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Supervisor’s Column for July 8, 2020:
The unique configuration of the Department of Public Works (DPW) in Webster
My guess is that if you asked 100 Webster citizens to describe what the Department of Public Works does, you'd get 100 different answers. Truth be told, if I were asked that question a few years ago I would have struggled with the answer. Understanding the unique nature of the Webster DPW compared to other towns in Monroe County is foundational to describing what they do. The DPW in most towns oversees the Sewer and Highway Department functions. They also oversee the town-owned facilities such as town hall, court buildings, etc., as to their mechanics and maintenance. They issue building permits, do inspections of projects the building permit was issued on, oversee code enforcement, animal control, and the Fire Marshal, and have engineering experience to assist the Planning Board on reviewing developer's engineering drawings. Usually there is a DPW Commissioner that oversees all the various functions the department is involved in, and has Deputy Commissioners that report to her or him to handle major segments like Sewer and Highway.
Webster is unique in that it has three separate departments for Highway, Sewer, and DPW, with each of those Department Heads reporting to the Town Supervisor. This configuration evolved over the years for a myriad of reasons. For one thing, Webster has a sewer plant, pump stations, and collection system of main lines. All other towns in Monroe County now only have pump stations and collection systems. That fact alone makes sense as to why the Sewer Department in Webster would be segmented off from DPW. Another reason for the uniqueness is that Webster has an appointed Highway Department Superintendent where many towns in New York elect their Highway Superintendent. In Webster, the Highway Department among many things maintains the roads, plows the roads, does leaf pickup in the autumn, and handles drainage issues for storm sewers and retention ponds
Two of the main challenges of this three department configuration are as follows; 1. Possible customer service issues: If a citizen calls, e-mails, or stops in a Town facility to inquire on an issue they are encountering, they may be reaching out to the wrong department. For example, if their storm sewer is backed up after a heavy rain, it would be understandable to have them reach out to the Sewer Department for remedy. Unfortunately, storm sewers are handled by the Highway Department and not the Sewer Department. 2. Potential lack of project oversight leadership: ALL major projects in Town such as housing subdivisions have involvement of DPW, Highway, and Sewer staff. There may be a list of 25-30+ different tasks, inspections, etc. that need to be done in making sure the project is built to the standards laid out in the plans and approved by the Planning Board. Those tasks and inspections often are sequential in nature and need quarterbacking. Since none of these Department Heads reports to the other, a void can occur. Currently it is on the Town Supervisor to make sure these three departments work in concert on this.
These challenges are something the three Department Heads and I are addressing currently to make sure that Webster's unique DPW, Sewer and Highway Department configuration do not have unintended consequences to the Webster Citizens. As always, please feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
July 1, 2020:
The greatest influence on my conduct as Town Supervisor
The date of this Webster Herald edition is July 1, 2020. For me, it marks the 1-year anniversary of my father's passing. I'd like to take this opportunity to tell you a little about my father, Bob Flaherty, and the legacy he left. It might help to explain the manner in which I approach being Town Supervisor as it pertains to addressing both people, and the issues I come in contact with.
My dad was not a political person, although he was extremely involved in Irondequoit where he lived for over 55 years. He had an ability to look beyond Republican or Democrat and accept people for what was in their heart and their intentions. He backed Republican Supervisors in Irondequoit in the 1990s like my father-in-law Bill Dillon. However, he was very fond of Dave Seeley, the current Democratic Supervisor in Irondequoit. From my relationship with Dave, I think the fondness was reciprocated.
He was my main influence in the simple mantra of "work hard and tell the truth and things should work out". If you think about it.... laziness will be vetted out over time, as will lying, or being two-faced. But working hard and telling the truth will ultimately be respected by all. He saw it as foundational to trust. As to "trust", my dad approached people with a "blank canvas" and no preconceived bias, regardless of gender, age, race, or education. He believed and embodied the idea that you "get what you give" and he gave everyone respect immediately. I truly believe he detested the thought of anyone being disenfranchised and took extra efforts to make sure it did not happen on his watch. People saw it, experienced it, and loved him for it.
