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I am proud to share with you what I and your Town of Cicero Team have accomplished on your behalf in 2017. The challenges were many. We met those challenges head on and resolved them successfully. We will remain focused on the kind of progress and change that will benefit the town and its residents.
In 2017 we stopped borrowing to meet the Town’s daily operating expenses; we balanced the budget; we have grown our fund balance to a new high and we put the town on a fiscal path that has earned us a AA credit rating from Standard & Poor. This has placed Cicero into the “financial elite” of all towns in New York State.
We successfully made the case for a sorely needed highway garage. Although we were caused to lose the construction season, we hope to have partial occupancy of the new facility by winter of 2018.
We successfully negotiated with the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers, Local Union No. 195 to purchase the old and completely remodeled former State Police barracks at 6200 Rte. 31. We hope to have our Police Department into that building in early March. The cost of that building will be paid for by funds coming from the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York less a $50,000 town match that we have put aside.
With the changes implemented by me and the Town Board, we have reduced the Town’s operating expenses for 2018 by over $250,000 in just 2 years. That is a result of smarter purchasing, tighter fiscal management, and implementation of our State-recognized Health and Safety Program that reduced Workers Comp Premiums by $50,000 for 2018.
1. Major Town Hall Expansion
Our Town Hall expansion has been a topic for several years and will continue as a high priority until we complete this initiative in 2018 or 2019. The town has grown substantially since the time our current Town Hall was built and more space has become mandatory to allow town employees to continue in the performance of their work. Also, our Courts, which operate out of Town Hall, are no longer compliant with NYS Court regulations. Cicero is in a transition period, moving from a small town hall to a multi-site town government to better serve our residents.
Yes, this is a major cost, but has been needed for years. It is our intent that any expansion of Town Hall be paid from the existing Town fund balance and without a tax increase. Doing it now ensures ongoing support and fiscal stability for our town. Our current Town Hall was built in 1957, before many/most of our residents were born. Construction of Interstate Route 81 had not even begun in Cicero. We were a small, rural community, a distant memory of how we’ve grown since then. Your Town Board, working with many others, has defined a three-prong approach to establish a Town Hall framework that will serve us all for the future.
New Highway Garage. This project is part of the Town’s plan as referenced above. Information on that initiative may be viewed at the town website at https://ciceronewyork.net/highway-garage-replacement/. This marks the town’s first expansion away from our address on Brewerton Road. Securing the bonding to fund this move was not an option; it was vital to ensure our highway department can continue to function with an expanding town.
Expansion of Town Hall. Along with the move and expansion of our highway department, our Town Hall has also exceeded its capacity and is no longer compliant with the New York State Courts requirements. We hope to have construction drawings completed and have this project out to bid by end of next year. This new expansion should allow the Current Town Hall to remain viable for at least another twenty years. Again, our plan is to pay for this addition with existing funds.
Move of Police Department. This third prong of expansion has been needed for years. As referenced above, funding has been approved by the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York and our plan is to have our police working from the new facility in March of this year.
2. Employee Performance Focus
When people read of what a town is doing, the focus is generally on taxes, building, zoning, or new businesses locating here, etc. Our Town Board sees life differently. Yes, those topics are important, but so also are our employees, and providing a focus on them is cost-effective in multiple ways: they’re able to put in more healthy work hours, they feel valued by the Town, and our Town costs for workers compensation are less.
Safety Program. Our initial initiative to support the safety and wellbeing of our Town employees began in 2016 with our safety program. This continues as an on-going activity, as safety is never finished. This video, which can be viewed at https://ciceronewyork.net/2017safetyaward/ shows some of those activities and statements from several Town personnel.
Employee Assistance Program. When thinking of Town initiatives, we tend to think of what the Town does for us, but there is another side: what we do for our Town team members. Although there has been a Cicero town government since before any of us were born, we have never had an Employee Assistance Program. But we do now. Our employees are our most important assets and when they have personal issues that prevent them from focusing on their assignments, we all lose. That’s why we partnered with a respected health care professional to help with such problems as Marriage and Family issues, Grief & Loss, Emotional Problems, Stress Management, Alcohol and Substance Use and Multi-generational Issues. It is my goal to transform the Town of Cicero into a ‘World Class’ Organization.
3. Zoning Reassessment
We began the process of rezoning in 2016, and there remains much to do. Our goal isn’t rezoning just to rezone. The goal is to identify our non-conforming properties, eliminate most, if not all, of the cost to homeowners to make their property legally compliant and to help make it easier to buy, sell and enjoy property in the Town of Cicero.
4. Facilities Management Plan being evaluated
One of the reasons why our Town facilities deteriorated and fell into serious disrepair is because the Town had no long-term written plan to perform needed and timely preventative maintenance. Repairs, when done, were for the most part unplanned and emergency in nature. We are in the final stages of completing a plan that, if followed by successive Town Boards, should save taxpayers considerable dollars in the years to come.
5. Tax Payment Improvements
Paying taxes has been a “necessary evil” for thousands of years. We can’t eliminate it, but we are improving the process and reducing the overhead costs of doing it. In 2017, we had two initiatives.
Online Tax Payment. As of September, residents now have a choice of payment methods: by check (office or mail), credit card, or bank transfer. This online service also allows residents, whether paying online or not, to search and print their tax bills. This is the town’s first offering of an interactive service via our website and we are excited to make this feature available.
Shared Service for Tax Bill Mailings. We have entered into a shared services agreement with the Onondaga County Office of Real Property Tax Services to implement consolidation of future mailings of property tax bills for the Village, School Districts, Town and County. Our objective is to collaborate with the County to reduce postage expenditures and to reduce the redundancy of tasks/services. This move not only reduces cost, but also streamlines the process. Projected savings for 2018 are $20,720.
