I would like to present a briefing, on our Town’s accomplishments, for this past year. I am pleased to report that were able to bring the 2013 Budget in under the 2% Tax Levy Cap, as mandated by Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. As required by law, I prepared a Tentative Budget and respectfully submitted it to the Town Board, residents and taxpayers for review prior to its adoption by the Town Board. Preparing an annual budget is an important task and many critical factors must be considered. Services, that are essential to the health, safety and quality of life of our residents, are weighed against the cost of these services and the ability of our taxpayers to manage the associated expenses. As with most municipalities’ budgets, our budget posed its own set of challenges. I believe the Town Board has acted responsibly in developing strategies and cost saving measures that will benefit our entire community. In an effort to reduce spending, the Town Board commissioned a study to compare the municipal expenses of our neighboring municipalities and as a measure to reduce our own employee related expenditures. We are in the process of streamlining our healthcare costs and continue to negotiate union contracts in good faith.
This past year Harrison experienced many positive changes, but we have been met with challenges, too. Hurricane Sandy presented the most significant event since I came into office. The magnitude of this storm was unprecedented and most Harrison residents were affected. The response of Town personnel was beyond compare and all of Harrison’s emergency responders did an outstanding job. Our Department of Public Works, Fire Departments, EMS and Police Department worked long hours to insure that roadways were cleared for emergency vehicles and utility companies. After the storm, I was in daily contact with Con Ed, helping to restore power. Although the liaison, designated for Harrison, was very helpful, the utility company lacked preparedness and was inconsistent with coordinating their manpower. My daily emails and robo calls gave residents up to date information, as I received it from the various utility companies. Recently, I met with Con Edison and other Harrison officials in an effort to assist Con Ed in developing strategies that will improve their emergency response system. Through the Town website and my weekly Mayor’s Column, I have, and continue to, keep the Town informed of FEMA’s storm damage relief options, including disaster loans and grant assistance.
In an effort to keep our entire community informed of urgent matters, our Town web site contains a link for residents to add their contact information so that, in the event of an emergency, they can be notified through emails and robo calls. I urge everyone to take advantage of this option.
This past year, the Assessors Office brought to completion the re-organization phase of a project designed to streamline many of the office’s functions. The new system consolidated 82 years worth of assessment records, making it simpler to locate historical records. The next phase of this project involves scanning sketches in to the computer data base and should be completed sometime this year. In addition, the Assessor’s Office web page, on the Town’s new website, includes a link that brings users directly to Westchester County’s GIS system allowing for a more expedient notification process for individuals who file permits. Goals for the upcoming year include the creation of a kiosk for public viewing and the continuation of inventory updating into the new assessment software system. This will ultimately provide users the assessment data, online.
2012 was the busiest year, on record, for the Harrison Town Court. Over 11,000 cases were handled by the Court during the past calendar year. These cases included traffic, civil and criminal matters. In an effort to accommodate the increased case load, the Court purchased its own Internet address, to easily disseminate information on court procedure and practices. This website averages over 1,000 visitors each month. In addition, the Court is now fully compliant with the Office of Court Administration’s Record Retention Policies and has streamlined the archiving of records, due to the installation of a new Space Saver Filing System.
After an in depth review of office procedures and practices, the Town Clerk redistributed functions and eliminated antiquated practices in an effort to save time and provide faster and more reliable services to our residents. The Clerk’s Office saw increased revenues by 29.6% without raising fees and reduced their operating expenses in the 2013 budget, while increasing services. To accommodate all our residents, the Town Clerk instituted evening hours at no cost to the tax payer. This will allow the Clerk to assist residents who are unable to access the office during normal operating hours. A No Knock Registry was established in an effort to prohibit door-to-door solicitors from promoting their messages and merchandise at residents’ front doors. Within the first five months, over 1,000 residents signed the registry.
Another new project, generated by the Town Clerk, is our new website. This new feature provides residents with an easy to navigate site and also allows live viewing of the Town Board Meetings. The site also includes an App so that it can be viewed on mobile platforms including smart phones and IPads.
The Engineering Department has seen the completion of several important projects. Pumps, electrical service equipment and a generator have been newly installed at the Brae Burn pump station, providing a more efficient and economic sewage collection system. A conceptual master plan design was generated for the Halstead Avenue Streetscape as well as for Ma Riis Park, envisioning a new look for two prominent areas in Town. In tackling an ongoing problem, the Department also upgraded the drainage system, in one of the main waterways, that runs under Nelson Avenue and the LMK parking lot.
In an effort to expand the Town’s pavement management program, the Engineering Department incorporated various pavement preservation techniques into those already used. The new resurfacing method, recently employed in certain neighborhoods, will ultimately provide quality roadways, while optimizing the cost effective use of our resources, by treating a greater number of roadways for the same economic expenditure.
The Three Dams Project is progressing on schedule. This flood control project will consist of the construction of three dams and a stream diversion and will be situated in the wooded area between Genesee Trail and Harrison Avenue. The project will utilize undeveloped land to store and manage flood water flows during the course of significant storms. In turn, it will reduce flood impacts and decrease damage and hazards downstream.
Upcoming projects include the design of the Winfield Avenue and Cottage Avenue Pump Stations. In addition, the Grant Street Extension and Forest Lake Drive will be opened in the near future.
Our Department of Public Works has been busy, as well. The Town has purchased a new street sweeper and this acquisition was much needed and long overdue. We also received a new Elgin Megawind, a truck mounted vactor used to clean out debris from catch basins and sewers. This vehicle replaced the old unit which reached the end of its useful service life. The Town also ordered a new side loading automated sanitation collection truck. The expected delivery date is sometime in May or June and the automated collection program will rollout in this summer, on a limited basis, in selected areas.
