Transforming Rochester

When I ran for Mayor of Rochester in the special election of 2011, my platform was similar to what you see here. Since that election, many of my planks have been adopted by City Hall and the County. While a future run for office may or may not be in the cards, I look forward to more of our ideas being implemented in the future.

The following are ideas we should be working for to Transform Rochester:

Development
-We Should Work To Turn Downtown Into a College Town
-There Needs To Be A Department Of Social Business
-The City Should Use Development Money To Establish Locally-Owned Businesses

The Budget
-The City Of Rochester Should Institute A Tax Assessment Moratorium

Jobs
-We Must Transform the Way the City Supports Existing Small Businesses
-We Should Create a Program That Puts City Residents to Work Under Union Supervision to Rehab Houses for Resale Rather Than Demolition
-The City’s Summer Job Program Needs To Be Improved To Employ More Kids, Thus Keeping Them Productive and Busy
-We Must Deal Fairly With All Unions. As a City, We Need To Make Sure That How We Spend Our Money Provides The Greatest Benefit To Our Community
-We Need To Accelerate The City’s Program That Creates Jobs On Urban Farms On Unused City Land
-We Must Fully Implement the Flower City Project

Crime
-The City Needs To Get Rid Of Street Corner Cameras
-The City And The Police Chief Need To Reorganize City Police Structure To Return To Community Policing
-We Need To Secure Funding For Recreation Centers To Increase Services And Hours, Thus Reducing Crime Committed By Teens
-
Concentrating On Creating Jobs For Those In Poverty Will Have The Biggest Effect On Crime
-City Hall and City Council Need To Support And Work Closer With Agencies And Groups That Help Ex-offenders Not Commit Crimes Again

Education
-City Hall And City Council Must Provide More Support To The City School District To Bolster Current After-school Programs And Restore Ones That Have Been Cut
-The City And The School District Must Find More Ways To Consolidate Services
-I am against Mayoral Control of the Rochester City School Board
-We Must Reduce Poverty So Parents Have The Time And Energy To Participate In Their Children's Education And So Children Can Believe That Education Can Actually Change Their Lives.

Energy
-We Need To Create A Public Utility In The City Of Rochester, Helping Reduce Costs For Families And Businesses
-The City Should Increase Its Use Of Renewable Energy
-City Hall Should Be Working To Replace And Convert The City's Fleet Of Vehicles To Renewable Fuels Quicker
-The City Should Be Saving Money By Upgrading All Street Lights To LED Bulbs
-We Must Work Together To Begin Producing Cheap, Clean Wind Power On Rochester's Coastline

Quality Of Life Issues
-City Hall Must Support The Police Department In Strictly Enforcing Our Noise Ordinances And Penalties Should Be Progressively Severe
-Rochester Needs To Do More To Protect Its Water Supply And The First Step Should Be A Ban On Hydrofracking
-City Hall Needs To Improve Street Cleaning
-It Is Time To Change City Hall’s Philosophy Of Treating Residents As Revenue-Makers In Terms Of Parking And Unnecessary Fees
-At Least One Rochester Parking Garage Should Be Equipped With An Electric Car Charging Station
-The City Needs To Accelerate Its Rate Of Walkable Urban Planning, Including More Bicycle Lanes
-We Must Increase Accessible, Affordable Housing With A Focus On Ownership
-The City Needs To Distribute Funds To Neighborhoods More Equitably
-The Entire City of Rochester Should Become A Wi-Fi Hotspot
-The City of Rochester Should Help Convert City-Owned Industrial Buildings To Create Centers For Local Immigrants
-We Must Make Sure There Is NO Casino In Rochester

Quality Of Government Issues
-City Decision Makers Should Increase Citizens' Access To Them Through Greater Use Of Radio, TV And The Internet
-The City Needs To Stop Promoting Illegal Laws And Activities
-City Hall Should Reduce The Police Department's Expenditures
-We Need To Change City Spending On Programs To Make Sure They Serve The Public Good Rather Than Being A Form Of Patronage
-City Government Has To Function More Efficiently

Development

We Should Work To Turn Downtown Into a College Town
With the whole Paetec / Windstream fiasco, almost no tenants are moving into the old Midtown Plaza site, Rochester is left with a huge hole in the center of our city. When the original Paetec deal was signed I was skeptical that it would ever be completed because of all the opportunities for both sides to back out, but there was nothing else in the works. This leaves us with a problem of how to develop our central city.