He worked hard.... he played hard. His family and friends were so important to him. We marveled at the "balls he kept in the air" even into his late 70's before he got sick. He was still working full time in the Insurance business, owned and managed real estate, and was omnipresent working and helping his adult children at their house projects. He was a reliable and a positive influence on any situation he was put into.
Maybe the most amazing thing was that he always was joking around to the point where you thought he still acted like a mischievous teenage boy even in his 70's. I saw first-hand when people mistook his congeniality for weakness, and that did NOT work out well for them. He felt that life was full of serious issues and stresses that had to be dealt with every day.... but he was going to go about tackling them all with a smile on his face, a joke, and a beer. He talked a lot which is something I definitely inherited from him!
He took a lot of ribbing as the "verbose Irishman". He did not mind the reputation as long as it was not a reputation of "he talked a lot but got nothing done". The man got a LOT done. He had two cents to his name when he married my mother in 1959. When he passed, he had amassed a small fortune and it was all the result of hard work, ethics, and being smart. His humble beginnings showed when he would go an extra five miles to buy gas for three cents less a gallon. His austerity was toward himself, however, and there was no one more generous and giving of his time, talent, and treasure than him.
I could write 10,000 more words, but I think you get the gist. So, thank you dad for the influence you had on me becoming who I am today. For the Webster community, when you see me doing my job as Supervisor, you now have a better perspective of where I come from as it pertains to dealing with people and issues. As always, please feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail at email@example.com.
June 24, 2020:
Sidewalks going in on Ridge Road:
While campaigning in 2019, I heard several people say they wish we had more sidewalks in Webster. Some even said that the Town government was against installing sidewalks in Webster. One of my favorite lines is "don't let the facts get in the way of a good story". When I entered office in January 2020, I got first-hand knowledge that the facts on how the Town government was approaching sidewalks did not match the story. I immediately became aware of a 3+ year effort that the Town Board had been involved in to have sidewalks installed on Ridge Road, in the 1.5 miles between Five Mile Line Road and Rachel Drive in the Village. The "effort" was one of my first educations as Town Supervisor as to the process it takes to have sidewalks put in.
I am pleased to announce that the Town Board's efforts on this project long before I became Supervisor, and several other key Town of Webster personnel has finally culminated. In the next several months you will start to see the construction of these sidewalks. So why did it take 3+ years? If the Town Board wanted sidewalks on Ridge Road, couldn't they just wave their magic wand and make it happen? Well, unfortunately I am learning we don't have a magic wand as a Town Board, but man that would be cool if we did! Life would be a lot easier. What I found out was that the cost and the land use were the two stumbling blocks that made the process take over three years.
On the cost side, the $2 million+ project will be 75% - 80% funded by State and Federal grants. That grant process is long and arduous. Had the Town Board opted three years ago to bypass that grant application process, the sidewalks would be in by now. However, Webster taxpayers would have footed the whole $2 million bill instead of the $400 - 500,000 it will now cost. On the land use side, these sidewalks over a 1.5-mile swath will cross over lands owned by the Town, State, County, and private owners. Unfortunately, we could not just say "hey, we're putting in sidewalks so we're going to go through your land to do it and there is nothing you can do about it". The time and cost to obtain the rights to put those sidewalks on that land, was combined with a legal process of easements and rights-of-way, and I'll spare you all the boring details. Trust me, it is no easy task.