6. Solar Power update
Unfortunately, California-based Cypress Creek Renewables backed out of a deal to build a 20 acre solar farm on Rte. 298. They cited an inability to come to terms with National Grid. This would have been a great project for the Town of Cicero and for our environment. Fortunately, we have entered into an agreement with the Central New York Regional Planning and Development Board to locate a solar project on the site of the old Cicero Town Dump on Fergerson Road off Rte. 31. We’re hoping to see some action on this project this year.
7. Brewerton Riverfront update
Brewerton is moving along. Perhaps a little slower than we’d hoped, but moving along, none the less. We are still waiting for NYS DOT to acquire and turn over to the Town the two empty parcels adjacent to the park. We were told that this transaction was to have been completed by end of 2017. It did not, but it is still going to happen. I am pleased to announce that we have been awarded two separate grants totaling $450,000 by the Regional Economic Development Council toward streetscape improvements and waterfront revitalization.
The grants will fund Phase III of the State approved Local Waterfront Revitalization plan, which includes curbing for Bennett Street, sidewalk installation, trees, landscaping and decorative lighting along Route 11 between Guy Young Road and Baldwin Street. It will also allow the town to prepare a LWRP (Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan) for the waterfront along the outlet of Oneida Lake.
Brewerton is the gateway to not only our Town of Cicero but to Onondaga County. We are committed to seeing this important project through.
8. Shared Services agreement with City of Syracuse
With all of the talk about shared services, we proactively entered into negotiations with the Mayor of Syracuse and signed an agreement to together share grant writing resources. This is a ‘win-win’ for Cicero and the City as we will only pay a low hourly rate, after a prorating of benefits has been factored in, for people to research and prepare grants where available to help fund Town projects and infrastructure. The Town has never employed a grant writer and I believe that, potentially, we have lost out on thousands of dollars over the years as a result.
9. Suburban Green Infrastructure Grant of $250,000
The Town applied for and was awarded a ‘Save the Rain” grant from Onondaga County. We are proactively addressing deficiencies in our waste water infrastructure and we plan to take an additional 7 million gallons of fresh water out of the sanitary sewer system in 2018. This is in addition to the 13 million gallons removed in 2017. This is a win for us and the environment.
10. Technology Audit
Our town of Cicero is ever expanding and it is our goal to eliminate paper records and automate as many processes as we can, utilizing computer and internet technology. And as we move forward, we recognize that we have never had our policies and procedures audited to ensure proper compliance with regulatory agencies and appropriate backup and protection procedures. To address that, we have initiated an external audit that will be conducted in early 2018 to help us ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place. Your privacy is our priority.
11. 2018 Budget and Financial Status
We’ve come a long way in two years and we’re proud of it. Three years ago, our Town Comptroller stated that unless changes were made, that the town of Cicero would not be able to pay its bills by 2019. We stopped borrowing to meet our daily operating expenses; we’ve begun paying down the Town’s accumulated debt; we have balanced the budget and we held the tax levy to a 5.48% increase which includes the costs for our voter-approved new Highway Garage complex. We have reduced our operating expenses by over $250,000 in two years by focusing on our costs. Our fund balance is comfortably in the black and, based upon my economic plan for Cicero, Standard & Poor elevated us to a AA credit rating, placing us with the elite of towns in New York State.
12. Business Development; New Construction
New or expanded businesses in 2017 consisted of:
There will be more to come in 2018.
13. Quality of Life Issues
We continue to have good success with our Senior and Veterans outreach programs. We have identified seniors, veterans and their spouses who live in our community that have financial need or are in financial distress. We have direct mailed hundreds of invitations to our outreach meetings/seminars and have met over 160 seniors/veterans face-to-face to work with them to obtain help with home repairs, heating assistance, and home remodeling to accommodate disabilities. Our many thanks to Onondaga County and the dedicated folks at Community Development and Veterans Affairs for the work that they have helped us do in Cicero.
Traffic and pedestrian safety is of our utmost concern. I have had numerous meetings with our State Representatives and with NYS Department of Transportation (DOT). DOT has committed to installing sidewalks on the west side of State Route 11 from Bear Road, going north to approximately 200 feet north of Caughdenoy Road. Construction will begin in June.
The Town is working with National Grid to install LED street lighting from Bear Road north to beyond Walmart to light that entire stretch of the Rte. 11 corridor. State DOT has committed to finding a solution to the anticipated traffic concerns at the State Rte. 31 and 298 intersection. There is a strong possibility that a traffic circle (roundabout) will be installed in March 2018. Thompson Road/Torchwood at State Route 31 is under review as well. NYS DOT has committed to a redesign/remake of the Rte. 31, Rte., 11 and Rte. 81 intersections in 2020.
We are studying extending sidewalks from the Cicero-North Syracuse High School east to Thompson Road. This will help to keep our young adults from walking in the roadway and we’re exploring plans to keep all of our sidewalks maintained year round. We hope to have a traffic light and turn lane installed at the Cicero Commons. Working with NYS officials, we are lining up funds to get this done in the near future. We hope to have solid plans and approvals this year.
In summary, we have had a great two years. I am proud of what we have accomplished together to differentiate ourselves as a community and I’m very optimistic about our future. Let’s not forget that Cicero is now ranked in the top 20 of the most prosperous towns in Upstate New York and number one in Onondaga County. That, to me, is incredibly satisfying. My best to all in 2018.
Town of Cicero