New Rochelle is in a time of "undeniable challenge."
In his sixth State of the City address, Mayor Noam Bramson laid out his vision Thursday for building on New Rochelle's assets to make "an even stronger foundation for a prosperous and vibrant city, that each of us, and our children, and our grandchildren will be proud to call home."
The speech was delivered at the Davenport Club during an event sponsored by the New Rochelle Chamber of Commerce.
Bramson said the city already has everything necessary to shape its future.
"Water and rail. Home and hearth. Knowledge and skill. Determination and faith," he said. "We need only to have confidence in ourselves."
Bramson outlined the key elements of building a strong foundation, admitting that while "[i]t may not be our place to finish the work I have described, it will be our place to begin it well.
"That's what foundations are all about," he said. "And we won't let each other down."
The first of the key elements, Bramson said, was fiscal health.
"If a community isn't solvent or if it fails to strike a reasonable balance between what citizens contribute and what they receive, then little else can be accomplished," he said. "Even in good times that's a challenge."
Bramson said every penny given to the city must be applied to the best use.
"Let's understand, doing more with less is not a passing phase," he said. "Doing more with less is the new normal."
Transit-oriented development is the basis of economic growth, Bramson said, adding that it's not a new priority.
He said the city's development team must have the tools and support to pursue all possibilities.
"And let's do it before any good opportunities pass us by," Bramson said.
Planning, he said, also drives the economy, but in a broader sense.
Unplanned growth can have an adverse effect on the city, Bramson said.
He urged the updating of the 15-year-old comprehensive plan into as "a compelling vision of our city as we want it to be.
"There's nothing that locks us in to what is, so long as we have the imagination and foresight to plan for what might be," Bramson said.
Planning at the waterfront is also vital to the city's long-term success, he said.
Appropriate development at Echo Bay, the City Yard and Davids Island are potentially areas that could "claim for a new era New Rochelle's status as the Queen City of the Sound," Bramson said.
Potholes, storm drains, snowplows, as well as parking and parks are infrastructure issues the city has not done as well as it should have, the mayor said.
Citing the current budget's 1 percent spending on infrastructure and equipment, Bramson advocated allocating at least 5 percent of the general fund to those needs beginning no later than 2016. He also said the city should do whatever it could to obtain grants for infrastructure improvements by making sure the design of projects met the challenge for competitive funds.
"The city best prepared to use funds is best positioned to get funds," he said.
The final element, Bramson said, is one in which New Rochelle was poised to "take a big leap forward."
The city's first environmental sustainability plan—GreeNR—produced by volunteer residents, experts and city staff, could be enacted as early as Tuesday, he said.
"GreeNR addresses subjects as big as renewable energy and as small as supermarket tote bags," Bramson said, "with lots in between, from a fuel-efficient municipal fleet, to household composting, to water quality and open-space preservation."
He said the sustainability plan doesn't change laws or make guarantees.
"What it does do is establish a framework for ongoing decision-making, focuses on the qualities that make a community desirable and that, yes, lay a sustainable foundation that future generations can build upon," Bramson said.
Councilman Richard St. Paul, R-District 4, said the mayor's speech fell short.
"Especially in terms of economic development," he said.
Instead of talking about large-scale development, the mayor should have put more emphasis on small businesses, St. Paul said.
"They are the backbone of the American economy and the backbone of New Rochelle," he said. "We need a plan that will grow and attract small business."
St. Paul said Bramson only talks about bipartisanship.
"It's in talk only and not in action," he said. "(Bramson) need to work in a more bipartisan fashion" with Republicans to find waste in government and to improve quality of life issues.
New Rochelle resident Katherine Lobach said she has lived more than 50 years in the Queen City.
"I think this mayor is one of the best," she said.
"He's a marvelous orator," Lobach said. "But it's not just about speechifying. It's what he has succeeded in doing in New Rochelle."
She acknowledged that the city faced challenges.
"But so has every city and county and state," Lobach said. "We are pretty well-positioned to overcome them."
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