So have some patience the next few months as you traverse Ridge Road between Five Mile Line and Rachel Drive. Installation of the sidewalks may cause some traffic issues. Can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. But oh, will that omelet be nice once it is done! I for one look forward to being able to walk from Wegmans on Holt Road down Ridge Rd. to Town Hall on Hard Rd., and all the way to Five Mile Line Road on these new sidewalks. I am thankful for the efforts of previous Town Supervisor Ron Nesbitt and the Town Board members for "staying the course" on what was a difficult and challenging process the past three years. They brought $2+ million dollars of quality of life improvements to Webster and did so with the citizens paying for a fraction of the cost through their town taxes. As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
June 17, 2020:
The "jewel" that is the Webster Rec Center
With Phase 3 going into effect in the Finger Lakes region on Friday June 12th, many of you may have had a chance to go to a restaurant for the first time in 3 months. Since Webster town government does not operate any restaurants, Phase 3 did not change much of how the town facilities were operating. However, with Phase 4 on the horizon most likely on Friday June 26th, plans are being put in place to reopen the Webster Rec Center.
First of all, if you have never visited the Webster Rec Center on Chiyoda Drive off Phillips Road, I strongly suggest you do in the near future as "the world continues to open back up" from COVID-19. The facility is much more of a Community center than anything else. There is a myriad of recreation activities to be done there including but not limited to basketball, pickleball, aerobic classes, and a nautilus type gym with treadmills and ellipticals. Also, the facility is where the town's Senior citizen activities are based out.
If you have a membership at a gym, you may have run into the frustration I have heard from so many during COVID 19 the past 3 months. That frustration is that it is bad enough you can't enter the gym to work out, but it is worse that the gym is still charging monthly membership fees during the shutdown. I am proud to say that the leadership at the Webster Rec Center immediately ceased charging monthly dues to gym members when it was shut down for COVID-19 on March 16th.
I met with Chris Bilow, our new Webster Parks and Rec Commissioner this past week to go over the details of reopening the Rec Center. Not surprisingly, Chris and his staff have an excellent plan. They are awaiting details from Phase 4 and any Governor executive order on the "details" of a gym so as to be COVID-19 safe. For those of you who are members of the gym aspect of the Rec center, by the time you read this article, you may have already heard from Chris and his staff on the details of reopening. For those of you who are not current members of the gym aspect of the Rec center, I invite you to tour the facility and consider becoming a member. Even if you are not interested in a gym membership, a tour of this truly magnificent facility is something you should plan to do. I think you'll find there is something there for everyone. As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at email@example.com.
June 10, 2020:
An informed Community is a Better Community
"Communication". Is there a word more overused today than communication? Whether in your personal or professional relationships, most people's biggest complaint is either a lack of communication or a feeling that what is being communicated to them is confusing. Also, most people when asked think they are good communicators, and it is other people they have personal and professional relationships with who are NOT.
Historically, it's interesting to ask the "Who, What, Where, How, When and Why" does the Town of Webster government communicate to the 15,000 households in the town... and conversely ask the same questions about the 15,000 households communicating to the Town of Webster government? Let's start with the latter.
Webster citizens can have a myriad of opportunities and reasons to communicate with the 10+ departments and 3-4 Boards associated with the town government. For the town departments These include but are not limited to; coming to town hall to pay their real estate taxes, apply for a building permit for a deck on their home, going to the Library to take out a book, going to the Rec center to exercise or for Senior events, etc..
For the various town boards, they include but are not limited to; participating in a public hearing, applying for a zoning variance with the Zoning board of appeals, Presenting a sketch plan to the Planning board, etc. From what I have gleaned in my first 5+ months as Supervisor, the means and reasons a citizen reaches out to Town Government departments and boards has not changed much in 50 years except for the onset of e-mail and websites. Simply said,.... most citizens reach out and communicate with the Webster town government when there is a service, they need that the town government supplies said service. This has led to a customer service philosophy at the town of "we'll provide the service when asked" (I.e. reactive).
