The past two years have been hard. Covid has impacted every sector of society and every portion of our lives. We have suffered the loss of friends and family, often too many to count. We have been isolated, frustrated, and living with the fear of uncertainty. Our children, seniors, families, businesses, houses of worship and yes, even our City have tried to find creative ways to survive and press forward thorough circumstances we’ve never seen in our lifetime.
We have also suffered loss from violence and the lingering effects of fear and grief.
I cannot stand here in the spring of 2022 and fail to mention the pain that so many in our school and larger community feel after the senseless murder of Kayla Green, just a few weeks ago. This is something that calls ALL OF US to greater action as a community. As the Mayor of Mount Vernon, I also feel the trauma this has caused.
Can we please have a moment of silence at this time to remember her young life and those we have lost to violence over the years.
As many of you know, I’m a person of faith. I believe that faith can bring us together in times of trouble, that faith can lift us up. Mount Vernon is a city of churches, synagogues, mosques, and religious centers. We have residents of almost every faith. These congregations and communities bind us together – at times of feasting, at times of fasting, at times of sorrow and times of joy – so as we review the progress and challenges of our city tonight, let all of us give thanks for the life we cherish together.
So, Mount Vernon, we began our speech tonight with some very hard truths…
I’ve always promised to tell you the hard truth rather than a soft lie. But everything is not ALL bad in Mount Vernon.
I am excited to report that we are addressing our challenges HEAD ON, we are partnering with public and private entities on a regional, state, and federal level to address some of Mount Vernon’s pressing challenges.
We are at the table in the county, Albany, Washington DC, and wherever we can find a platform to tell our story to increase our city’s profile and secure more partnerships that bring resources & funding to Mount Vernon We are committed to begin to address longstanding issues like infrastructure, economic development, public safety, and city services.
Someone asked me the other day: “Mayor, what’s the headline?”
So here it is.
WE ARE MOVING FORWARD TOGETHER
Over the last two years, working in partnership, this ADMINISTRATION, has secured more than a third of a billion dollars in CAPITAL funding to restore, revive, rebuild and yes, to reimagine what Mount Vernon can be – and what Mount Vernon should be. More than a third of a billion dollars in new funding.
$163 MILLION FOR SEWER & WASTEWATER INFRASTRUCTURE
$135 MILLION FOR MTA BRIDGES
$40 MILLION FOR MEMORIAL FIELD
$10 MILLION FOR STREET RESURFACING, and later this year we will be adding at least $2 million more.
…AND WE ARE JUST GETTING STARTED.
When this Administration took office, I said that Mount Vernon residents wanted to feel like they were respected in their own community and region, and in all candor, they did not feel like they were. All too often, Mount Vernon has been treated like the punchline to a joke or a problem child with no hope and no future. I did not – and do not – accept that judgment.
We are fighting and will continue to fight for the equitable investments needed from a county, state, and federal level as well as private/corporate investments.
But to make significant change…THAT requires resources and large-scale commitments. Again, that is why we must be in the room where these decisions are made, partnering around the country to bring solutions, and best practices and increase the profile and needs of Mount Vernon.
Unlike larger Cities that are well-financed, Mt. Vernon does not have paid lobbyists in Albany and Washington. To that end, our relationships with our county, state, and federal elected partners and our presence in Albany and DC are crucial.
Since the beginning of 2022, Mt. Vernon’s local electeds have traveled to Albany and Washington to share not only Mt. Vernon’s plight but our potential and promise.
Just last week, I had the opportunity to meet with the Secretaries of Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Labor, Homeland Security, Commerce, the Small Business Administration, The United States Department of Agriculture and 15 fortune 100 Companies.
We discussed everything from infrastructure and public safety to economic development, housing & job creation, homelessness, food insecurity, urban agriculture and saving and transforming Mt. Vernon Hospital.
I want to thank our partners in government (thank you to our Governor, Federal Senators, Congressman, State Senators, Assemblyman, County Executive, County Legislators, City Council and School district. Our unions and our staff who work tirelessly to move Mount Vernon forward. Also, our executive leadership who work around the clock and weekends to move MV forward.