Sidewalk repairs were completed at multiple locations including, but not limited to, Halstead Ave. Sidewalks were also repaired on Macri Ave, Purchase Street, and Heineman Place. In addition, new trees were planted at some of these locations.
The Brae Burn Pump station was refurbished through the installation of new pumps, electrical service, controls and a new emergency generator. In addition, two new mobile emergency generators were purchased to service Town Buildings and facilities in the event of power outages.
This past year, DPW instituted new policies, procedures and employee training in accordance with the Town's Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan and Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure Plan.
DPW successfully executed an alternative method to preserve our roadways while extending our monetary resources. The pavement preservation technique, known as “Cape Seal”, is an alternative, (with a cost savings of approximately 50% - 60%) to the traditional mill and overlay. The use of this methodology will allow us to keep the life-cycle cost of maintaining our roadways low while maintaining serviceability and user satisfaction.
The Harrison Police Department was involved in several major crime cases in 2012. The criminal cases required a lot of hard work and dedication and, through excellent use of investigative tools and techniques, the Department was successful in solving them. Recently, the Department has started using In-Car Computers (to produce paperless report writing) and License Plate Readers. School security has also been a focus. The tragic event in Newtown was felt by our entire nation. Harrison police officers were present at all of our schools immediately following this incident and the Town Board continues to work with the Police Department and the Superintendant of Schools to insure the safety of all of our children. The Department has started establishing and implementing concepts that will enhance emergency communication devices in all our public schools. The D.A.R.E. Program continues to be offered to Harrison students and the SRO program has been reinstated in the High School and Middle School. In addition, 5 new additional police officers were added to the Department.
2013’s projects are in development. The Police Department is moving forward with the planning stages of our Emergency Operation Center project, which is primarily funded by the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services. In addition, several grants have been awarded to the Department: Selective Traffic Enforcement Program (STEP).-This grant is currently underway and pays for officers to conduct vehicle and traffic enforcement on roadways where there are higher incidents of accidents, Buckle Up New York (BUNY)-This grant will soon be going into full swing and focuses on seatbelt enforcement, Stop DWI Grant.-This grant focuses on drunken driving enforcement. We have received approval to move forward and funding is received through a five year contract with Westchester County. The Department is also in the process of implementing a Child ID system and plans on hiring 3 new Patrolmen.
Harrison’s Community Services Department continues to assist low income families realize and maintain self-sufficiency. Although Food Pantry participation has increased, the Department is able to continue providing food, to all their clients, through donations or items purchased with grants and monetary contributions. Through grant writing alone, $8,000 in credit was given to Harrison by the Food Bank for Westchester. In addition, a new double freezer and a new single freezer were awarded at no cost to Harrison taxpayers. Organizing food drives, throughout the year and around the holiday season, also keeps the Food Pantry opened and operational. This year, collaborative efforts with the Harrison Association of Teachers allowed the Department to supply children with backpacks and all necessary school supplies.
Through fund raising efforts, the Department was successful in reaching out to private donors and religious and civic organizations. The 2012 Holiday Project enabled the Department to provide gifts to families in need. In addition, through job coaching and placement, the Department was able to assist several individuals gain employment in the fields of public health, food service and home care.
The Town’s Recreation Department continues to offer an array of programs for residents of all ages. New programs include Mad Science, Irish Dancing, Pottery Class, Ballroom Dancing and Kids Engineering Class. Adult lap swimming has also returned to the schedule. In the future, the Department hopes to develop a new selection of classes that may include children’s yoga, music programs and child/young adult cooking classes.
Harrison is currently in the final phase of updating its Comprehensive Plan in an effort to officially establish a well conceived and enduring vision for the future. This revised edition will replace the 1988 Plan in order to better reflect Harrison’s current planning framework. The update process focuses on resolving the remaining planning issues since the 1988 update, identifying and resolving critical new issues and incorporating any new Town projects in to the Plan. We are working closely with consultants as we review resident input.
Through a range of land use, zoning and administrative initiatives, Harrison has recognized the importance of capital improvements, expansion and repurposing. Through the efforts of our dedicated and hard working Boards and Town personnel, Harrison has attracted and accommodated new uses to our office parks. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is in the process of renovating the former Verizon building on Westchester Avenue into a state of the art outpatient facility. Fordham University has renovated vacant office space to accommodate a new campus and Lifetime Fitness recently broke ground on a 200,000 square foot state of the art fitness center, thereby replacing the former Gannett Newspaper building.
Recently, PepsiCo renewed its commitment to Harrison and will be renovating the company’s worldwide headquarters in Purchase. The steps being taken to modernize this facility will ensure that PepsiCo remains a first-rate organization and valued presence in Harrison for years to come. The Town Board recently granted a special permit for Morgan Stanley to install a ground mounted solar field at its Purchase facility. Technology provides an alternate energy source, thereby significantly reducing the company’s demand and we applaud their efforts. Westmed Medical Group has just announced that it is in negotiations to open a new office in Harrison. The proposed full service medical office will include primary care physicians, specialists, an urgent care center and radiology services.
In keeping with the goal of revitalizing our municipality, through creating an environment where our residents and businesses can continue to flourish, I am happy to report that the Town Board and the Harrison Public Library Foundation will be collaborating on a renovation project for the Downtown library building. This state-of-the-art facility will provide a wonderful meeting place for our entire community and I look forward to working with the Foundation as this project moves forward.