Unfortunately, the means and reasons the Town government communicates to the 15,000 households has not changed much in the past 50 years too. Oh, don't get me wrong. Efforts have been made to improve this communication via websites, text or e-mail alerts citizens can sign up for, live televised, streamed, or taped board meetings, Facebook and Twitter to name a few. However, at the end of the day most likely only 15-20% of the households in Webster get our communication in a manner in which they absorb the message and it is valuable to them. One goal I have said to ALL department heads is that I'd like to see us move the needle to the point that in a year or two we feel like we have the means to communicate with ALL 15,000 households in town, and in such a manner in which the absorb the message and feel it is valuable to them. Foundational to this is changing the customer service philosophy to be one of "letting the citizen know of the services, so they can determine if they need or want them" (I.e. Proactive)
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, "an informed community is a better community". As always please feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
June 3, 2020:
Walking a mile in a fellow human's shoes
In the first five months of being Town Supervisor, I have tried to keep the topics broached in this column isolated to "Webster-centric" ones. However, the events of the past week in Minneapolis and this past Saturday night in Rochester make me think it is worth branching out on this article's topic.
Race. What should be a simple thing in that we all are part of the human race, is far from it. Six Billion+ humans on the planet belong to this race. We ALL have heads, torsos, arms, and legs, etc. We are the SAME. However, over the thousands of years of evolution, and based on the geography/climate that various tribes of humans lived in, skin pigmentation differs among the human race. Now, other features are different among all of us such as height, weight, eye color, etc. but those differences don't separate us as the human race like skin pigmentation does.
So why is skin color such a divisive topic in the United States in 2020? Has it gotten better in the past 60 years since Dr. Martin Luther King so eloquently gave his "I have a Dream" speech? Ask those questions to 100 people and you'll get 100 different answers.
What I do know is that I am a 55-year-old white guy. As such, I have never walked in the shoes of a 55-year-old African American guy. I cannot say that I can relate to what the experiences of the African American Community are. What I can say is that, as the Town Supervisor and on a human level, I have compassion, empathy and understanding.
I feel blessed that from an early age I got a chance to go to school, play sports, and be friends with African Americans. I truly believe that experience formed my view of people and how to evaluate my experiences with them. There is a famous line in the movie Mississippi Burning by actress Frances McDormand... "you're not born with Prejudice, bigotry and racism. It is taught". How true that is! Put 20 babies on a desert island, 10 white and 10 black and raise them to the age of 18 with NO real emphasis on the color of their skin. Do you think they would differentiate, judge, or profile the others based on skin color? I highly doubt it.
Yet here we are in 2020. Whether you are 30 years old, or 80 years old reading this article, your experiences over the years have "taught" you how you feel about race. The best thing about being "taught" is that no matter how old you are, you should always be learning. If you are predisposed based on your experiences to profile someone on their skin color, I implore you to consider that "you've never walked a mile in their shoes". Opening your mind to that concept may just start the needle moving in the right direction on race relations in this country.
On a "Webster-centric" note....At the end of the day it is important to remember we are all one Webster community. We need to support and lift up our neighbors and value what each of us brings to this town. We have so many wonderful locally owned businesses that we want to see thrive, not destroyed. We have dedicated Police Officers putting their lives on the line daily to protect our community. Our Webster community is strongest when we work together, and it is my hope that we will not lose sight of that. As always, please feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail email@example.com.
May 27, 2020:
COVID 19 and Challenges to both the 2020 and 2021 Town budget
In early May, Paul Adams the Town Finance Director and I completed the 1st quarter "budget to actual" meetings with thirteen (13) Department Heads. The good news was that January-March 2020 did not manifest any major issues that would portend the overall calendar year 2020 budget being exceeded. In fact, budgeted sales tax revenue actually came in higher on the actual. The bad news.....the 2nd quarter (April- June) is where the true effect of COVID-19 will start to show. What will be the effect on lost revenue? I have to believe sales tax revenue will be down since New York on "pause" essentially shut down commerce. At the Parks and Recreation Department, membership fees for the gym at the Rec Center run at about $17,000 a month and they have ceased since March 20th.
How about additional expenses to the Town created by COVID-19? How do you quantify lost productivity from personnel sent home by State Executive orders that can't perform their jobs from home, but continue to be paid their regular full-time hourly or salary rate? Will we be challenged with paying overtime when they return due to the backlog of work?