My friends, these partnerships do not happen overnight. They take hard work and long hours behind the scenes. We have to make our case, reestablish our credibility, work out the details, do the proper planning, and follow through with diligence and persistence. And thankfully, and with the help of my colleagues in government, I’m able to report that we do have that assistance – these crucial partnerships – to move Mount Vernon forward. We have made some historic strides.
Tonight, I am proud to say that while we believe we need a BILLION dollars of capital investment to solve our great infrastructure & equipment challenges. I am proud to say that we have secured more than 35% of those dollars in new capital funding which will make significant progress toward rebuilding Mount Vernon.
Central to this progress is addressing the historical inequity that has gripped this city since the railroad cut split Mount Vernon over 125 years ago. This was the beginning of the socioeconomic divide and disinvestment of our city.
Let’s be clear – we seek equity in public funding, and in the kinds of partnerships that are so vital to move our city forward. Through hard work and determination and the good faith of people in other branches of government, we have found those partners. They believe in equity – and they believe in the promise of Mount Vernon – and they are willing to join hands with us to achieve it.
For the last two years, I have had the opportunity to participate in the Just City Lab run by the Mayors Institute on City Design (MICD). My staff and I have been working with world-class planners and researchers to chart a path for a truly Just City. I’m happy to announce that we are a part of the 2022 group that will be presenting our vision for a downtown Comprehensive Plan for Mount Vernon that will be based on inclusion, equity, economic justice and will reimagine our green spaces to build up a better Mount Vernon and Oh Yes, COVERING THE RAILROAD CUT.
In my view, the true measure of our success will be the number of people touched and transformed by our investments. It’s why I am happy to finally announce after two years of planning, that our Guaranteed Income Program, that will provide $500 a month to 200 families over the next 12 months, is ready to go. This is one of the largest guaranteed income pilots in New York State and we are excited to launch it this Summer.
All these initiatives and all these new funds we have secured have to be managed and spent responsibly and I am encouraged to finally have a reliable partner in the Comptroller’s Office. Our new city Comptroller Darren Morton is the steward of our finances and for the first time in years we have a public servant in the office committed to paying our bills on time, maintaining good relationships with our vendors and community partners and employees, and honoring the commitment in the charter to provide timely financial reporting to my administration, the city council and to the public at large.
I cannot overstate the importance of having a true partner in government that finally allows us to do the basics we need to operate every day. Let me be clear though, he and his team have a large task in front of them as they work through years of unaudited financials and regain the financial trust of our partners.
Comptroller Morton will be addressing you all in the coming weeks with his own report on the financial health of the city and will go into greater detail on the state of our audits, fund balances, and how working together we will move our city forward.
So, let’s talk about four areas central to this administration, to our partners in government, and to our city.
• Public safety.
• Economic development.
• And city services
These four pillars are critical to our quality of life, our future and how the City of Mount Vernon government functions for the people.
Let’s start with infrastructure.
When President Biden made rebuilding America’s roads, bridges, and water systems the central legislative accomplishment of his Administration, that emphasis resonated here in Mount Vernon.
We have an antiquated and failing storm water and sewer system that diminishes the lives of residents and businesses from the North Side to the South Side. We have old public buildings – the police station, courthouse, fire houses, Doles Center, Armory, DPW Yard and even City Hall – DILAPIDATED. Memorial Field – one of our most famous locations – sat for over a decade – DISINTERGRATING.
We have failing bridges, pothole riddled streets, and municipal parking garages, vehicles and equipment – DEGRADING.
So, we agreed with the President’s priority for America, because we saw
the need for it every day in Mount Vernon.
This is a work in progress. I cannot stand here and tell you everything is fixed – or even yet how everything will be fixed. Last year we condemned and Closed the Oak Street Firehouse but just 10 days ago we opened a temporary fire station on the west side of the city because we had to take action. Sometimes, we have to create stop gaps and act quickly.
