By Mark Venesky
Town of Cicero Supervisor
It is with great pleasure that I share with you this annual report on progress in our town of Cicero. When I ran for office a year ago, I promised change and progress. We have not reached all of my goals, but we have made important progress. Together with our town board, and with the efforts of our dedicated town employees, we have had a very productive year and i anticipate that we will continue to build on that success in the years to come. the following are some of the highlights from 2016 and my vision for 2017 and beyond.
Insurance costs: Getting a handle on controllable costs and building revenue has been a major priority. By successfully renegotiating our insurance coverage costs with our Insurance broker, we realized a premium savings of $66,000 in 2016 and for future years.
Workers compensation: We also instituted a comprehensive health and safety program that I’m told is unique and unprecedented in the public sector. It now covers everything from safety awareness in an office environment to formal driver training for our highway and parks team members. The result has been a higher level of safety awareness and a higher level of professionalism with our drivers and equipment operators. We are developing a lasting culture of safety that will keep our people safer and one that, so far, has enabled us to begin to control our workers’ compensation costs. In 2015, our compensation insurance carrier paid out or encumbered a total of $299,217.90 to cover work-related injuries and disabilities. With the success of this program so far, and with the cooperation of our Cicero team members, that payout and encumbrance was reduced to $20,157.96 in 2016. Sustaining that success will allow us to substantially reduce that premium cost, which now hovers around $420,000 per year. This is a “win-win.” We are not just reducing costs; we are developing a safer and better work environment for our employees.
Debt reduction: The town began borrowing money to replace lost county sales tax revenue about five years ago. This year, the town will pay $648,767 in principal and interest payments on that debt. The budget that we passed for 2017 will stop the town’s borrowing and will begin to pay that debt down. This is a major achievement and a positive step forward for Cicero’s future. As we all know, staying out of debt is the best way to manage a budget.
Business development: On the revenue side, we have set the stage for business development in Cicero. We have proactively defined and rezoned our business districts (Phase 1, Route 11 from Bear Road north to the Oswego County line, Route 31 from the Clay line to South Bay Road and East Taft Road properties around the air park). Onondaga County Planning said that this was too big a project for the town to handle in one year alone. We not only handled it, we conducted six public hearings and did it in a matter of months. We have changed our procedures internally to make it easier to do business in Cicero, which greatly reduces the cost for a business to expand or locate here. This will be very important for our future, as it will allow the town to better control the tax burden on our home owners.
With the changes implemented in 2016, we have increased our business-assessed value to almost $14 million for the 2017 tax roll year. The New York Lineman’s School, Byrne Dairy, Can-Tech Automotive, Karate John’s, O’Connell Electric and Tocco Villagio are just a few of the companies that located or expanded here in 2016. Business development will continue to be a priority in 2017, and I look forward to announcing additional and exciting new business projects in 2017.
Rezoning: For Phase 2 of our rezoning, we are identifying and will proactively rezone properties that are “non-conforming” within our town. For example, we have many properties zoned as agricultural that, in fact, do not meet the legal definition of agricultural. Because of this, the property seller or buyer would have to correct the zoning before a new mortgage might be obtained. The cost to an individual to do this (permit and legal fees) is approximately $10,000. The town will proactively make the corrections at no additional cost to our residents. This rezoning will make Cicero more attractive to potential residents and businesses alike.
Solar power: We have embraced solar power for Cicero. Cypress Creek Renewables from California will build a 20-acre Solar Farm on Route 298 near the Manlius town line. This solar farm will be the largest and first of its kind in all of Upstate New York. The power will be metered to National Grid and will be available at a reduced rate to residents and is estimated to generate $298,000 in taxes to the town and county over the life of the project. We are negotiating to bring a second project to Cicero for the latter part of 2017 or 2018. This will not only contribute to a lower cost for all of us, but it’s great for the environment as well.