Amidst all this uncertainty of the 2020 Calendar budget to actual, in June we will be starting the 2021 budget process. The process starts with each Department Head completing their initial "ask". If their department budget in 2020 was $1 million, their "ask" for 2021 may be the same $1 million. If that occurs with ALL of the departments, then we have the same budget in 2021 as we had in 2020 and would come in far below the 2% tax cap. However, what if each Department Head's initial "ask" is 20% more than their 2020 budget? For example, the $1 million budget for the department in 2020 is proposed to be $1.2 million in 2021. Well...if the Town Board agrees to all of their "asks", in aggregate the Town taxes would go from approx. $15 million collected in Real Estate taxes to $18 million. The tax rate per thousand would go from a little over $5 to over $6. A $200,000 assessed house would have their town taxes go from approx. $1,000 to $1,200.
Now, if I have not put you to sleep yet with all these numbers (LOL), there is little to no chance that the Town Board would ever approve a 20% increase year over year in Town taxes. The 2% tax cap per New York State gives us guidance that $15 million collected in Real estate taxes in 2020 should have approx. no more than a $300,000 increase in 2021 if you want to stay below the 2% cap. The Town Board has the right to approve a budget that exceeds the 2% cap, but there better be VERY good reasons for it, and I can assure you the process will give the public several chances to chime in.
Two (2) last things to leave you with as we venture into the 2021 budget process.....1. You may be scratching your head if you have a $200,000 assessed house from when I said your Town real estate taxes are $1,000. You know it's more like $6,000-7,000, but that includes School taxes, County taxes, fire district taxes, and possibly sewer, park and/or drainage district charges. 2. Budget increases really come down to three (3) expenses; Personnel, equipment, and facilities. Balancing the cost-benefit relationship of these expenses with the services provided the town citizens is always the goal. As always, please feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. ENJOY THE SUNSHINE! We definitely deserve it after the past few months.
May 21, 2020:
Separating Fact from Fiction on Development
In the past few weeks, The Town of Webster Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals held their first meetings in over two months since COVID-19. I got involved with these initial "remote" meeting planning and production due to challenges of holding such meetings due to COVID-19. Simply said, these meetings are meant to be public, and COVID-19 has essentially ceased our ability to bring the public into the Town Board room, so we have had to put together a structure of teleconferencing and videotaping them. Also, we had to figure out how to do these meetings with several of the board members not in the room. Personally, I think the May 5th Planning Board meeting and May 12th Zoning Board of Appeals meeting went very well considering the two month layoff and navigating a remote schematic for the first time.
While helping in preparation for these meetings and watching them on Spectrum channel 1303 live, I could not help but think of the manner in which these boards operate in concert with other Town boards. Furthermore, I thought that probably less than 10% of the citizens in town actually understand what these boards do and/or how a proposed project's path to getting approved and "breaking ground" occurs. Truth be told, prior to my taking office in January 2020 as Town Supervisor, I was in that group of citizens who did not completely understand it! I'm hopeful that over the next few months we can put together a forum and/or tutorial for Webster citizens that better explains the path a proposed project must take to get to approval.
For now, I'd like to separate a few facts from fiction/perception that may be out there on development in Webster and how the various boards rule on it. FICTION: If a proposed project is on the Planning Board agenda as sketch review, it does not mean it will be approved and ultimately get built. In the past few weeks such a proposed project was on the Planning Board agenda and I got several calls/emails to my office outraged that we were going to allow it to be built. I was able to explain to these people that the proposed project had a LONG road ahead of it to ever get approved and built based on zoning issues, variances needed, etc. I further explained that if a developer wants to get on the Planning Board agenda for a sketch review of building the new Buffalo Bills 80,000 seat stadium in Webster, they are well within their rights to have their sketch reviewed by the Planning Board but they will never get approved for it. We try to counsel such developers to not get on the agenda when their project is a long shot based on zoning, variances, etc. but some developers want to still be heard. In such cases, the Planning Board may refer them to go to the Zoning Board of Appeals to get the 1, 2, 3+ variances their project would need and then come back to Planning. They may also refer them to the Town Board for zoning or special use permits before the Planning Board will approve. Bottom line....many of these proposed projects hit a brick wall and can't move forward due to a myriad of reasons.
