Remarks of Mayor Alberto G. Santos at Swearing-In Ceremony
January 3, 2018 / Kearny Town Hall
I am honored to be before you today as I begin a new term as Mayor of Kearny. I want to express my profound gratitude to the citizens of Kearny for entrusting me with the duties and responsibilities of public service, and for giving me the opportunity to build our community's future.
I want to congratulate the newly re-elected Council Members, the professionals appointed to guide us through the year, and the citizens appointed to boards and commissions. Thank you for your dedication and service. I look forward to working with you.
I have learned much about local government during my tenure as Mayor -the most important of which is that the effectiveness of Town Hall depends on the care and involvement of the citizens that make up this remarkable community. By that I mean the many community organizations, nonprofits, churches, businesses and individual citizens who care about our community and work each day to improve the lives of residents. By that I also mean the employees who serve our Town, including DPW who is getting ready at this moment for tomorrow's winter storm, our Police Department, who promptly brought to justice the suspects in a home invasion last week, and our Fire Department who respond to calls every day, including a recent tragic house fire. Our town is truly a shared undertaking.
Each one of is here today because we are part of that shared undertaking, because we want to make our town better and improve the quality of life of our citizens. That is what unites us, irrespective of the differences we have.
We are inspired to overcome those differences by our Town's proud history, one that includes our namesake Major General Philip Kearny, of the thousands of Civil War Veterans who made Kearny home, and the many thousands of immigrants who settled in this area. Since our founding in 1867, Kearny has been a crossroad of cultures - from the Scots who came when Clark Thread of Paisley, Scotland opened two mills here, to the many who came in the succeeding years from around the world - from Sweden, Lithuania, Italy, Japan, Portugal, and virtually all countries in the Americas including Peru, Ecuador, Brazil and Mexico. We are a vibrant and inclusive community composed of people of diverse cultural traditions and faiths, of young and old, of immigrants, first-generation Americans, and those whose families have lived in Kearny for many generations. We thrive because of our diversity.
Our task is to honor our history by rolling up our sleeves and working together - we have lots to do.
Our first priority is a community safe from crime and fire. Safety is critical to the quality of life we enjoy in our homes, parks, neighborhoods and businesses. Historic lows in crime rates are a testament to the men and women of the Kearny Police Department. Our Fire Department is able to timely respond to fire emergencies anywhere in the 10-square miles of our town, from the tip of South Kearny to the northern boundary at the Belleville Turnpike. We will continue to invest in our town's public safety so that our police and fire departments have adequate resources including the latest camera and software technology to keep us safe.
Quality of life is also a function of the parks, playgrounds, streets and libraries that residents can enjoy. We've invested millions in infrastructure and public spaces since I've become Mayor. In the past two years, we repaved several miles of roadway with State Transportation, Community Development and PSE&G funding, completed the construction of a dog park and renovated Pettigrew playground in the 1st Ward and Hickory Street Park in the 4th ward. Our biggest public space challenge still lies ahead of us but is now within reach -the complete reconstruction of the Gunnel Oval facility, which includes elevating the site, turfing all fields, and building a storm water drainage system and pump system so what happened to the facility during Hurricane Sandy does not happen again. This
$25 million project will be funded through multiple sources, including the State's Green Acres fund and Environmental Infrastructure Trust, and the County's Open Space fund. Designs are ready to go out to bid on the largest park infrastructure project in the town's history.
Another infrastructure project that is also now within reach is a new storm water pump station to alleviate the frequent flooding in the Schuyler Avenue neighborhoods of Devon Terrace, Hoyt, Tappan and Dukes Streets. The residents of this area have waited too long for relief. We owe it to them to get it done.
Quality of life for most in our community also depends on affordability. That means doing our best to have stable property taxes. Since becoming Mayor 18 years ago, our annual municipal spending has risen approximately 2% a year, less than the rate of inflation during that period. Even in the face of sharp increases in costs outside of our control, we were able to restrain budget increases through staffing reductions and increasing the property tax base.
The frustrating part is that municipal taxes have gone up by more than the rate of the town's spending growth rate of 2% a year. The primary reason for that is because the State has taken moneys that should be allocated to municipalities to balance their own budget. The account most raided by the State is Energy Taxes, which are paid by utilities such as Public Service and Verizon to compensate those municipalities that host utility facilities. The State has also siphoned revenues from the UEZ Trust Fund, which are generated by sales tax revenue in communities like Kearny. In short, the State has been balancing its budget in part on the backs of municipalities and municipal taxpayers. While the Council and I will continue to be vigilant with expenses and do our best to restrain property tax increases, we are hopeful that the new Administration in Trenton will restore moneys that are rightfully ours.
The Council and I will also continue to grow our tax base through responsible redevelopment of underused commercial and industrial sites. The next phases of the Vermella Housing Developments on Bergen Avenue and Passaic Avenue will open later this year. The transformative Kearny Point development in South Kearny, a 7-year, $1 billion project to redevelop the 130-acre site of the former Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock facility into a variety of flex commercial and creative spaces, will continue this year with the dpening of Building 197, a 200,000 square-foot facility. Of note, the first building renovated as part of this development currently hosts 175 small businesses, many of which reflect the modern, internet-based economy, creating jobs and revitalizing the region.
Quality of life in a community also means having access to reliable mass transit options for residents to commute to work or school. One of the reasons for the economic divisions in our State is the commuter rail system, where the haves and have-nots frequently correlate with which municipality or neighborhood has or does not have commuter rail access to job centers such as New York City. The lack of rail access disproportionately affects blue-collar communities like Kearny where the hours and gas money saved on public transportation could make a meaningful difference. The Council and I will continue pointing out this inequity to our State and County leaders.
Finally, quality of life in a community depends on the critical intangible of being inclusive and welcoming those who want to join. That has been Kearny's history a place where people of different backgrounds can live and work together in
pursuit of their dreams. I see that intangible every day throughout the year, at events like UNICO's Christmas party for developmentally disabled clients at
Pathways to Independence, at neighborhood block parties during the summer, at our annual parades, at our commemorations for Memorial Day and Veteran's Day, at our 4th of July Fireworks Celebration, to name a few. Our community is diverse, vibrant and strong.
I am proud of Kearny and hopeful for its future. As we begin a new year, let us continue working together to better our community and improving the lives of our residents. Each one of us serves this community in trust, not only for those of today, but also in honor of our forebears and for the residents of tomorrow and of generations to come.
May the New Year be healthy and prosperous for all. May God bless our Town and the United States of America. Thank you.