Understanding the need to address some of our Municipal buildings, we put nearly $4 million from ARPA to bringing our city buildings into COVID compliance and to address emergency repair. So no, everything is not done – and our list of priorities remains a long one.
But I can report to the city of Mount Vernon tonight that we are taking on the big things. We aren’t kicking the can down the road or stuffing our dirty laundry and broken toys under beds and into closets any longer. We are pulling it all out and committed to cleaning up this city once and for all.
Clearly our failing sewer and stormwater system is our greatest challenge. It is a true threat to public health, economic development, to property values and to the future of our neighborhoods. Despite the valiant efforts of our DPW workers, this is an environmental and public health disaster in slow motion. With our partners we are taking this on.
This could not go on. And this will not go on.
Over the past few months, we announced a historic $163 million investment by NYS in our water and sanitation infrastructure – a vast and large-scale partnership with New York State and Westchester County. It begins with $7 million in Clean Water Infrastructure Act funds to immediately launch engineering, design, and construction of the Third Street Sewer Project, to relieve the suffering of 1500 families.
Our Federal Government has given $3 million to complete the engineering study that will plot the course of action for this systemic overhaul.
The rest of the plan – which unfolds over the next five to seven years – includes a comprehensive assessment of the city’s current infrastructure, emergency repairs, lead pipe replacement, dedicated engineering services, and an innovative $3 million pilot program to mitigate environmental hazards and make resiliency upgrades to private property.
The Water Department will also be launching in June the new Civic Pay online services to allow residents to pay online, check their balance, or speak to a water representative.
And my friends, let me add this – this commitment is government in action in the very best sense. Our partnership with the state and the county and with the availability of Federal infrastructure funds makes this possible. This will be the largest infrastructure project ever undertaken in Mount Vernon – and I can tell you that the long hours, the negotiations, the research and cooperation of all of our professional staffs was well worth it.
Our friends in Newark, Flint, Lowndes County, Alabama and Houston and so many other cities are sharing their best practices and expertise in helping to address these challenges and I am thankful for their guidance. I also want to thank Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice, Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Wildlife Federation for their partnership in helping us advance this environmental justice issue.
No less symbolic is the rebuilding of Memorial Field. If you haven’t been past the site recently, you owe it to yourself to take a look. The stands are in place, the press box is up, the Mount Vernon colors are bold and clear, and the full complex is really taking shape.
Let’s Take a Look.
The project includes a synthetic-turf field for football, lacrosse and soccer, an eight-lane track, a skate park, offices, new locker rooms and concession stands. There will be three tennis courts on site, and new scoreboards and signage that will promote events at the complex. WE have it all. While there have been some cost overruns because of environmental and supply chain issues, the County has stepped up to help, and we plan on celebrating the opening of the new Memorial Field later this Fall.
Again, this breakthrough was possible because of a partnership of trust – between this administration and our County Executive, County Board of Legislators, Chairwoman Borgia and Legislator Gashi and especially our own legislators, Tyrae Woodson-Samuels & David Tubiolo, who understand just how much the new stadium will mean to our economic development, public health and sense of community.
Fostering community means improving the quality of life for our residents it means engaging them. We established a Tree Advisory Board, to rebuild our tree canopy and to add greenery to our neighborhoods and reclaim our Tree City status.
We are filling vacancies our land use boards as we gear up for the Comprehensive Plan, our Youth Bureau Board is active, We’re re-launching our capital projects board , my economic development, health and human services, education and workforce development and public safety advisory boards are coming back. We are excited about working with the City Council on Charter Revision.
Mount Vernon we have heard you calls about quality of life and sanitation and to that end we are finally investing in ourselves.
We have upgraded our sanitation fleet; you may recall last year we dealt with immense challenges during the summer in regard to our 20-year-old trucks. With the help of ARPA funds, we purchased six new dump trucks, seven new garbage trucks, four new snow removal trucks, and 4 new street sweepers.
Also, we were able to buy a new hotbox truck to fix potholes that have been plaguing our roads for years. We are clear that pothole patching has been a temporary fix.