FACT: The Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, Town Board, and Conservation Board, along with Town department heads on the Project Review Committee (PRC) work in concert to make sure any proposed project has its T's crossed and I's dotted before approved, building permits are issued, and ground can be broken to start construction. I could write thousands more words describing this process, but I'll leave that to the forum/tutorial we plan on putting together for citizens in the future. One thing that I think is important to understand is that these boards and PRC have over 40 people on them in aggregate to make sure checks and balances are in place for responsible development based on current zoning, codes, etc.. Projects do NOT just get rubber stamped and in fact is quite the contrary. The amount of input from intelligent, varying expertise people is quite impressive. These board members have helped me immensely in getting up to speed on "how it all works" and I hope in the future we can give the citizens of Webster a forum/tutorial that helps all understand.
An informed community is a better community! As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail email@example.com.
May 14, 2020:
Mask Distribution event shows the greatness of Webster
A smile can change your attitude for the better. Whether you are the one smiling, or someone smiles at you, a stressful situation can be disarmed with a simple smile. One of the unfortunate by-products of all of us wearing facial masks due to COVID 19 is that these smiles can't be seen. In such, an already stressful time for all of us is robbed of one of the simplest, but most effective ways to "calm nerves" and connect as people.
On Saturday, May 9th at the Webster Town Courthouse, 60,000 FREE masks were distributed out to Webster citizens. Town Employees and elected officials manned the event that brought almost 5,000 cars through the distribution lines between 10AM and 2PM. By the time you are reading this article, another similar distribution event would have occurred on Wednesday, May 13th between 10AM and 2PM at the Town courthouse.
The Saturday May 9th distribution event was one of the most unique experiences I have ever seen. The full spectrum of human nature was on display. The volunteers acted quickly and in an incredible team-oriented fashion to adapt traffic patterns when it was seen that we were going to be handling much more cars than anticipated. All of this while withstanding blizzard like conditions at times! However, the interaction we volunteers had with the people in the cars was what struck me the most and what I will remember. Oh sure, you had the negative side on human nature on display such as people complaining about being shorted 1 mask, or the masks being wet from the snow, etc. But the far majority of people were extremely grateful for us giving them free masks and doing it under less than ideal weather conditions.
Some of these people did not have masks on in their cars so I could see their smile. Those smiles energized me to forge on as I was getting fatigued. As I was wearing a mask, I wanted them to see my smile but initially was challenged to figure out how to convey it through the mask. About an hour into the event, a couple most likely in their 80's came through the line with masks on and said thank you and both at the same time "gave a double thumbs up gesture" to me. Yup... all 4 of their hands thumbs up in concert! That was all it took. They showed me how I could smile at people while having a mask on. The rest of the event, when I gave that thumbs up gesture, I got smiles from people in cars not wearing masks, and for the people wearing masks, often got a return thumbs up!
We're two months into this COVID 19 situation. I think we all know we will not magically return to life as we knew it anytime soon. We'll open back up in phases, and foundational to that opening up will be us wearing facial masks. Let's try to keep our connection as people and respect that all of us are experiencing unprecedented stresses. If we can't smile at each other to reduce that stress, maybe a thumbs up to each other will be a reasonable facsimile for the time being. We'll get through this! As always, if you want to reach me, please call 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
May 6, 2020:
A Saturday in the life
Saturday, May 2nd was shaping up to be a great day in the Flaherty household. With the weather looking to be in the 60's and sunny, I'm sure like all of you, we were excited to do some outdoor "work and fun". I like to take Saturday mornings between 6 AM and 10 AM to do catch up work on Town of Webster items. Over a few cups of coffee, I find that time before the kids get up to be one of my favorites of the week. Whether returning phone calls or e-mails, it is always therapeutic to "catch up" and know you'll be going into the next work week somewhat caught up.
