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Happy Earth Day, Hudson!

City of Hudson takes the Pledge and becomes part of NYS Climate Smart Communities!

Over the past few months, I’ve been working on obtaining grant money for Electric Charging stations and making Hudson part of the NYS Climate Smart Communities. Two resolutions came before the Common Council last week – overshadowed by other business.

The Electric Vehicle Charger grants (totaling about $45K), available via ChargeNY   and National Grid enable local municipalities to install electric car charging stations. Similar to the Village of Lake George, the City of Hudson plans to charge $1.75/hour for vehicle charging. Grant money for these stations is offered for a limited time – there’s a pool of money, that is depleted as other municipalities apply. The charging stations, once installed, will be added into a charging “grid” and smartphone app. People driving through will know that they are there, and can stop and charge while having lunch, dinner, or walking on Warren Street. This will also be an added benefit for renters who have electric cars, who are unable to set up charging stations at home.

Last week, I parked next to an all-electric Chevy Bolt in the Aldi parking lot on Fairview. Within the next couple of years, we will see more and more all-electric vehicles on the road as car manufacturers roll out electric options.

The Hudson charging stations, to be paid for and installed with grant funds, will be installed behind City Hall at no cost to the city, and any funds collected, above a base yearly maintenance cost, will be added into the City’s General Fund.  I submitted all of the paperwork on behalf of the  City and hope that we qualify.

Additionally last week, and with a potentially larger impact, the City of Hudson took the Pledge – to become one of New York State’s Climate Smart Communities.

From the Climate Smart fact sheet: The Climate Smart Communities Grant Program is a competitive 50/50 matching grant program for municipalities. The program funds climate change adaptation and mitigation projects and includes support. Climate Smart Communities Grant Program is administered through the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.

On Friday, April 19, I attended the Capital Region Climate Smart Workshop at the Guiderland Public Library to find out more about the program and grants available.

Me, talking with my hands, explaining to other Climate Smart Communities that the City of the Hudson just took the pledge!

In 2017, through the Climate Smart grants, the City of Kingston received $750,000 for the Design and Construction of Franklin Street Complete Streets Features. This funding enabled Kingston to design and construct new sidewalks, bicycle infrastructure, and crosswalks along the entire length of Franklin Street.

In 2017, Sullivan County received $77,500 for an Organics Waste Management Plan. This enabled Sullivan County to hire and contract with a consulting engineering firm to conduct an organics composting facility and feasibility study.

Taking the Climate Smart Communities Pledge last week was the first step for Hudson, in a long grant process. The Pledge starts a point-based system and gives us access to the database, where we can document and upload our accomplishments. The more points a municipality receives, the better its chances for receiving grants. The Department of Environmental Conservation gives about $10M/year in Climate Smart (matching) grants throughout the state.

I’ve been Fourth Ward Alderman for a little over a year now. Last year, I completed the remaining High Impact Action Items for the Clean Energies Communities (a subgroup of Climate Smart) and the City will be receiving a grant of $35K for solar panels (location TBD) and funding for a residential incandescent to LED lightbulb exchange.

Within the year, I’ve attended three workshops throughout the state on solar energy, recycling, and Climate Smart Communities, networking with other government professionals. I’ve met and talked with officials from Scarsdale, NY on their composting program and now understand the logistics – what works, what doesn’t. A full scale, city-wide composting program is my goal for next year. This program will require a team/task effort and if you’re interested in being part, please let me know.

(My own personal goal, in my role as Alderman, is to bring in more funds to the City than my salary of approximately $5K/year. 🙂 With these two grants – $35K and $45K – I will have achieved that.)

Networking with other state officials at conferences proved to be very helpful – this is how I learned about the ChargeNY/Electric Vehicle grant! Someone I met at a conference said to me, “Oh, you should apply for that EV grant” and then sent me the link. I took this grant application into the City’s Economic Development Committee, filled out the forms and then sent out an RFP. We compared and decided the vendor, meet with them, and last week, wrote out the resolution for the City to move forward with the grant application and contract.

In the past year, this folks, is how I’ve learned government works – or, at least, CAN work!

First Year Accomplishments

Hello Fourth Ward!

After a little over one year of being Alderman for the 4th Ward of the City of Hudson, I have decided to run again. I am currently walking around the Ward asking people to sign my petition to be placed on the ballot.

The Primary this year is early – June 25th!  

Please mark your calendars. Thank you.