To make things worse, Rochester's downtown has a surplus of office space. Bausch & Lomb Place is mostly vacant and almost every building on East Main Street has empty space without a tenant that has a cut rate price tag. It is unlikely that we can attract any significant investment without major incentives which we can ill afford.

So what is the solution? Well we have a couple of advantages for building a new downtown. First there is money for a bus terminal. Second, St. John Fisher has expressed interest in a downtown Law School. Rochester already has the Eastman School of Music and SUNY Brockport's Rochester Educational Opportunity Center, so putting a law school there and enticing Empire State University back to downtown would create a central college town area. Further, the bus terminal could be made as a central shopping network like Grand Central Station in NYC if the shopping area were built with the terminal as one.

Of course all this can happen without building on the Midtown Plaza site. Even with the Windstream building, we still need more development. So the solution to this is to create a viable community in downtown. Unfortunately there are presently too few people within the Inner Loop to support significant retail and parking problems make it an unworkable retail destination. So we should plan on turning this into a workable, walkable city section with residential units, parks, and space for light retail. The connections to local colleges and transit options would make this a viable option and would then encourage retail and commercial to follow. This is a more organic growth model and one which is presently working in many other cities.

There Needs To Be A Department Of Social Business
There are plenty of resources on the internet that fully explain the concept of a Social Business.  I have decided to take this concept and accelerate the process.

City Hall, while much maligned, has incredible power in our city.  Our government leaders work from a reactive position of weakness when it comes to economic growth (e.g. Paetec and Midtown in general).  Large businesses will not save us.  By law, they operate for what is best for their stockholders.  This usually means the public good is neglected and we pay the price.

I look at true economic development not as a vehicle for people who do not live in our city to make money off of us and hope that it “trickles down”, but as a way for those who want to bolster our community be given the opportunity to do so.

Therefore, I propose that, through savings from the elimination of the Violations Bureau, an independent Department of Social Business (DSB) be created.  It is my preference that social businesses be co-operatively owned using local credit unions to help finance them with underwriting by the City for acceptable business proposals.  Though other business structures that meet social business criteria will be considered. 

As the DSB is being created, the Mayor's staff should sit down with local businesses and institutions to identify the services they outsource and develop ways we can provide them locally.  The City  would then work to create co-operative businesses to meet those needs using the DSB.  A successful business implementing this model is Evergreen in Cleveland, Ohio.

EXAMPLE:

There are several areas around the city in which abandoned houses stand next to 2 or 3 empty lots with a few inhabited apartments scattered in between.  Filling these areas with overpriced, sweetheart-deal for developers, “townhouses” that no one will move into is not a viable solution to this problem. We should use an area such as this to showcase a newly created Department of Social Business. 

An area of land in this neighborhood would be used to create a worker-owned urban farm.  The property will be sold with long-term financing to this co-operative.  City Hall will provide a low-interest start-up loan with up to two years before the group will have to begin making the first payment.  The farm will work with the City’s Horticulture Department and the funding will come from some of the money saved from eliminating the Violations Bureau.  Working with the City or another group such as SCORE, locally or the Cooperative Development Institute, nationally, the co-operative will function as its own business entity. 

Once harvesting at the farm appears eminent, the DSB will work to create other separate, cooperatively owned businesses around it such as a grocery store, restaurant, bakery, etc. 

The City Should Use Development Money To Establish Locally-Owned Businesses
Most of the $1.56 million economic development money that the City spends should be used to create a grant program where any city resident can apply for a grant to open a business in the city. The applications will be reviewed and the most promising ones will receive help from the local business and academic communities to create a business plan.  These will then be reviewed and grants ranging from $3000 to $100,000 will be given out based upon the projects’ needs and chance of success. The winners of these grants will be teamed up with mentors who will help them successfully launch their businesses. This will create between 100 and 300 successful new businesses each year which will employ a great number of people and increase the tax base.