If there is one thing I have learned over the years, you have to accept that your "plans" may be changed due to unforeseen events. Having seven children showed me that any plans you may have had for a day could be altered for a myriad of reasons. Seems like someone was always spraining an ankle or something that made me have to deviate from the day's plan. Also, having been the owner of a company for 25 years, things came up all the time that made you have to change your plan.
So on Saturday, May 2nd, after I had done my 6 AM to 10 AM catch-up, I had planned on number of work and play things to do including; volunteering at the Food Drive at Holy Trinity that had been coordinated by County Legislator Matt Terp, walking a few miles with my 81-year-old mother, and doing some projects with my two college age daughters who had just gotten home this past week.
Then, at about 10:30 AM I got a call from Art Petrone, Deputy Commissioner of Public Works, letting me know that the sewer plant had an issue that had resulted in 10 feet of waste water in a basement of one of the plant's buildings. The timing of such an event is never ideal but it was particularly interesting in that Art had presented to the Town Board on Thursday, April 30th the laundry list of things he thought needed work on at the sewer plant. He had a disclaimer in that presentation that "this is what I see on April 30th.... the list could increase as unforeseen events occur". Unfortunately, unforeseen events can occur when a facility starts to age. It is why the Town Board decided a few years ago to do a $12 million Phase 1 project at the sewer plant.
That project will be complete in the next few months. We are now looking at options as to entering into a Phase 2 project at the plant, or to do repairs as they manifest themselves. The Phase 2 option will most likely tie into whether the Village of Webster Board votes to keep their own sewer plant, or to pursue a regional plant with the Town. The grant and financing options vary greatly between two separate plants and one regional one. The repair option becomes more of a "read and react" as functions break down. The danger of that with a sewer plant is that "the flow can never stop".
I spent some time over at the plant on Saturday, May 2nd assessing the situation with the flooded basement. I was still able to deliver some food to the food drive, albeit not work at it, and I was still able to walk with my mom. My time at the sewer plant showed me the great teamwork in place there. Sewer plant employees, outside engineering firms and electricians converged on site to minimize the damage. Bottom line, the situation could have been a lot worse if not for the quick actions taken by this team. As I got a chance to talk to many of them, it became apparent to me that they too knew that "best laid plans can often be changed", and no use crying over spilt milk (or in this case, waste water). Gotta move fast and clean it up, whether it happens on a weekday at 1 PM or a weekend at 3 AM.
I'm glad I got my schedule changed on Saturday since it showed me what a great team we have in this town at the Sewer Department. The Town Board and I will continue to work with them to try and get the plant in a position to have less repairs based on aged items, while balancing fiscal responsibility to the citizens. As always, if you have any questions or comments, please call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail email@example.com.
April 29, 2020:
COVID-19 as we enter May 2020
It's hard to believe we are only in week 7 of COVID 19. It feels more like 7 months! So much of what has transpired since mid-March came so fast and furious. It challenged our normal time frames mentally and psychologically of hearing about change, processing it, and accepting and adapting to it. It has been analogous to the five stages of grief, but with the difference that you were dealing with all five stages at one time.
The past few weeks have settled us into the "new reality". This has come with a new dynamic too with two distinct ends of the spectrum of thought. Some feel that the shutdown measures of the government are too draconian for the number of cases and deaths that have occurred. They have taken to the streets in protest to "open back up immediately". On the other end of the spectrum, some feel that we should not open things back up to the way it was prior March 2020 for 2+ years. Search the internet for podcasts and articles and you will have your full on both ends of this spectrum of thought. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.
