The plurality of respondents to this week's RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll say Rochester is in "fair" condition, but nearly 60 percent say the city is in better shape than it was two years ago before Mayor Thomas Richards took over.
Richards' State of the City address Monday night at the School of the Arts was his second since being sworn in as mayor in April 2011 after a special election to replace Robert Duffy, who became lieutenant governor.
A year ago, Richards said Rochester was "stable, strong and moving forward despite the expected and unexpected challenges," including a multimillion-dollar budget gap. This year's State of the City address was titled, "Rochester, a City Transformed."
Forty-four percent of readers say the state of the city of Rochester is fair, compared with 37 percent who answered good. Just 2 percent answered excellent, compared with 17 percent who said poor.
In the area of economic development, half say Rochester is in better shape when compared with two years ago; 15 percent think it is in worse shape.
The city's fiscal management gained favorable reviews. Roughly 57 percent say it's better than before Richards took over, compared with 36 percent who see no change and 7 percent who answered worse.
Nearly half of readers-48 percent-say the city's public safety is worse than two years ago, compared with 29 percent who said better and 22 percent who said unchanged.
Nearly 500 readers participated in this week's poll, which was conducted May 6 and 7.
Overall, what is the state of the city of Rochester today?
In general, how does the state of the city of Rochester today compare with two years ago, when Mayor Thomas Richards took office?
In each of these specific areas, how does the state of the city of Rochester compare with two years ago:
Mayor Richards is the right man at the right place at the right time.
—Larry Glazer, Buckingham Properties
We need more creative and positive thinking. More BIG thinking.
We need to be more business-friendly.
—Dan Cannan, Cannan Alexander & Scott
Brick-and-mortar projects do not make a city successful. The sign of a successful urban environment is one where the residents can receive a good education and the streets in all areas are safe. Without an innovative educational agenda and a proactive police force, our great city’s future is limited.
—Michael J. Lebowitz, real estate broker
Mayor Richards is using some good business plans to go forward. We need more businesspeople to help run government. They understand income (taxes) have to come from the people.
—Harold H. Ley, Rochester sales representative, Appliance Associates of Buffalo
When are we going to get it? Until we improve the public schools, nothing else matters. What is the state of a city with a school system that graduates under 40 percent? We don’t even ask ourselves if we are doing better. Does economic development, fiscal management or public safety matter if our kids can’t read, write or count well enough to feed themselves?
If you focus on out-of-town developers, the economy is fantastic. Our city government continues its build-at-any-cost mentality, which has never been a long-term solution for any city—ever. If we do not start focusing on people instead of projects, we are going to be in much worse shape than we are now.
—David Atias, Green Rochester
Every time someone comes up with an idea for helping the city and its downtown, it gets wrapped up in endless bickering and conflict. The downtown transit station, Renaissance Square, Midtown, etc., all seem to go nowhere because our “leaders” can’t agree on the time of day. In the midst of this, the city continues its death spiral as the population flees for suburbs with better schools and fewer open-air drug markets and the violent crime they create. Add the anti-business culture that neighborhood activists bring to any proposal for development, and you have a toxic perfect storm for killing jobs and investment. No wonder the city has pretty much emptied out and looks good only if you hold it up to Buffalo and Detroit.
Mayor Richards is doing a very fine job in a very challenging role. I don’t think it’s wise to change horses right now, given the scope of the issues facing the city, especially since Mayor Richards has earned another term by having demonstrated fiscal prudence, leadership expertise and the imagination to envision a positive future for the city.
—Carolyn Phinney Rankin, president and creative director, Phinney Rankin Inc.
City Hall needs to focus on much more than just balancing the budget. We need to turn around the city’s economy, and it in order to do so, Rochester needs to learn from cities that have successfully revitalized themselves. While City Hall is focused on the successes in downtown and the southeastern neighborhoods, we need to pay attention to the vast majority of the city neighborhoods that are still in varying stages of decline. We need to pay more attention to the problems that are causing people to move out of once stable neighborhoods. Enforcement of code violations and quality-of-life problems is seriously lacking. The city has focused on new downtown housing while largely ignoring the much larger population (and tax base) in the neighborhoods. We need to focus more effort on attracting and growing industrial and office employers into the city. We can’t base a revitalization strategy on a small number of new housing units focused downtown. To really revitalize downtown, we need to improve transit in order to bring more people into and around downtown without parking (and thus encourage more development).
Mayor Richards is a fine gentleman who has done a decent job with the budget using the traditional fiscal tools. However, he can’t see the forest through the trees. It appears the city is facing many millions in budget shortfalls for the coming and future years. Mayor Richards insists that we don’t need a financial control board because we are better than Buffalo; think again, Mayor Richards! Yet Buffalo has shown surpluses over recent years because of the financial control board. Mayor Richards says that a financial control board would take power away from elected officials. However, most of our elected officials have been hijacked by the big special interest groups primarily sponsored by public-sector and quasi-government unions. Buffalo had a similar problem until the financial control was instituted and took away some decision-making from irresponsible elected officials. The result is a commercial property owner in the city of Rochester pays an approximately 35 percent higher property tax rate than the city of Buffalo. It seems like Buffalo has the best of both worlds: lower commercial property tax rates and a consistent budget surplus. I think Mayor Richards should educate himself and reconsider a financial control board.
—John Rynne, president, Rynne, Murphy & Associates Inc.
It’s all about schools.
The only bright spot is private investment—solid investors making efforts to meet an upper-end housing market while taking smart advantage of available tax incentives. Poverty is up; schools are dismal; jobs are lacking; too much hunger; public transportation is pretty good, but residents have nowhere to go. What happened to the “Albany connection” with Bob Duffy? Other than her newsletter, where is Louise (Slaughter)? Even (Sen. Charles) Schumer has had difficulty finding a camera. Voters are strangely silent; politicians are padding retirement accounts; promises are generally unkept; and remarkably, voters must be satisfied because they elect from the same shopworn group of politicians who have little vision, no power and fear only the loss of their pension. Rochester gets less money from Albany and Washington than similar-sized cities, balanced only by promises of what will come next time. Aah, but we have some terrific festivals and music!
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