For the first time in recent memory the city has launched a 3-year $9.5 million dollar “paving it forward” campaign to repave more than 150 Mount Vernon streets curb to curb, no more patchwork jobs in our city. In the fall of last year, we repaved more than 50 streets and the second season of paving began just last week on North Columbus Avenue with many more roads to come. Residents are excited, just take a look from this recent interview on News 12.
We have also renewed our focus on fixing the MTA bridges that cover our railroad cut. In the past four years nearly $90 million has been invested in the reopening of these bridges. I’m happy to announce that the MTA has committed an additional $45 million on the complete overhaul of both the Fulton Avenue and South Street bridges and look forward to construction starting towards the end of 2022. Additionally, the overhaul of the Mount Vernon West train station has been added to the MTA’s current capital plan.
All of this work requires many hours of city labor. As part of the new sustainability fee implemented in this year’s budget, we have allocated for an increase to our seasonal laborers to create a HIT squad that will be focused on targeting vacant lots, area cleaning for litter and garbage and continual cleaning operations through every section of the city. We have also purchase 70+ brand new garbage bins to be replace our Big Belly and iron waste baskets. Look out for these new garbage bins as they are installed across the city.
To fight against rodent infestation, we have hired new code enforcement officers that will be focused on property maintenance, proper residential & commercial garbage disposal and illegal dumping. We have spent the last year educating the public about these issues, but now is the time for enforcement. Again, I want to thank the hardworking men and women of the Department of Public Works the Muscle of Mount Vernon.
Here in Mount Vernon, we are aware of the ongoing challenges in the buildings department and resident & contractor frustration with wait times, processes, unanswered phones and responsiveness.
We have seen around the county, buildings departments faced with lengthy backlogs during COVID. Our department has struggled through an 800-permit backlog that dated back 5 years. Back in 2018, the New York State Senate released a report that designated Mount Vernon as having the 2nd worst building code enforcement in the state. We understand that some of our greatest challenges here center around plan reviews, permit approvals, code enforcement responsiveness and antiquated record-keeping technology.
But Mount Vernon, I am here to say we are turning the corner. Under the leadership of Commissioner Patrick Holder, we have addressed 20% of the backlog since August 2021. We have hired two new plan examiners and a plan room coordinator to help expedite the permit approval process, make sure paperwork is not lost and that we communicate with applicants.
To improve our technology gaps, we have entered into contract with OpenGov and Laserfiche, revolutionary 21st century data management and workflow tools to automate many of the outdated manual processes of the past. The Building department continues to update its Standard Operating Procedures to improve permit efficiency, train staff, and support property owners.
As a direct result of these reforms of the department, I’m happy to report we’ve seen a 11% increase in permits issued and an 31% increase in applications filed in the last three months compared to last year.
Building departments should be a revenue generating powerhouse for a thriving city but historically ours has struggled. Under our new leadership in the last four months of 2021, we saw our highest Building Department revenues in the past four years. This has continued into 2022 with a strong showing in the first three months, nearly doubling (41%) the revenues from the same time period last year. Still, there is more work to do. Mount Vernon is a city built on old housing stock which requires maintenance and new investments. It’s why we’ve increased the number of code enforcers to combat zombie homes and ensure that quality of life is front of mind.
Let us turn to public safety.
Public Safety is a concern to so many residents. And let me be honest and completely up front with you – we do endure the kinds of stories that can break your heart. Gun violence. Gang activity. The tragic loss of young people. The kind of fear of violent crime that can stop a community like Mount Vernon in its tracks. I will tell you that as Mayor, I have seen these tragedies close up. They do break your heart. And they do leave you asking “WHY?” The trauma is all too real in so many parts of our city.
But I have also seen the courage and resilience of our own law enforcement community, of our brave women and men in the Police Department. So many of them are motivated by a desire to serve, to save lives, to help the residents of this city. They are dedicated and passionate to keeping our City safe. Our Police administration continues to improve our Police Department, to secure the equipment they need, to provide training and career development, while maintaining high professional standards that best serve our community, which is absolutely vital to the future of Mount Vernon.