I would like to outline the following accomplishments over the past year:

  • Chair of Economic Development Committee and Tourism Board
  • Member of DPW, Legal, and Finance Committees – 5 committees/boards total
  • Completed Clean Energies Communities Grant – City to receive $35K for solar panels to offset city lighting, and LED lightbulbs for residents
  • Passed a law to increase the fine to $250 for persons leaving their pet in a car in extreme weather conditions
  • Received Bike Fix-it Station grant for Bike Trail, $1,200
  • Currently working on electric car charger grants (3 units, 6 chargers) from NYSERDA/National Grid at no cost to City. To be installed, hopefully this spring.
  • Currently working on a plan for the City purchase its power from a solar farm in Greenport. Contract negotiations currently
  • Vetted and staffed Tourism Board members for Common Council
  • Negotiated Cable franchise agreement between Mid-Hudson Cable and City
  • Attended Solar and Recycling conferences and seminars in Hyde Park and Cooperstown. Liaised with other government officials outside of Hudson and have a much better understanding of issues, grant-writing processes with personal contacts and resources available.
  • Brought parties together to fine-tooth comb the Vacancy Law and made appropriate changes after discrepancies in law were found. Raised the vacancy fee to $1,000 the first year and an additional $1,000 every subsequent year until 5 years/$5,000 max. Raised the issue with media when only one property was listed on vacancy list after several months of law passed. Now, several units are listed, adding to city revenue.
  • Submitted monthly minutes for the year for both Economic Dev and Tourism Board (except one month of Tourism board in Aug).
  • Raised the issue regarding the demolition of 6 Lucille Dr. Emailed BOE to fund demolition. The demolition funding was taken out of the budget, however this building is a nuisance. The building will now be bought, demolished, and another structure built, adding to tax base – with no city funds for demolition.
  • Created Friends of the Cemetery Group to ultimately offset the costs of Cemetery maintenance.
  • Maintained website/blog www.FourthWardHudson.com
  • Liaison between Airbnb hosts and Operation Unite for toy drive during holidays. Over a dozen gifts, including a bunk bed, was donated to city youth by Airbnb hosts.
  • Project Manager for City’s first Polar Plunge, announcer for second Polar Plunge.

Other Community-related activities

  • Organized the first Flag Day/Pride cross-participation. Pride contingent marched in Flag Day and a Flag Day Contingent marched in Pride
  • Organized Pride Parade and various LGBT events, socials, throughout the year
  • Current cookie-sale contributions to Bernie Sanders campaign (raised the maximum contribution, $2700, in 2016)

What would I like to accomplish next term?

  • Composting Program
  • Continuation on the Climate Action Items for the City, to help the City apply for more funding
  • Continuation of Cemetery project – Historical designation status/ fix fence / events and fund raisers
  • Fourth Ward Block Party
  • Apply for more grants on behalf of the City of Hudson

Keeping Pets Safe!

Last August, there was an incident of a dog in a hot car, over 90 degrees heat, direct sunlight for over an hour until the police arrived.

As part of the City of Hudson’s Legal Committee, I asked our City attorney, what were the consequences. There is a state AG Markets law that would give the man a $50 fine. I felt that that was not sufficient. I wanted a stiffer penalty.

Over the next couple of months, we created a City law, similar to the state law, but the fine is now $250. I pushed this through the legal committee and council (there was no opposition). This was recently signed by the Mayor.

This is an editorial in the Register-Star. City needs a law to keep pets safe.

In January, in New Lebanon, a dog froze to death. “Scrappy” was kept in a metal cage, no food, water, or bedding, in sub-zero weather.

It’s not right. It’s inhumane and immoral.

Now, that the law is passed, there can be an educational campaign, at least in the City of Hudson, about pets in extreme conditions. Even if the state does not have a law to bring pets inside in cold conditions, we could pass something like that in the City.

Keeping pets safe is an issue, that I feel all of us – Democrat, Republican, Independent, whatever – can agree.

6 Lucille Drive Demolition

Back in November 2018, I was asked about the status of 6 Lucille Drive by one of the residents of the street. This building is an eye-sore and a potential hazard. The roof is caving in, and it is open to the weather.

I immediately emailed the supervisor of DPW and the Chair of the DPW Committee. I learned that the funding resources to demolish the city-owned structure had not been available.

I emailed the Mayor and the others of the BOE, the Board responsible for the City’s budget. The Mayor then put together a resolution authorizing $15,000 for the demolition. This was passed by the Common Council in December.

The demolition of 6 Lucille Drive is due to take place within the next month or two, after the DPW department deals with winter storm-related activity.

BINGO and Snowpersons at the Hudson Firefighter’s Home

 On Sunday, December 16, 2018, myself, 4th Ward resident, Jennifer Belton, Peter and Robin Merante attended the FASNY Firefighter’s home for some BINGO and cookies.  Snow costumes donated by the Salvation Army.

I called FASNY and asked them “What do the residents need for the holidays?”  I was told that most would be happy with a hand-signed holiday card, and some BINGO and cookies.

I called my BINGO friends, Peter and Robin Merante, who were more than happy to help out.

I ordered firefighter-themed holiday cards for each resident.  All were signed by the ‘Hudson Elves’.

We played BINGO with the residents who won cookies and scratch-off tickets as prizes.  Scratch-off tickets were donated by Jes Cunningham Kastner and her cleaning company, Clean Images.

Says Peter Merante, “We had a really good time with the residents, and hope to do it again next year.”

 

Permanent Part-Time Raise Resolution and City Spending

Last year, the Common Council budgeted $50K towards salary raises of three City officers –  the City Treasurer, City Clerk, and Code Enforcer.  This raise increase was due to take effect on January 1, 2018 and totaled approximately $25K.  In October 2018, the raises had not been paid and a resolution appeared on our (the Common Council’s) desks to pay the raises retro-actively, in accordance with the resolution passed last year.