The Budget

The City Of Rochester Should Institute A Tax Assessment Moratorium
Urban investment often carries the unfortunate consequence of gentrification which drives out the present residents in an area due to increased property assessment in the area around the investment.  This combined with the large number of people on fixed income in urban areas makes this process detrimental to areas.  Therefore I propose a limit on the increase of property tax assessments of homestead properties to no more than the cost of living increase on social security.  This would be lifted when the collecting of taxes from developers has been adjusted to be fair to the rest of us.


Jobs

We Must Transform the Way the City Supports Existing Small Businesses
Business owners are the backbone of a vibrant community.  They support civic activities, sponsor teams, are concerned about the look of the community, increase revenues, and provide valuable employment.  The buildings which house these businesses pay property taxes at double the rate of residential properties.  Yet business owners are constantly harassed and extorted for more money by the City through the Neighborhood and Business Development Department.  Using seemingly arbitrary regulations, this department has waged war on small business owners.  They use fees, fines, permits, the points system, and disruption of business as their tactics.  Our city grants privileges to national chains which it refuses to local vendors and it encourages vendor carts over brick and mortar businesses. Yet they provide little service and less assistance to comply with their rules.  Even when businesses think they are in compliance, code changes often lead to non-compliance and tickets.  Whether it is rezoning which instantly makes 30 year old signs illegal, business permits which are renewed at random times, restricted business hours for local owners but not for national chains, or tickets for entertainment which never needed it before, NBD has created a negative business environment.  Finally, the current point system discourages businesses from calling the police for minor problems, punishes them when they are victims of crime, and closes them down if they get too many points. These tactics have cost the city revenue with a higher failure rate for businesses than necessary and an early retirement rate for successful operators.

Therefore we need to:

  • Change the Neighborhood and Business Development Department so that it actually helps develop business. [One area of the Mayor’s proposed and accepted budget was sizable cuts in NBD, which reduced the numbers of inspectors.]
  • Change Zoning so that whatever is permitted does not require a permit. [Since my campaign for Mayor in 2011, Zoning has been changed with a focus on reducing non-conformities and sign regulations for businesses have become more generous.]
  • Recognize that zones for business must recognize the primacy of business activity.
  • Save more than a million dollars by eliminating the Rochester's Municipal Code Violations Bureau.
  • Streamline permits and licenses by eliminating any which overlap state licenses or have not been enforced.
  • Oversee the creation of a worksheet of city requirements for business which is clear, concise, and easy to follow so new business can comply without having to be ticketed or harassed
  • Develop businesses locally rather than give unfair tax breaks or variances to big national chains.  See my section on creating a Department of Social Business
  • Repeal the current point system which has created hundreds of vacant buildings and empty store fronts.
This will create a better environment for business and reduce the cost of regulating business activities so we can have more successful businesses in Rochester.

We Should Create a Program That Puts City Residents to Work Under Union Supervision to Rehab Houses for Resale Rather Than Demolition
The city owns roughly 2800 vacant homes, many of which they would like to demolish, but this may cost as much as $30,000 each. Although many of these homes are in areas of low property value and in need of extensive repairs, the city could effectively rehab these buildings and sell them for less than the demolition. The City should work with banks, unions, neighborhoods, and schools to create a program to train city residents to rehab these homes. The cost of rehab would be offset by resale of these buildings which would help provide affordable housing in the neighborhoods people live.

The City’s Summer Job Program Needs To Be Improved To Employ More Kids, Thus Keeping Them Productive and Busy
As a small business owner, one of the questions I get asked the most is “are you hiring?” Every year a veritable flood of students hit the streets in Rochester looking for jobs. One of the reasons students drop out of school is that they do not see any value in staying. Well we can change this. We need to guarantee a 20 hour-a-week, 10-week-long summer job, to city students. We can do this through a combination of increased summer programs for youths, urban beautification programs, the housing rehab program described above, and a hiring incentive to local businesses. The students would have pre-defined work expectations they would have to meet.

