A new Democratic city administration will look to bring a fresh perspective to the city’s ongoing issues, including balancing a tightly defined budget and juggling various upcoming, and costly, capital expenses. Those were some of the words echoed by Rye Mayor Josh Cohn.
On Jan. 10, the newly elected mayor outlined where he sees the city’s priorities in the year to come in what he called “an annual message from the mayor”—a departure from the prior administrations’ State of the City addresses. Cohn replaced former Mayor Joe Sack, a Republican, who served one term as mayor before losing re-election to Cohn in November.
Balancing the city’s finances appeared at the top of Cohn’s list.
“I think the dominant view on the City Council is that we must act with financial caution,” said Cohn in regard to the city’s budget. “We’ve inherited a budget that leaves us little room. The prior council was prepared to rest on optimistic assumptions.”
Among those assumptions, Cohn claims, were Building Department revenues and declining legal fees.
Adding to financial pressure on the city, Cohn said, is a fund balance only slightly above—by $400,000—the threshold earmarked by the council to retain Rye’s AAA bond rating. That bond rating, which is currently the highest possible rating by Moody’s, dictates what interest rates are available to the city and therefore how expensive its debt is. With a backlog of capital projects, including Boat Basin dredging and downtown parking reconfiguration, a favorable rating could be the difference between seeing projects to fruition.
Cohn went on to detail the city’s expenses, including employee salaries, health benefits for current and former employees, as well as four open union contracts awaiting resolution.
“Our city workers contribute immeasurably to the quality of life in Rye, we honor and we respect them,” Cohn said. “At the same time, we the City Council must work within the budget we’ve inherited and within the uncertain financial environment we face. We must and will be prudent on behalf of the city present and the city future.”
In tow with the city’s financial picture, Cohn transitioned to a slew of upcoming capital projects—some new and some lingering—that will come to a head in the near future.
Among the projects listed were critical road repairs, a holistic project slated for Disbrow Park, sports field improvements, sewer infrastructure repair and replacing Rye City Hall’s ailing heating and cooling system. While grants and bolstering revenue will help, bonding, according to Cohn, will be considered.
While controversial projects like Starwood Development’s recent decision to look to sell the former United Hospital site in the village of Port Chester, and Rye Country Day School’s acquisition of a parcel of vacant land near Interstate-95 also made their way into Cohn’s address, the night’s final note ended on a mutual tone.
“In this room and in all of our dealings with the people of Rye, we will endeavor to treat you as owners and we hope that you will treat us as faithful temporary caretakers,” Cohn said. “Trying our best to work on our collective behalf.”