Tonawanda News — North Tonawanda Mayor Rob Ortt recapped his first four years in office and described his vision for the years ahead during his annual State of the City address Wednesday, the first since winning his second term in November.
The mayor highlighted a throng of achievements he said took place under his charge since 2009 — when the Republican first shocked the political establishment capturing North Tonawanda’s top seat in the predominantly Democratic stronghold to become the youngest mayor in its history — citing “numerous new businesses and economic development initiatives,” a tough fiscal policy that caused a 17 percent reduction in the city’s workforce, the creation of 600 jobs and “most importantly optimism about our city’s future.”
The address, delivered at Webster’s Bistro and Bar in front of a crowd of 40 supporters, underscored a plan to begin rehabilitating the city’s infrastructure, with more than $1 million earmarked for sewer and water projects in the 2014 capital budget, and the use of a state-backed initiative called “performance contracting” to cover the costs of upgrades on municipal buildings.
“These are projects that we need to do not only for savings but for the long-term health of our public buildings and infrastructure,” Ortt said, also noting the plan would mean “a zero budgetary impact for taxpayers.”
Ortt often returned to the theme of fiscal conservatism that he said has saved the city $2.3 million through government workforce reductions over the last four years and $1.7 million by consolidating the North Tonawanda police dispatchers in 2012 with Niagara County.
He noted that in the coming years, the city will also begin a push toward additional consolidation measures, including a long-discussed plan to share water services with the City of Lockport and opening up some city services to privatization that Ortt indicated may be more cost-effective.
“The taxpayers of this city can know that we will continue to look at all of these options and others to make sure we continue operating your government in a smart and efficient manner,” he said.
On the development front, Ortt said the city would use a template that allowed the slow resurgence of Webster Street to launch the turnaround of another main thoroughfare, Oliver Street, which has seen a surge in crime and the flight of business during the last several decades.
But with $200,000 in state funding acquired in December for facade and interior work on buildings and businesses, which Ortt said would take place between Wheatfield and Schenck streets, the city will build on recent momentum in the Buffalo Business Park and a smattering of local businesses that have remained.
“I am hopeful that we can use it to a similar effect to begin to bring back Oliver Street and make it more welcoming and business-friendly,” he said.
Ortt said by the spring, the Meadow Drive expansion project would be complete, opening an avenue between the city’s central business district on Payne Avenue and Niagara Falls Boulevard. The $2.3 million renovation of Durkee Bridge, the only connector to Tonawanda Island, would also be wrapped up at that time.
Ortt rounded out his 25-minute address announcing the start of a volunteer program March 1 to assist North Tonawanda veterans, called “Veterans Helping Veterans.” The venture will use a range of organizations and a support network to help veterans with transportation, paperwork “or just talking over a cup of coffee,” said Ortt, who served in Afghanistan.
“The idea of veterans helping veterans came out of the notion that veterans form a brotherhood,” he said. “Regardless of age or branch of service, sometimes it takes a brother or sister who has worn a uniform to understand what we are going through.”