I would expect that the type of jobs for these students not only be the traditional recreational-type jobs that are so often available.  The City should provide opportunities for our youth to work in areas that promote social justice in the most depressed areas of Rochester.

We Must Deal Fairly With All Unions
As a City, We Need To Make Sure That How We Spend Our Money Provides The Greatest Benefit To Our Community. This is best done through using local labor at prevailing wage. We should insist upon project labor agreements for all projects that are possible. We should also bundle projects together in order to have these agreements affect more projects and jobs. [Since my campaign for Mayor, City Council has begun asking about the use of local labor in projects.]

Even when a private developer is just receiving some benefits the City should require they use subcontractors who have an approved apprenticeship program. Also, City Hall needs to aggressively prosecute misclassification of workers. Our Mayor needs to negotiate in a timely and forthright manner with any union that represents city employees and uphold contracts already in place. It is time for city management to stop fighting with their employees and create an environment where people whose positions are tax-payer funded work together to make a better and safer place to live for all of Rochester. [The City of Rochester finally settled on contracts with the RPD and RFD after years of going without once the 2011 Mayoral Election was over. I was the only one to speak of this in the public forums.]

We Need To Accelerate The City’s Program That Creates Jobs On Urban Farms On Unused City Land
In many sections of the city, vacant lots occupy large sections of the urban landscape. While we should try to develop these properties where applicable, some of them should be made into profitable urban farms run by co-ops of workers who sell healthy produce locally, including to our schools. I would like to accelerate the process by finding outlets for these goods such as homeless shelters and encouraging corner stores to carry the locally-grown produce as well.

We MUST Fully Implement the Flower City Project
The Flower City Project was proposed by trade unions a few years ago to get city residents into apprenticeship programs. It was a partnership between labor, industry, business and government that would allow previously inexperienced members of the community to learn what jobs in construction are like in both classroom and hands-on situations.  My program to rehab houses would fit perfectly within the FCP.  It is time for the city to get serious on this project which will help guarantee that city residents are capable of working on city building projects thus keeping money in the community.


Crime

The City Needs To Get Rid Of Street Corner Cameras
People have the perception that street cameras reduce crime, but they do not.  The City buys and maintains the cameras but they only push loiterers and drug dealers off the corners and down side streets.  They make people feel better but they do not work.  Focusing on eliminating the economic conditions that cause people to sell drugs in the street will be more effective in the long run than shiny gadgets.   Therefore, I propose eliminating these cameras and using the money saved to create more meaningful opportunities for those who otherwise would end up in our prisons.  

The City And The Police Chief Need To Reorganize City Police Structure To Return To Community Policing
Years of zero tolerance has not decreased crime while increasing many people’s distrust of the Police.  While crime rates are going down nationally, Rochester has had little relief.  It is time for a change.  We need to use our police force to focus on reducing crime rather than reacting to crime.  Fortunately there is a police strategy which does this called community policing. This strategy will require intra-department changes, inter-agency cooperation, and greater community involvement.  We will get more police on the street and greater community input into their use. It seems time to focus on the causes of crime and to muster the forces available to prevent it.

We Need To Secure Funding For Recreation Centers To Increase Services And Hours, Thus Reducing Crime Committed By Teens
In 1993, Phoenix, Arizona implemented an extended park and recreation program which provided summer activities concentrated on evenings and weekends. It focused on troubled areas and included counseling for teens. The program reduced police calls by as much as 52% in some areas. Rochester is plagued by many of the problems which afflicted Phoenix in the nineties and a similar program will have similar results here. We should create more cooperative programs between the police and recreation departments. This cooperation would provide free, expanded swimming at city pools, expanded weekend hours and increased recreation services at schools in high crime areas.  It would also add community services at the centers like counselors and social workers, and later hours on weekends. When this proves to be successful in the summer, we should seek ways to expand this program year-round, but the real success of this will be in the reduction of crime.

-ref. “Recreation Fights Crime”, Parks and Recreation March 1994.