While the demands of politics sometimes lead to the impression that crime is on the rise, let me tell you about the actual numbers. Last year, crime in Mount Vernon went down 14.2% from the previous year, and crimes of violence dropped 6.2%. Our police department solved two cold case homicides and continue to close out homicide cases at a historic rate.
Even with these facts many of us locally and across the country do not feel safe and suffer from the lingering trauma that violence in our communities have caused. We understand this and we are working with human services, faith-based providers and neighborhood associations to address the safety needs of our community. That doesn’t mean that crime isn’t a major concern, but it does mean we’re making some progress.
Here are a few reasons why.
As stated earlier, we have seen losses in our police personnel due to transfers and retirements, so to deal with that we’ve streamlined the detective division, moving to only two units general investigations which focuses on minor offenses and youth crimes and The Special Investigation Unit that deals with Violent Crime, Homicides and precision policing which targets drivers of violence. The goal is straightforward – to make our streets safer.
This year, I was happy to be announced as a Co-chair for the Mayors Against Illegal Guns. In Mount Vernon we know the impact that gun violence has had on our community and the responsibility we have as leaders to stop it. Our police department has worked with the ATF, FBI Safe Street Taskforce, the Westchester County Police Department and the Westchester County DA to track down illegal guns in our community. I’m proud to announce that under this administration the Violent Crime and Patrol Units have recovered 102 guns since 2020. I’m happy to know that our police officers are committed to policing. Thank you to the hard-working men and women of our Police Department who continue to keep us safe.
We are also focusing on young people and the complex relationship with law enforcement. Last year, we launched the first Mount Vernon Youth Court. Ten young people graduated from our innovative Youth Police Academy, and our Cops and Chess program has engaged many of our youth, building new bridges between these communities. We also launched the Mount Vernon Emerging Adult Justice Court in partnership with the Mount Vernon City Court and the Youth Shelter of Westchester, and a host of local partners.
We’re breaking in new models. We’re not afraid to change the way we do things in this city. And we’re placing the safety and restoration of our residents first.
We are also working to increase the level of trust between our police officers and the community. I have personally reached out to nationally respected companies like Axon, to deliver more body cameras, non- lethal tasers, license plate readers and dashboard cameras. We have also purchased 20 new hybrid police vehicles, and we are investing in city-wide surveillance, an Emergency Service truck and Mobile Command Center.
The most important investment we can make into the police department is the investment in human capital to that end since January 2020 we’ve hired 84 new officers and promoted 12 Sergeants, 5 Lieutenants and 10 detectives in our department. In May 2021, we had the first police exam since 2016 and I’m glad to announce that we were able to hire 17 homegrown police recruits who will complete the academy at the end of this month and be prepared to hit the streets by September. We also expect to hire 25+ new recruits for the next academy in July.
Public safety includes the well-being of residents, and in particular the mental health needs of the community. We have seen over these last two years how the effects of fear and isolation and loss have impacted so many people, from the young to the most seasoned citizens.
It’s why Our Youth Bureau offers services in conflict resolution – including problem solving, anger and stress management skills – as well as social, emotional, and mental wellness. This is so important and yes, we have all seen what can happen without intervention.
I’m proud to announce that our Police Department established a new Wellness Division, which will transform the way police respond to those in crisis. This is much more than a simple co-response model but rather a comprehensive model to violence prevention, intervention and restorative justice.
We must address the root causes of both violence and community disengagement like mental health, trauma, anger, addiction, homelessness, under education, underemployment, housing and a myriad of social and emotional issues if we expect to build a safer and thriving
community. One of the initiatives of the Wellness Division will be the Community/School Safety Partnership which we announced last week.
Continuing in Public Safety, Our Mount Vernon Fire Department is working every day to keep us safe. While we know there is work to be done to upgrade aging equipment and deal with firehouses needing renovation, we are moving forward with stronger emergency response.