We have made great progress with the hamlet of Brewerton, specifically Riverfront Park. The hamlet of Brewerton is the gateway to not only the town of Cicero, but to Onondaga County. We have successfully negotiated with both the NYS Department of Transportation and with the Native American nations to move forward with the acquisition of the two empty lots adjacent to the park. The plan is for DOT to acquire them and turn them over to the town sometime in the third or fourth quarter of 2017. Our plan is to complete work on Bennett Street this year and to utilize the state grants that we were able to secure.
We have also taken the necessary steps to begin the repair of our sanitary sewer system in Brewerton. The issue of fresh water getting into the sanitary sewer and overwhelming the treatment plant was identified more than 20 years ago. After setting money aside in our last budget and successfully securing grants, our town engineer tells us that we will remove over 11 million gallons of fresh water per year from the Brewerton treatment plant by end of 2017. This is not only great for the environment, but necessary for Cicero’s future.
We are moving along with our plan to relocate our highway department, police department and courts to more adequate facilities that will provide clean and long-term solutions to our present obsolete buildings. We’re on plan to move our courts and police department in 2017 and our highway department in 2018.
We have successfully negotiated yet another municipal agreement that will relieve pressure on the operating space of our justice courts. Instead of buying or building additional space to meet the new state requirements for our courts, we will enter into a low-cost lease with the town of Clay to use excess space at their old town hall facility. This agreement is a “win-win” for our Justices and for the taxpayers.
We have negotiated labor agreements in 2016 with our three labor unions. We have completed one and I hope to have the other two wrapped up in 2017. Two of the bargaining units have shown a willingness to work with the town on controlling cost; regrettably, we are taking one to binding arbitration.
We are continuing to work with our five fire departments to improve efficiencies and eliminate redundancies. Together, we are working on a plan that will reduce our cost while maintaining a high level of service to our residents. A major goal is to be even more efficient with your tax dollars while reducing the influence of politics and personalities surrounding fire-related decision-making. This new direction is a significant change from the past and will be a challenge to all participants to see this through to the successful new plan we need. It won’t be easy, but the important things rarely are. This is a huge undertaking and I hope to have a plan for public review by the end of 2017.
We launched a new website that we think is more user-friendly and that better reflects who we are. It allows for town information and notices to be sent automatically via email to anyone who wishes to subscribe to it. Check us out at ciceronewyork.net. (Just a reminder: we’re on Facebook too. Come ‘like’ us there.)
We successfully consolidated 19 lighting districts in our town to just five. This will allow neighborhoods without streetlights to get them faster if they want them, and identified properties that benefited from streetlights but were not paying for them.
We will continue with our road rebuilding and repaving program utilizing the Cornell Roads model for 2017. We rebuilt over 5.25 miles of roads and spent over $800,000 on them in 2016. Weather permitting, we plan to accomplish at least as much in 2017.
Senior and veterans outreach: We started a program to proactively identify seniors, veterans and the spouses of veterans in our town who may be eligible for state and county programs and monies to assist them with such things as home repairs, heating, and meal assistance. We have had three meetings in the last three months with members of these groups with encouraging results. Our plan is to accelerate our outreach significantly in 2017.
Vietnam Commemorative Partner Program: This past June, the town of Cicero joined more than 8,000 states, communities, businesses and organizations for the Commemorative Partner Program for the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. The Commemorative Partner Program assists in thanking our Vietnam veterans and their families in their hometowns. About 35 percent of veterans today are known for the service they offered to their country during the Vietnam War. Recognition events are being planned for 2017 in conjunction with our VFW and the American Legion.
Earlier in this report, I highlighted the many areas where we are improving our management of costs and moving to increase revenue, both necessary actions for the future. So, you may be wondering, “Why did my taxes go up?” Because our town cannot keep borrowing to supplement daily operating expenses. Once we lower our debt, we can reduce ongoing costs to residents. Keeping taxes artificially low did not address our problems. It unfortunately just prolonged and increased our debt. We are solving this problem, and I look to your support to get our town through this period.
I hope that I have provided some insight as to where, on your behalf, I have been focused this first year as your supervisor. I sincerely appreciate the confidence that you have shown in me and it is my intention to run for supervisor again this year. Please reach out to me with any town or business-related concerns.