Concentrating On Creating Jobs For Those In Poverty Will Have The Biggest Effect On Crime
The alleviation of poverty is the single most important thing City Hall should be working on as it affects virtually every aspect or our community.  The Brookings Institute has discovered that Rochester has the third highest percentage of poverty in the nation.  This is unacceptable. And a study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office released in 2007 shows that there is a link between crime and poverty.If we want to do more than just harass criminals we need to find ways to fight poverty and the best way to do this is jobs. My aggressive programs of small business creation, home rehabilitation, and student summer jobs would make a sizable dent upon the poverty rate in our city, reducing crime.

City Hall and City Council Need To Support And Work Closer With Agencies And Groups That Help Ex-offenders Not Commit Crimes Again


Education

City Hall And City Council Must Provide More Support To The City School District To Bolster Current After-school Programs And Restore Ones That Have Been Cut

The City And The School District Must Find More Ways To Consolidate Services
In 2009, the City and the School District started talks for consolidation of services to save money. Unfortunately the former Mayor’s desire for control of the schools led him to terminate these talks. It is time to continue this search for more ways to be efficient and cooperate instead of sacrificing taxpayers money to satisfy alternative policies of our leaders.

We Must Not Allow Mayoral Control of the Rochester City School District
Mayoral Control is an unfortunate alternative to our failing schools. This has been tried in a number of cities and it has had results that can be called unimpressive at best. Whether it is in Chicago, New York or Kalamazoo, mayoral control has failed to greatly improve schools. In all places this has been tried the districts have used this tool to break unions, create privatized charter schools, and open up municipal property to development and sale. Unfortunately the best these systems have been able to achieve is a few better schools which are separate and not equal. We have gone there before and it was not a good place to be. Successful districts have greater freedom with curriculum to find teachable moments for students and more community involvement. We need to leave running the schools to the democratically-elected school board and will concentrate upon decreasing poverty and finding enough funding to keep the important programs that support the goals of the district.

Most Importantly, We Must Reduce Poverty So Parents Have The Time And Energy To Participate In Their Children's Education And So Children Can Believe That Education Can Actually Change Their Lives
Studies have “consistently found home background to be an important determinate in educational outcome.” (Poverty and Education, Servaas van der Berg)  Thus one of the best ways to improve education is to improve the home lives of students. We need to find better ways to provide social, legal, nutritional, and health services to the most needy in our society. We also need to provide them with opportunities for better employment as that is the best way to improve people’s lives.


Energy

We Need To Create A Public Utility In The City Of Rochester, Helping Reduce Costs For Families And Businesses
37 different towns and cities in New York State have municipal utilities and their customers pay between a third and a half of what the rest of the state pays.  It is inexplicable why Rochester is not one of these, particularly when we already have a municipal water authority which could be expanded to handle the administrative part of these tasks. Cheaper electricity would attract business and manufacturing, providing needed jobs. Best of all, for many in Rochester this would mean a yearly savings of over $1000 in energy costs. To many this may seem like a fantasy but Fairport Village Electric already provides its customers with rates a third less. This is an idea that has waited too long and we only need the resolve to implement it.

The City Should Increase Its Use Of Renewable Energy
In many cases government needs to take the lead in order to implement change and the use of renewable energy is one of the places where this is required.  Even with all the snow Rochester has there is enough sun, even in the winter, to make solar power efficient. While the pay back time on solar cells is 10 years, putting solar systems on public buildings will help create businesses to install and service them which will reduce the costs for everyone.

City Hall Should Be Working To Replace And Convert The City's Fleet Of Vehicles To Renewable Fuels Quicker
Renewable energy vehicles are essential to our future and are inevitable.  Instead of waiting until such a change is forced upon us, government should lead the way.  By transforming our entire fleet to renewable energy it will help create the infrastructure which will encourage citizens to own and use renewable energy vehicles.  While the initial costs are little more expensive, operation costs are less and they will become even more cost effective as the price of gas rises.  City Hall should complete the transformation of the cities fleet of 1800 non-emergency vehicles into alternative fuel vehicles in the next 8 years.