There was a question regarding the remaining funds from the budgeted $50K.  It was understood that the difference (about $24K) would be applied to raises for the permanent part-time employees of the City.

However, when the resolution was introduced this month, the permanent part-time employee salary increase was to be retro-active to January 1, 2018, with the total expenditures of approximately $73,790.  This was over the budgeted amount, and the difference was to come out of the Fund Balance account – which is the City’s reserve account for expenses.

I voted against this resolution.  I am in favor of a $15/hour pay increase to City’s permanent part-time employees, but feel that the raises should be retro-active for about two months – not ten –  in order to stay within the City’s approved budget, and not raid the fund reserve account.

In the Finance Committee meeting we discussed that if the City Budget was passed now, based upon the increases that each department head wants, we are looking at a 13% tax increase.    (That amount still needs to be settled by the BEA – the board consisting of the Mayor, Treasurer, and Common Council President.)

Health insurance costs for City workers – present and past – increased by about $200,000 within the past year.  A floating rate of interest on the lease/mortgage of the Central Fire Station is costing the City another $56K this year, and we expect more next year.   The increase to the permanent part-time salary employees is going to cost approximately $100K next year.

We live in a City of about 6,400 people with a declining population with no new major development to increase the tax base.

My concern is that taxes during this budget cycle will increase again.  My greater concern is that spending and taxes are increasing in relatively good economic times for the City and that we may not be prepared for a downturn in the market. 

Potential solutions to help offset these and future costs are the following:

  1. “Cobra” Street Lights –  The City should own the large “cobra-like” street lights as opposed to renting them from National Grid.  In DPW meetings, we have discussed that the City now spends about $160K/year renting the lights from National Grid, plus about another $40K in electricity costs.  If the City owned the lights (which would cost about $600K to buy them), we would save the rental costs over time. Plus, it would then make sense to replace the current sodium bulbs (that we would then own) with LED lights.  This would significantly decrease the electricity costs and triple the bulb’s lifetime.  This solution was raised by the the head of DPW and is currently being pursued by the DPW department.
  2. Cemetery Maintenance Costs – By law, the City must maintain the Hudson City Cemetery.  As people buy plots of land, funds go into a Cemetery Reserve account – not to be touched. In theory, the interest on that account is supposed to pay for the Cemetery’s maintenance.  However, over time, interest rates have gone down, and maintenance costs have gone up.  Currently, the City is “in-the-hole” for about $200-300K/year.   There is a Cemetery tour on Sunday, Oct. 28 at noon, sponsored by the Library. You can sign up by sending an email here.   I am planning a Friends of the Cemetery Group meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 30th, at 6pm at the Library.  The focus will be on how volunteers can help raise funds and volunteer.  I recently visited the Oakwood Cemetery in Troy with Peter Jung.  That cemetery – 300 acres – operates on approximately the same budget as our 70+ acre cemetery – with NO tax-payer funds!  Oakwood has a board of trustees that raises funds through various events and outreach within the community.   Other solutions such as sheep or goats, as opposed to lawnmowers and weed wackers, are in use by other cemeteries throughout the country.  This would help free up DPW resources dedicated to maintaining the cemetery, that could then be reallocated to other needful city projects such as cross walks, sewers, sidewalks, etc.
  3. Solar Panels and more efficient lighting.  Although less in savings, there are a few other projects that I am also working on for the city to help save money.
    • The City will be receiving a grant from NYSERDA for $35K that I completed as Chair of the  Economic Development Committee.  The grant has a lightbulb exchange program for residents as well as City solar panels to help defray electric costs.
    • I am working with one of our local solar energy providers to assess our lighting needs throughout the City and replace our incandescent light bulbs with LED bulbs wherever we can – parking lots, basketball courts, city buildings.

As Alderman and Chair of the City’s Economic Development Committee, I’m working with NYSERDA and the DEC on additional grant applications for the City.

Thank you, Hudson!

Hot Pet in Car Law

This past summer, there was an incident where someone left their dog in a hot parked car, over 90 degrees, in the sun, windows up.  There have also been incidents in Hudson where dogs have died.

Police in the City receive dozens of calls on this issue every year.

I learned that the City does not have a law on the books, however, we defer to the New York State AG & Markets law.  The person who leaves an animal in such extreme conditions (extreme hot or freezing temperatures) will receive a fine of between $50-100.

I did not think that this was a sufficient fine.   It is not right that an animal should suffer so much and that the fine only be $50.

I asked the Legal Committee to draft a law that would raise the fine to $250.  The second offense is $500.  The City law would be very similar to the NYS law, however the fine would be higher.

Update: 10/25/18

Last night, the Legal Committee decided to move forward with this legislation and it will be presented to the Common Council.

Once passed, I plan to do an educational campaign in Hudson regarding the new law.

Update: 12/22/18

This law was passed by the Common Council.  I hope that this law can help raise awareness that animals cannot be left in a vehicle in extreme temperature conditions.