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On Monday night at School of the Arts, Rochester Mayor Tom Richards gave his annual State of the City address.
The speech was titled Rochester: A City Transformed.
Richards said it was a unique time in the city’s history when, “We are seeing a fundamental change in our circumstances.”
He continued by saying he wanted to focus on new realities the city faced.
“They include the loss of the industrial base that was largely concentrated in the cities and was the source of stable employment for our citizens,” Richards said. “This economy places a premium on education and technical skills.”
Richards said he recognized the city’s challenges, some of which include having one of the highest concentrations of poverty in the state and a school system that is struggling.
Richards says that a large portion of the city’s budget is devoted to public safety; however, “Despite this investment and our vigilance, some of our citizens prey upon others and participate in violent acts.”
Richards commended Rochester Police Chief James Sheppard for reaching out to the community through Voice of the Citizen meetings and engaging residents through Barbershop Talks and Chief on the Street events.
He said the department is approaching crime and violence from three perspectives: “Engaging Neighbors. Engaging Young People. Targeting Gangs”.
Richards also announced a new competitive grant for neighborhood groups and organizations to work with police to try and curb violence in their neighborhoods. The residents in the area would be able to decide how that money is used.
“We're going to set aside a hunk of money and we will do it by quadrants and we will go to particular neighborhoods and let them compete for the money,” Richards explained. “It won't be a huge amount, but it will be enough to make a difference and enough to make a project.”
Richards also said he is exploring the possibility of creating more patrol sections. A study to determine the best way to deploy police resources is included in the upcoming budget.
Richards said he realized many people’s frustration when it comes to the struggling Rochester City School District but said, “There are no points awarded for trashing the district. Everyone, including those directly responsible for the district, knows that it needs improvement.”
He also said he felt there should be fewer programs that work well.
Richards said kindergartners must be taught from the beginning the importance of going to school and maintaining a good attendance record. He feels this is something parents should also know.
“We have to reinforce that the best way to show your love for your children is to get them to school.”
The mayor said he is committed to working with the school district and its leaders to improve education in the city.
Neighborhood Projects and Developments
According to Richards, there have been more than $1.7 billion dollars in public and private funds invested in infrastructure, housing and business development in the city.
“It has been a very long time since this city has seen this kind of investment,” Richards said. “It is only occurring because the City has become an active partner. For example, in real estate developments, every city dollar invested attracts more than $20 from other sources.”
Richards gave examples of different projects in all the quadrants of the city. The Fredrick Douglass Apartments and the Voters Block community in the Southwest, the Brew House in the northeast, the Holy Rosary Campus in the northwest and the South Wedge in the southeast.
Richards also highlighted Eastman Business Park. He says with everything that has happened with Kodak, “It has become critical to ensure that Eastman Business Park is maintained and can again be an economic driver for the city. I am working with Monroe County, New York State, including the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council, Kodak and the businesses located there so that we can count on it to continue to be a magnet for new and expanding companies.
Richards said he plans on releasing his budget next week and warns that there will be a shortfall in the tens of millions again.
“There are few, if any, revenues sources so there will be changes. There will certainly be things that will be impacted. There is no way we can balance the budget without impacting people,” he said.
He took the time to mention that some of the problem is a structural financial problem.
“Our transformation will require that we move away from the old politics and dependence on the antiquated property tax. Cities fund themselves with real estate property tax and real estate property tax used to work because that’s where the wealth was. If you have a city that's dependent on real estate property tax it's not going to work in today's world.”