The City Should Be Saving Money By Upgrading All Street Lights To LED Bulbs
Street lights are one of the many benefits of city living but they are too costly.  Private institutions are switching to energy efficient, long lasting LED lights.  These last 10 times longer, and use substantially less electricity.  Recent improvements in technology have brought the price down, so LED lights pay for themselves in less than a year. This is a change which makes too much sense not to do.  [Since the Mayoral campaign, LED lights have quietly been installed in streetlights around the downtown library as a test of their feasibility.  There has been no official announcement of this as of yet.]

We Must Work Together To Begin Producing Cheap, Clean Wind Power On Rochester's Coastline
Lake Ontario is a perfect place to put high efficient wind turbines. While the port should be off limits, Durand Eastman park would be a perfect location to place some of these cost effective, clean, and necessary energy producers.  This must be done to help with our energy needs, reduce dependence on foreign resources, and provide additional funds for the City.  Many municipalities see wind turbines as machines of art and beauty and we should as well.


Quality Of Life Issues

City Hall Must Support The Police Department In Strictly Enforcing Our Noise Ordinances And Penalties Should Be Progressively Severe
Our local noise ordinance is a joke.  Cars routinely rattle house windows at all hours of the day and night.  This has going on unabated for years.  Enough is enough.  Your jam is not everyone’s jam. City Council should revise the local noise ordinance to prohibit noise from any motor vehicle or house above 80db generally and 65db after 10pm on weekdays, 11pm on Fridays and Saturdays.  Police can be equipped with simple technology that cost under $20 (a smartphone app or other device) and should be instructed to ticket anyone on the spot breaking this ordinance.  Fines for continuous violations should get progressively higher.  This should be a priority.

Rochester Needs To Do More To Protect Its Water Supply And The First Step Should Be A Ban On Hydrofracking
Hydraulic Fracturing is one of the most damaging processes to the environment.  It contaminates the soil, air and water. While Rochester is outside the geological deposit which is presently being drilled our water supply at Candice and Hemlock lake does lie within the drilling area.  We need to enact the strongest possible protection for our water for all perpetuity as this is a valuable resource which should be keep clear and clean for our children's children.  The Mayor and City Council should be working together to enact legislation which would ban the use of Rochester water in the fracking process and prevent Rochester water treatment facilities from treating contaminated fracking water.

City Hall Needs To Improve Street Cleaning
Clean streets and sidewalks will make all residents feel better about the city they live in.  Rochester needs a more effective plan for street cleaning which covers more areas of our city.  We also need to improve Clean Sweep so it is less of a campaign event and more of a community improvement activity.

It Is Time To Change City Hall’s Philosophy Of Treating Residents As Revenue-Makers In Terms Of Parking And Unnecessary Fees
When people deal with the city government they often get the feeling that they are being treated as a source of revenue rather than as individuals.  It seems the city is always looking for ways to squeeze more money out of us through tickets, fees, fines, and charges.  This practice needs to change as much as the attitude which created it. We need to reform our government into a financially stable institution which can treat people fairly.

At Least One Rochester Parking Garage Should Be Equipped With An Electric Car Charging Station
As Rochester looks forward into the future it is time to embrace the idea of electric cars. There may be few in the city now, but with the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf being released it is time to consider the future of personal transport.  As such, there should be a charging station in at least one parking garage in the next 2 years to encourage and support the sales of these cars. The City should also look into incentivizing other, privately-owned charging stations.

The City Needs To Accelerate Its Rate Of Walkable Urban Planning, Including More Bicycle Lanes
Looking at Rochester, it seems that community development was left up to the whims of capitalism and as a result our city lacks focus and function.  It is time we embraced a development plan that envisions separate communities which are walkable.  These communities need to provide all the amenities for enjoyable urban living.  We need to turn the city into a grouping of effective communities rather than a hodge-podge of old development plans.

We Must Increase Accessible, Affordable Housing With A Focus On Ownership
The City of Rochester owns roughly 4,000 vacant homes. Rather than being used to support working families, these homes are deteriorating, attracting crime, and lowering the property values in the neighborhoods where they stand. These properties have also cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars in lost tax revenue.
When residents offer to step up and purchase these properties these individuals are often forced to struggle with the bureaucracy at City Hall.