Over the past two years, utilizing HUD funding we have purchased two fire engines, one Special Operations rescue truck and one ladder truck for our fire department. Understanding the increase in high rise buildings we are waiting on the arrival of another $1.3 million ladder truck. We’re also investing in the people who do the job – 23 Probationary Firefighters, all from Mount Vernon have been hired and we have promoted two Deputy Chiefs, two captains and four lieutenants in the past year.
On April 1st, LoHud wrote an article about Westchester’s broken EMS system. Mount Vernon is proud to announce that we will be the first city in Westchester to move our EMT services from an external contract to an internal city service. With the use of CDBG Cares money and ARPA funding, we are purchasing four ambulances and hiring and training our own EMT crews to operate out of the Fire Department of Mount Vernon. This will enhance our capacity to serve our city over 100,000 residents while still participating in and supporting our regional mutual aid partners. This is a matter of equity, public health and social justice.
Understanding that city agencies don’t work in silos, our office of Emergency Management is the glue that coordinates our response to public disasters. Its why we’re investing in a brand-new Early Warning Messaging system, new drones, incident command systems and community-wide training. This will enable us to improve response and resiliency to crises. We continue to expand on our partnership with the Red Cross and FEMA to respond to natural and climate disasters and emergencies.
Mount Vernon sure is resilient, we continue to fight for what we deserve and that includes our hospital. We have SAVED Mount Vernon Hospital, but we have not yet TRANSFORMED Mount Vernon Hospital. This is a major issue for our city, and this administration, along with our partners, continue to pursue a permanent solution to a full-service hospital, including emergency medicine and a state-of-the-art trauma unit. But let me be clear: the hospital is open and will remain open. It will not close. I am proud to announce that the ICU unit and telemetry units are back open and being staffed. Investments have been made in new MRI/CAT scan equipment and we will continue to do the work to add the services that meet the needs of our residents and stakeholders.
Mount Vernonites should be able to access needed health services right here in our own community which is why our Health Needs Assessment Survey will be launching shortly. In my view, this is health equity and justice in action.
We must remember that quality health care is an important driver of economic development. Let’s look at how economic development has grown in Mount Vernon over the last year.
Our message to the business community is straightforward and strong: Mount Vernon is open for business. Our administration is committed to economic development that brings jobs, improves our quality of life, builds our tax base, and makes our city a destination for people around the region.
We’re committed to all of our major commercial districts.
Business makes Mount Vernon strong, more financially stable, more secure, and a better place to live.
Without a doubt, these last two years have been hard ones, but our business community remained resilient. And through the pandemic, we’ve attracted new entrepreneurs to Mount Vernon, we’ve expanded existing businesses, and our agencies have helped business owners increase their capacity.
Our Office of Economic & Business Development is focused on revenue generating programming in business corridors to drive sales tax growth. In Fact, Mount Vernon’s economy grew by 13% since 2018, a sign that our efforts to support and grow business have been fruitful. Still, we are building deeper partnerships with technical assistance providers and financial institutions to provide a broader spectrum of professional development services.
As you’ve heard many times tonight, partnerships matter. We’ve also worked with the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, establishing business mentorship relationships with small and large organizations within the same industry. We have an ongoing partnership with Westchester SCORE for operational assistance and succession planning and WEDC to support Women in Business.
We are building partnerships with the Business Council of Westchester, Iona College, Small Business Administration, United States Conference of Mayors and Kaufman Foundation to support our small businesses and entrepreneurs. We are also researching and working on developing new economies for Mount Vernon, including the cannabis industry and light industrial manufacturing. Despite the pandemic, new businesses are opening up in our commercial districts – seven new businesses with the help of this Administration last year.
While we need a stronger tax base, we know that the full burden cannot – and should not – fall on our homeowners alone.
So many residents have made Mount Vernon their long-term home – over several generations. While we are working to improve infrastructure and city services for our homeowners, we are also working hard to make sure our tax assessment system is as fair and equitable.
