By STEVE JONES Staff writer
The theme of Mayor Joseph R. Fusco Jr.’s first state of the city address Wednesday will "mirror my campaign," he said today.
Fusco, who narrowly ousted incumbent Republican James F. Brown in the fall as a Conservative, has since switched to become a Republican himself. Now, six months into the job, he will present his first address at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Martin Street train station.
"The theme generally mirrors my campaign: job creation, job retention, finding ways to trim the budget, stronger emphasis on consolidation," said Fusco this morning.
Consolidation won’t be limited to the city partnering with other government like the county or the school district, Fusco noted. His main efforts so far have been internal. There’s the takeover of the former New York State armory on Black River Boulevard, which will allow the city to move its Electrical Department out of Old City Hall for sale of that building and relocation of the Parks Department field office on North Madison Street so that the site can be sold for what Fusco hopes will be townhouse construction. Fusco also said he intends to move the Hazardous Materials team’s equipment stored in the former sign shop/water shop on Black River Boulevard near the post office to the armory building too, and that he’s found interest in selling the former water shop site.
Unlike when mayors who have been in office look back on the previous year in their addresses, Fusco said he’ll only focus on 2011 to discuss "areas we’re reviewing." That means contracts, the creation of the 2012 budget under Brown’s administration last year and "references for things like parks staffing levels. You need benchmarks."
The 2012 and 2013 budgets will have a prominent place in the address. Fusco inherited the $41.2 million spending plan for this year from the previous administration, but he’s been working with the treasurer he appointed, David C. Nolan, to identify spending that can be adjusted. He said he has also had staff working to recover any grant funds that were to be used to reimburse the city on past projects. He said that headed into the 2013 budget process, a key is getting department heads to identify "our most serious needs," for example, the aging fleet of snow plows. Fusco said he wants the 2013 plan to be "a lean, mean budget. Absolutely no fat. We have to focus on just what we need to get by, at least for 2013."
What might the tax rate look like in 2013? "We truly don’t have the ability to look that far ahead," Fusco said. A key factor that remains unresolved: union contracts. Fusco arrived in office facing the task of negotiating deals with all five city unions, not just for 2012 but retroactively for 2011. Resolution of a grievance filed by one union over the previous administration’s switch of health care providers has been agreed upon, but the administration still has to address the fix as it affects the other unions. That, however, is the last hurdle before talking with all the unions on contracts. "They’ve been very cooperative," Fusco said of the unions. "We’ve been working together."
A major cost concern on the horizon is at the water filtration plant, where the city needs multi-million dollar upgrades to the filtration system, repairs to the tunnels and even more expensive federally-mandated upgrades to the storage and delivery system. Fusco said he wants to upgrade the filtration system, then tackle the tunnel work, and only then can the city make a decision on whether to use ultraviolet filters on the reservoirs or build storage tanks to replace the reservoirs.
And what about residential water meters? "Not at this time," Fusco said. "It’s cost-prohibitive, especially with all the other projects hanging over our heads." He said the up front costs to install meters are too high, the meters would be a hindrance to developers who want to build houses and he still wants to study the benefits meters would add.
Then there’s the continuing search for a public safety commissioner. Fusco recruited a retired member of the fire department, police department and Public Works to serve as a volunteer committee, but he’s been searching for one person to do the commissioner’s job. Rather than someone from one of those areas, Fusco said he’d prefer an attorney, in part because of the labor contracts and also to be able to separate themselves from the members of those departments. The search is "still a project in flux," Fusco said. He said the lack of commissioner hasn’t hampered the administration, as the mayor is the commissioner if no one else has been appointed.
The speech, said Fusco, will be "our thoughts, concerns, methods, procedures. A lot of this is theory: what I want to do and how I’d like it to end."
Residents will get a say at the event, as Fusco plans to follow the speech with a question-and-answer period.