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Yonkers Mayor Delivers 8th and Final State of City Address
Yonkers Mayor Phil Amicone delivered his eighth and final State of the City address tonight, before a packed crowd at Yonkers City Hall.
The speech provided an overview of the City's looming $96 million deficit and a preview of the Mayor's forthcoming city budget and its deficit-reducing strategies.
The City is facing a $32 million deficit in the municipal budget and a $64 million shortfall for the Board of Education.
Amicone says the state's fourth largest city is dealing with economic conditions that demand "continued austerity and sacrifice," and that Yonkers is faced with declining revenues and a bad recession.
He blamed political grandstanding on the part of of the City Council for the five year delay in approving the Ridge Hill Development project, a move he claims cost the city millions of dollars and years of lost revenue.
The money, he says, could have been used for schools and city services, rather than it being forced to turn to layoffs and service cutbacks.
"You don't dig your way out of a hole; you have to build your way out to make Yonkers a thriving, self-sustaining destination city," said Amicone. "Up and down the Hudson River we are reclaiming Yonkers' waterfront after decades of decline and disuse and investing millions of follars to build and expand parks and create jobs."
Despite cutting the city workforce by 250 since 1997, Amicone said Yonkers needs to figure out smarter, more efficient ways of providing services. In 2011, the city is making progress as it begins work on consolidating government services between the city and school district in an attempt to save money. It's a move he admits, will take time and says the city is likely to face roadblocks due to "cumbersome state labor laws." He also said New York State pension reform is needed to control escalating labor costs.
Amicone, as he has in previous State of the City addresses, focused on the need to fix New York State's education funding formula. The state, he says pays $17,000 a year to educate students in the Buffalo School District, $14,000 per student in Syracuse and Rochester, but in Yonkers slightly more than $8,000. "We are forced to live with a state funding formula that says Yonkers children are worth $7,000 less on average than children in New York's other big cities," said Amicone.
The Mayor said now more than ever, Yonkers needs to "seize opportunities for growth" and attract new investors and businesses into the city. According to Amicone,the city's Office of Economic Development and Industrial Development agency has attracted more than 200 new businesses to Yonkers.
He said the city's crime rate has dropped 20% over the past 8 years, and that Yonkers is one of the safest big cities in the entire country. In addition, over the past six years, the Yonkers Public Schools have gone from graduating 51% of high school seniors to 87%, the biggest turnaround in the state. The city also opened four new high schools, a move he claims has led to a graduating class of high school seniors who last year earned $30 million worth of scholarships to colleges and universities across the country.
Moving forward, the Mayor expressed concerns over partisan politics. Amicone, an engineer by trade, said there is danger in "putting politics over purpose" that "allows cynical people in positions of power to rationalize all the things they do for their own personal gain."
Said Amicone, "The cynics are not the majority of us. Every day new people are moving into our city to be a part of this brighter, better future, because Yonkers is one of the few places in New York that's actually growing, alive with potential."
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