Friday, February 26, 2010

Newburgh's Latest State of Emergency

Right now, as I write, the City of Newburgh is in it most recent state of emergency. This time it is the mother of all snowstorms. The Acting City Manager Herbek is AWOL. Platt of the Water Department is AWOL. And George Garrison, the head of DPW, is neck deep in whiteness.
Garrison is left to run a city, plow the streets and coordinate an impending disaster by himself. I have a lot of confidence in Garrision, but I think it would be best if he could handle one crisis at a time.
During my campaign for County Legislator last year, I became aware that the County of Orange would no longer be plowing Broadway. I made it an issue of concern and did a little research on how the City of Newburgh lost this very important perk from the County.
This is the story as reported from reliable sources:
First as background, you should know that the County found the funding to pave Broadway in 1996. Then Mayor Audrey Carey and City Manager Harry Porr were going head to head about who should take credit. I will give the credit to Carey because she seemed to have a better rapport with then County Executive Joseph Rampe. The funds were available through a Federal Program and Carey did lobby for it. So we got Broadway paved. Amen.
Next, there was a suggestion to have this main corridor plowed on an annual basis. This was no doubt a big perk from the County that typically looked at Newburgh as a cross-eyed, red-haired stepchild. But behold, it happened. The County agreed to help Newburgh by paving Broadway for 10 years. I believe this was in 1996 also.
Ten years pass, and now my friend, Ed Diana, is County Executive. Diana loves Newburgh. He is the main politician behind moving the Department of Motor Vehicle to Broadway and establishing the County Building there as well. Diana was also the main proponent of putting SUNY Orange in downtown Newburgh.
When the 10-year agreement to plow Broadway ended, Diana extended the process. For the past three years, the County kept a plow machine down at the Newburgh DPW on Pierces Road. They drove a driver over to that machine and efficiently plowed Broadway. Sometimes they used several operators depending on the snowfall. This arrangement cost the County money while Newburgh saved a big expense in manpower hours.
But this year, the County ended the plowing. It fell apart last year during a meeting with City and County officials about SUNY Orange. Then City Manager McGrane and Mayor Valentine proposed a park in front of the college of Broadway and other perks. It was not in the plans and would have added an extra expense for the projects. The County got sick of being hen-pecked by this duo and decided to pull back. At that meeting, it was decided that Newburgh was on its own. And the plowing of Broadway was discontinued.
This is what happens when children bite the hands that feed them; they lose some benefits. And when politicians bite their benefactors, we all suffer.
Last fall, I asked George Garrison if his department could handle plowing Broadway and the side streets. He gave me the confidence that his boys could do it. I don't think he anticipated this level of snowfall in such a short period of time. Nor did he expect to have the weight of the entire city on his shoulders either.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Case Study: Newburgh ZBA vs. Kaplan

Last week, the Zoning Board met. There was a quorum, so they proceeded to hear cases.
To the table steps the biggest philanthropist and developer in Newburgh, Mr. Bill Kaplan. If there were ever a more solid citizen of Newburgh, Mr Kaplan is the poster boy. He has donated millions to St. Lukes Cornwall, Mount St Mary, SUNY Orange and other civic organizations.
It was reported to me, that Mr. Kaplan came to the ZBA to ask for a variance for 160 parking spaces on his property. That parking was to accommodate the condominiums proposed to be built on his property around the Regal Bag Building. I understand that he will eventually turn that building into apartments.
I have no doubt that Mr. Kaplan made an excellent presentation. But the ZBA could not find it possible to approve this project because they did not have all the members present. So Mr. Kaplan will have to wait until next month to move forward with the project.
By the way, the property is now assessed to pay $160,000 in taxes. After improvements, the city will be compensated with nearly 2.5 million a year in taxes.
Now, I am suggesting that anyone should a get carte blanche treatment at a municipal board. But we should recognize and honor the local individuals who have a history of stellar work and propriety.
I hope project is approved next month without any fanfare and grand standing.

Herbek addresses Newburgh Developers Group

The Newburgh Developer’s Association and I have something in common: our hiatus is over. After three years plus, the NDA met today for their monthly lunch meeting. After three months, I am finally writing in my blog.

Today’s NDA meeting was held in the most appropriate of locations: Christine’s on Broadway. This jewel of a restaurant in the midst of a blighted lower Broadway has long needed such attention. The owner, Jim Moss, put his time, energy and wealth into this downtown establishment based on a belief in Newburgh's redevelopment. That belief is still to be realized, while his restaurant is a reminder of how the rest of Broadway could look to those who still hope for Newburgh's redevelopment.

The NDA started its meetings in 2000 when the city was between city managers. Just like now. NDA founder Gerry Sanchez announced that this was the 85th meeting of the organization. The NDA suspended operations and was dormant for three years. Along the way to this meeting, Sanchez survived three strokes, yet his energies are undaunted. Some would say 'you can't keep a good man down.' Whatever way you look at it, I hope Gerry stays around to continue in Newburgh's redevelopment.

RJ Smith, the most prominent real estate broker in Orange County, made an excellent presentation on the need for more homeownership in Newburgh. The data on homeownership is quite bleak in comparison to other cities. Newburgh has about 30% homeownership, while even Middletown maintains 54% homeownership. 64% of Americans own their living space. Smith suggested that by increasing homeownership, especially in multi-family properties, the city could rise up from its current state of affairs. Amen.

The acting City Manager Richard Herbek addressed the audience as well. He spoke of his background and 39 years of experience in municipal governance and his first six weeks in the job after finding there was not enough money to make payroll. No doubt, he has the contacts and acumen to resolve our problems. Yet, his presentation was not as crisp and clear, as I would have enjoyed. Then came the questions, rumors and innuendos.

The biggest rumor was that he refused to take the job of City Manager because he did not agree with the terms. The audience voiced concern that there is no stability in city government, a familiar and recurring concern. Herbek explained that the City Council opted to go ahead with a new search and that was their decision. He said he would stay in what he called “the biggest challenge of his career.”

Herbek announced that the City was offered to buy the Armory property on South William Street for $1. He said some city departments may go there or a recreation facility. He mentioned a recent meeting with the YMCA which brought concern from some audience members that other recreation organizations would not be given an opportunity to make a bid.

My question was concerning the taxpayers of Newburgh. I asked why would the city use a large, basically free parcel of land for city departments and recreation when we need to expand our tax base. That property would make a great corporate park or industrial site that could provide jobs and some tax relief for those of us paying the 35% tax increase due to the city's fiscal irresponsibility. I asked Herbek to consider using the Orange County IDA and Orange County Partnership to market the property and find a suitable tax-paying corporation.

Herbek responded that the city was offered the property and had until May to make a decision to acquire it. I then jumped up again and asked how could the city acquire another piece of property when it cannot take care of the properties it has taken in tax foreclosures.

Herbek's final response was that it was the City Council's decision to acquire the property and if it did, the city could not sell it at a profit. YIKES!

I will say this a thousand times: The City of Newburgh is not a developer!!!! It is a municipality. It has municipal responsibilities that it does not fulfill: security, infrastructure, and fiscal propriety. It needs to relinquish all properties it owns not acquire new ones. Show me one project the City of Newburgh has developed to completion and I will swim the Hudson River.

I left the meeting without chitchating with the remaining attendees. I had an appointment to do loan modification and tax grievance for a client who can't afford Newburgh's taxes.