MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. –Mount Vernon Mayor Ernest Davis stressed the importance of the community and city working cohesively, and touched on the city’s budget, which still has many residents seething in his annual “State of the City” address.
In his speech Wednesday, Davis praised many of the city’s elected officials for their hard work during his second tenure as mayor, noting that, while things may seem bleak to some taxpayers, the city could be in worse shape without the various commissioners and politicians.
Davis said that residents and merchants have become complacent in the city, and need to be on the forefront of beautifying the city and improving its reputation.
“In parts of downtown, merchants ignore trash right in front of their stores, while others think that plastering signs all over their windows will encourage more sales. We must restore the dignity of the Fourth Avenue strip,” he said. “The city is trying to take the lead in the beautification effort.”
According to Davis, 65 percent of taxpayer dollars are spent on education, but he opined that City Hall has no input into how that money is spent.
Davis said he is convening a panel to discuss how the city and school district can collaborate to devise a partnership. He hopes to assess similar models to create a “mayoral influenced system where the mayor and City Council would appoint some or all members of the Board of Education,” similar to Yonkers.
“Education is too important to just leave to the educators. The community has to buy into the education, making it a cause for celebration,” he said. “At any rate, it is apparent that some movement needs to be made toward a city/school relationship. This country cannot maintain its leadership in the world without the education of the coming generations.”
Although he believes there should be more influence from City Hall in the schools, Davis took the time to praise interim Superintendent Judith Johnson, who will retire at the conclusion of the school year after laying out a complex multi-year restructuring plan .
“(Johnson) has helped provide excellent leadership for our education effort at the right time,” he added. “More cooperation with the city was evident under her stewardship than any other superintendent in recent time.”
When addressing the city’s $96 million budget – which was a point of concern for politicians and taxpayers alike due to the 7.78 percent tax rate increase – Davis said that his hands were tied due to the city’s surplus, which is dangerously low at around $2 million.
According to Davis, when starting the budget process nearly a year ago, the auditor warned that there was a projected budget deficit that would require a 17 percent tax hike. Despite “political mischievousness,” Davis noted that he was able to trim 9 percent of that increase.
“Citizens are strapped economically and the burden is real. This past year was really difficult; it required all the creativity and ingenuity that we could muster. With that energy we were able to shave 9 percent,” he said. “Still, I knew to shave more would endanger the city’s ability to deliver services. Without the services, our strong middle class will find this city untenable.”