Our Department of Assessment has digitized the grievance process, making it easier for residents to challenge their property taxes and for those cases to move forward fairly – and with appropriate speed. Last year, we spoke about Laserfiche being implemented to migrate our records from paper to digital and it has been successful. Our Assessor has been hard at work improving customers’ ability to apply online and increase the technological capabilities to be compliant with NYS standards.
Lastly, we have begun early discussions on a city-wide re-evaluation. Revaluation is required to ensure the tax burden remains equitable within a municipality. Real property must be assessed at the same standard of value that every property owner is paying his or her fair share of the property tax. We will also be working with HUD as they lead a nationwide campaign to ensure that homes are equitably appraised.
Finally – but far from least – I must address the issue of overall planning for Mount Vernon. As we know, our location has always made us a magnet for development, sometimes bad. And we need to grow that tax base. But this is where the need for both equity and the participation of residents is so crucial.
As I said earlier, equity walks hand in hand with opportunity. We must have both in Mount Vernon. We all hunger for a success story, but that success cannot come at the expense of those who have weathered the storm through many years in this city. We cannot have gentrification and displacement – and yes, replacement – of our residents.
We cannot have an endless stream of short-sighted PILOTS (or tax breaks) and mindless development. We must stride forward as a full community, and not a privileged few.
And so, at my direction and with the full and enthusiastic support of our City Council, Mount Vernon is undertaking its first Comprehensive Plan since 1968. This effort will be led by our new Commissioner of Planning and Community Development, James Rausse and soon to be announced co-chairs, WE ARE EXCITED. Commissioner Rausse is a respected leader in his field who just this past weekend was inducted into the College of Fellows for the American Institute of Certified Planners. The Commissioner and his team will leave no stone untouched – and no neighborhood uncounted or underrepresented – as we create a master plan for this city that places the concept of equity front and center in the process.
The first phase begins this summer and deals with transit-oriented development, then it expands to the full city next year. We are planning dozens of community meetings in all of our neighborhoods. Every neighborhood will have the ability to engage twice with our planners. Every voice can and should be heard. Because while we have great opportunities – for new housing, for new commercial spaces, for mixed use and hybrid and “green” development, for recreational spaces – we must also have equity and full participation.
We are working to do nothing less than create an identity for the entire city of Mount Vernon.
I believe it’s fair to judge a Mayor by how city services operate, let’s look back on how our city services have played a role in uplifting Mount Vernon.
We are making significant progress in modernizing how Mount Vernon runs its departments. This is important because to move the city forward, the city itself must work well – its procedures, its permits, its regulatory functions, its bookkeeping and its legal services – these are all vital to how well we operate, and how our residents and business owners can interact with their government.
And our government is tasked with providing needed services. I want to take a moment to talk about some of those human services we’re providing all the time, the softer side of government.
Homelessness and the housing crisis have been a growing issue in our community, and it has been made worse through the economic impact of the Covid crises. To that end the, City of Mount Vernon through our Urban Renewal Agency has partnered with the Guidance Center, the Mental Health Association of Westchester, The Youth Shelter of Westchester, United Tenants of Mount Vernon, United Way and Westchester Residential Opportunities, the School District and the Youth Shelter of Westchester to provide homeless outreach, rapidly rehouse young adults, veterans, those fleeing domestic violence and families
There are so many reasons that can lead to a person being homeless and staying homeless, but as a City we know we must provide for all of our residents no matter the circumstance, and we have. Under the leadership of the Urban Renewal Agency and the Planning Department we have been able to rehouse 35 homeless residents, pay ongoing rent for 62 families
and provide access to emergency housing and utility funding for over 1,000 families.
In Mount Vernon, we leave no one behind and I want to thank our staff for being hands on in helping end homelessness in our community.
Our Recreation Department has been feeding, nurturing, supporting and elevating our vulnerable populations throughout the pandemic and into our recovery.
We have served over 28,000 individuals over 450,000 pounds (of fresh produce, providing sustenance to over 7,500 seniors and 10,000 children. We continue to run the largest home-delivered meal program in the county, serving 300 seniors with multiple meals a week including partnering with Door Dash and United Way to improve delivery times.