Three years ago a city resident attempted to purchase the house at 34 King Street from the City of Rochester. After three years of waiting the resident was forced to retract his offer last month. When good, working people want to fix up their neighborhood, the government should not be allowed to stand in their way. I'm here today because I want to facilitate a new and cooperative relationship between City Hall and the residents who love this city. Together we can implement a plan of adaptive re-use and restore these properties for a beautiful future.

In order to do this, we need to find ways to speed up the purchasing process and facilitate the renovation of these buildings. You will hear opponents simply shrug off this idea and say 'it can't be done' end of discussion. But that is neither leadership nor responsible. Are we going to continue using taxpayer money for properties that are being torn down or can we sell these properties and put them back on the tax rolls?

Here is what can be done:
  • Streamline the purchasing process so that prospective buyers can purchase these houses before they deteriorate beyond repair.
  • Create an online listing of these buildings with information about purchase, price, and problems to facilitate neighbors acquiring these for rehab.
  • Work with neighborhoods to identify vacant houses and find ways to get them into the hands of owners who will make sure that they are occupied.
  • Work with federal programs to acquire these houses faster so these properties can be turned over quicker.
  • Provide assistance to people who wish to rehab these homes as long as these individuals meet certain conditions and purchase homes that the city plans on demolishing.
  • And finally, we can create a program that will use local labor to rehab these homes. This not only ensures quality labor on housing projects but also keeps local dollars in the local economy.

We should not continue to use taxpayer money to fund vacant lots. I recognize that some properties may inevitably be demolished. In these cases we should move quickly to demolish the buildings without any additional cost by using already budgeted funds for house demolition.

Selling these houses rather than using money to tear them down makes fiscal sense. Rather than tear down and rebuild- all at the taxpayer's expense- we should adapt and reuse so that we can restore our neighborhoods and look ahead to a prosperous future together. Together we can Transform Rochester so that it works for all of us.

The City Needs To Distribute Funds To Neighborhoods More Equitably
Every year, Rochester awards block grant funds to neighborhoods for development and beautification projects.  This has provided assistance to some areas and created great community spaces.  Unfortunately, this funding has not been distributed equally.  The City has an odd way of neglecting the poorest areas of our community when it comes to the allocation of federal grant money.  Presently the 14621 neighborhood is seeking to paint their first 5 service boxes while the SEAC area may not have five of them that are unpainted.  The City needs to discontinue the practice of concentrating this funding in only particular areas and instead provide equal distribution to each area of the city.  It should allocate money for projects to neighborhood groups and let them decide what they would like to do with this money.

The Entire City of Rochester Should Become A Wi-Fi Hotspot
This may be a quality of life issue, but I also see it as a tool to help alleviate poverty.  One barrier for unemployed people in depressed areas to obtain work is access to information.  That is why City Hall should be applying for grants such as the Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP) as well as to work with area businesses to provide free wireless internet in the City of Rochester.  A volunteer committee of local citizens will be appointed to develop rules and guidelines on such matters as filtering, ad content of the landing page, limitations on usage, etc.  The committee will take examples of such cities as Raleigh, Seattle, Houston and more to decide what is best for our city.  This committee should focus on our poorest neighborhoods first.

Another goal for this volunteer committee will be to help families obtain the computers needed to take advantage of the free wi-fi.  The committee will look to enhance programs that are already in place in the community that supply computers to Rochester families such as the one run by Action for a Better Community (ABC).  We will also look for qualified computer technicians to refurbish and deliver computers complete with virus software and free open-source programs.

The goal will be to have the entire City of Rochester a hot spot by 2020.

The City of Rochester Should Help Convert City-Owned Industrial Buildings To Create Centers For Local Immigrants
Rochester has a rich history of immigrants coming here and enriching our local culture and economy. While people from all over the world continue to move to our great city, over the past decade, we have gotten an incredible amount of refugees from Africa. We should be using the resources we have at hand to create opportunities for our newest neighbors to thrive in our community. Therefore we should assist these groups into converting old industrial buildings that the City owns to create a center for immigrants that has offices, short term housing, and some services they feel are essential. This will help create jobs, ease the immigration process for many residents, and lessen the burden on our already strained social services network.