Our Recreation staff worked tirelessly with the community and our Public Works staff to finally restore our beloved Bocce court at Hartley Park. We continue to provide services and programs for all ages, such as Learning to Skate, Saturday Sports, Monday Soccer, Double Dutch, Football, Baseball and Basketball clinics, Boxing, Summer Breeze, Summer Camps, pumpkin festivals, our Winter Wonderland, our Turkey Trot. Let’s not forget the Memorial Day parade and City Fest coming in August.
And still, we provide for who I like to call our “reverse teenagers”, our Seniors, at the Doles Center. We serve over 60 seniors every day with programs that include exercise, line
dancing, quilting, and informational assistance. We also serve the Rose Simon Program, the only publicly run daily program in Westchester for individuals with developmental disabilities.
Our Mount Vernon Youth Bureau is an anchor organization that continues to serve our youth with programs including: Comprehensive Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention (Capp), Girls Embracing Maturity (Gem), Safe Haven, Step Up, Ready 4 Life And The STRONG Programs To Name A Few
I’m happy to announce that our Youth Bureau has received $2.6m in grants over the past year to continue uplifting our youth. We have served more than 227 young people in our summer youth employment program, more than 630 youth have received academic support, and more than 1100 young residents received financial literacy, soft skills, career exploration, conflict resolution and social and emotional training. We have also exceeded our enrollment goals for our programs by 25%. we celebrated our first PRIDE celebration on the steps of city hall and pulled together a HBCU Fair to show our youth that there are more options available to them.
Overall, I think we’ve done a good job, but we have room to grow by expanding opportunities and positive experiences in our city for our youth.
I’m also proud to fulfill a campaign promise by announcing the creation of a Director of Constituent Services to assist residents with navigating our various divisions and departments of city governance. Our Constituent Services Director will provide residents with new levels of customer service in interfacing with our city agencies and will be tasked with improving our internal processes and procedures to ensure improved interactions between residents, the business community, houses of worship, businesses and neighborhood associations and the city.
Key to improving responsiveness are the implementations made by our Management Services team. In the past year the IT professionals have upgraded the city servers and rewired most of the City Hall building to address chronic gaps in connectivity that had previously interrupted the staff’s productivity.
Through OpenGov we are working on providing City Hall online so all functions you can do in-person can be done online and a budget dashboard so you can see in real-time what we are spending. True transparency. So, Mount Vernon, you will know where your tax money is going.
We are also re-organizing and reforming our Law Department, which is so important for how the city deals with our legal obligations, our contracts, and our standing under the law. We are actively cleaning up and resolving old lawsuits, while moving forward with labor negotiations, and dealing with compliance around Federal consent decrees.
Let me also say this – the women and men who work for this city – our proud municipal workforce – are absolutely vital to the well-being of Mount Vernon, and to the safety and quality of life for our residents. They deserve our respect, our praise and a contract for the jobs they do, oftentimes in difficult circumstances. I love their commitment and I value their service. And as we work together to improve our city, I am committed to improving their working conditions, modernizing their equipment, fully funding their work which means fair contracts, and attracting – and most importantly, keeping – the most talented and deeply committed public sector workforce in the State of New York.
I grew up in a community that taught the value of Us and We – and Not I and Me.
So, I am drawn to leadership models that emphasize collaboration and partnership. And as we have reviewed here tonight, those models are beginning to work for Mount Vernon.
So as we said in the beginning, we are not running from our challenges, we are very clear of what they are but we cannot ignore the progress we are making, the investments we are securing, the relationships that we are building, the credibility that we are restoring, and the hope that we are regaining. It may not happen as fast as we want, but we are moving forward together.
We are stronger together
We are praying together
We are working together
We are investing together
And we are fighting together. As one Mount Vernon, for the Mount Vernon we deserve.
God bless you. God bless Mount Vernon. And God bless our United States of America. Good night.
Mount Vernon – “The Jewel of Westchester”