We Must Make Sure There Is NO Casino In Rochester
Many people are advocating for a casino to save downtown and the Governor is working to make this legally possible. Many who advocate for a casino, particularly downtown do so because we "have to do SOMETHING."  But our something should not be an "anything."  City after city that tries to use casinos to "do something" end up regretting their decision.  That is why my plan for downtown calls for the creation of a college town.  A real plan that would keep money in the City.

Quality of Government Issues

City Decision Makers Should Increase Citizens' Access To Them Through Greater Use Of Radio, TV And The Internet
Too often it seems that our leaders make their decisions in a vacuum, separated from the people these decisions will affect and devoid of any input from residents.  This is easily fixed with all the modes of communication at our disposal. The Mayor and all members of City Council should be urged to have open dialogue using all means possible to explain what is happening at City Hall and to get feedback from residents.  They should take turns making themselves available in regular public forums in various media that should occur one a week.  There should be a monthly call in show on cable access.  City leaders should be on such shows as 1370 Connection on WXXI-AM; the Bob Lonsberry Show on WHAM-AM; and the Wake-up Club on WDKX-FM.  They should also use other internet-based media to share ideas with interested residents.

The City Needs To Stop Promoting Illegal Laws And Activities
There have been a multitude of actions by the city that have been struck down by the courts, such as the teenage curfew, administrative search warrants, and the failure to follow the contract of our firefighters.  Legal actions against these activities have been expensive and time consuming. While it might be impossible to never have an action struck down by the courts we can do much better, and need to in order to save money.  It is time to stop the avoidable squandering of people's tax dollars.

City Hall Should Reduce The Police Department's Expenditures
In the past 5 years, funding for the police department has risen 23%.  This would be acceptable if the crime rate had fallen 20% but it has not.  It is time to accept the fact that more spending on police will not make us safer.  We need better policing strategies not more police expenditures.

We Need To Change City Spending On Programs To Make Sure They Serve The Public Good Rather Than Being A Form Of Patronage
Whether it is community grants or funding for local services, our government spends a lot of money on non-governmental organizations. All of these groups have laudable goals but not all the money is spent wisely.  It is time to evaluate these groups on their impact on the community. I will review all such agencies to make sure our tax money is well spent and that these funds are getting into the hands of those who truly need them.

City residents deserve a transparent and open application process for all contracts and employment.  Using the internet and local papers to provide greater transparency to my administration, City Hall needs to avoid these deals which have characterized our government for years.

City Government Has To Function More Efficiently
In the past 40 years our city has lost a third of its population yet the government bureaucracy continues to grow.  Presently Rochester has a city employee for every 71 residents in the city.  No wonder taxes are too high.  We need to find ways to make the city’s workforce a more efficient organization without hurting the programs that make city living so desirable.

With pressing financial constraints at all levels of government, it has become increasingly difficult to raise funds for additional projects. With taxes already at high levels, our reserves spent by past administrations, our credit rating unable to support more borrowing, and pension contributions about to increase, we are in a financial bind. Fortunately there are several ways we can create revenues and grow the economy without running a deficit.

I support creating a municipal electric utility modeled on Fairport Electric.  By doing this we will lower energy costs in Rochester saving money for both residents and the city.

By rehabbing and selling repossessed homes we will save the cost of demolition. The City should also review all community programs to make sure that at least 75% of all support is going to serve the community rather than administration costs and salary. Also we will save money by using LED lights, solar panels, and high efficiency vehicles. Combined, these will allow us to maintain our commitment to fiscal responsibility and refilling our reserves.

Despite the aggressive programs outlined above, our city can not support any more taxes for working individuals. Even though we need to do many things to improve our city, we must fund them without borrowing or increasing taxes for workers.  There is enough waste and misappropriation to fund these new programs and if my Fair Tax Assessment Plan were followed, we could actually decrease citizens' taxes.

Listen to Alex...

...on Transforming Rochester on Rochester Free Radio. You can see when it's on at the Rochester Free Radio show schedule.

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