New York "on pause" is currently through May 15th at the time I write this article. Governor Cuomo's executive orders that "shut down" the state were broad brush and painted Monroe County in the same light as New York City. As we all know New York city is the epicenter of COVID-19 outbreaks and deaths in the United States.... and Monroe County is very different demographically from New York City. We can armchair quarterback and second guess the Governor's broad brush shut down of the state all we want, but the dye is cast. We need to look beyond it now to the future and "how we will open back up".
The good news is that occurrences of the past two+ weeks portend that the opening up of New York State will be handled very differently than the broad brush close down. Random Antibody testing has shown that Upstate New York is less affected than New York City. The Governor has named Bob Duffy to head up the effort to assess how to open up Monroe County and contiguous 8 counties. Simply said... I'm hopeful that regions/counties in New York will be given the latitude to open back up at their discretion based on the COVID-19 results in their specific community. Two things on this... 1. I would assume the Governor will need to issue another executive order that articulates this county/region specific opening up latitude, and 2. You can rest assured, the opening up will not be all at once to return to prior March 2020 conditions. Such things as public building occupancy maximums, social distancing, and facial covering conditions will most likely be tied to a phased in opening up schematic. Stay tuned for more details as they arise. As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or comments. STAY POSITIVE WEBSTER! WE WILL PERSEVERE!
Supervisor’s Column for April 22, 2020:
The Challenges of Conducting Board meetings during COVID-19
One of the most important functions of Webster Town Government is to conduct various board meetings that are open for the public to attend, and be active in. COVID-19 has created challenges to these meetings being open to the public, and for the public to be active in them. I'm proud to say that the Board chairmen, Communications Director, and IT Director have met that challenge "head on" and have come up with a manner in which to hold these meetings in May 2020 to maintain the integrity of the letter and spirit of open meeting laws
To understand the challenge faced and its remedy, I would like to first describe the various board meetings. There are town board meetings of the supervisor and 4 elected council members. These include regular town board meetings the 1st and 3rd Thursday of every month at 7:30 PM, and Town board workshop meetings the 2nd and 4th Thursday of every month at 5:30 PM. Regular meetings are where resolutions, ordinances and/or laws would be voted on. Public hearings occur at these too. Workshops are less formal and where discussion occurs between board members and public on issues important to the town. Planning Board meetings are held the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month, and Zoning Board of Appeals meetings are held on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of each month.
All of these board meetings are conducted at the Town Board meeting room in the Court building across the parking lot from town hall. Except for the Town Board workshops, they are all televised live to be viewed by the public on channel 1303 on Spectrum and on various streaming services. All of these board meetings agendas are posted in the Webster Herald and on various town government websites and social media platforms. Simply said... all these board meetings are open to the public and the public should be made aware of them and what agenda items they may be interested in are going to be discussed.
The biggest challenge COVID-19 posed to these board meetings was the potential of having to close them down to the public to attend in person. In late March and for the better part of April, the town addressed that challenge by just canceling all board meetings except for the regular town board meeting on April 2nd and 16th. Even on those two regular board meetings, COVID-19 posed challenges of social distancing the board members in the room along with other department heads. This was remedied with some creative positioning of tables in the room to keep us all at least 15 feet apart, and teleconferencing of some board members from their homes. We also used some call in and e-mail in techniques to implore public interaction in the meeting.
On Thursday April 23rd at 5:30 PM, the Town Board workshop will be conducted for the first time March 12th. On Tuesday May 5th, the Planning Board will meet for the first time since March, and on Tuesday May 12th the Zoning Board of Appeals will meet for the first time since March. These meetings will be conducted with a hybrid of board members in the room and ones teleconferencing and/or video conferencing in. These meetings will be conducted with a mindfulness of the letter of the law and spirit of public interaction. in such, means will be made available for the public to do so. As always, if you have any questions for me please call 585-872-7068 or e-mail email@example.com. STAY UPBEAT WEBSTER! WE'RE GONNA GET THROUGH THIS.
April 16, 2020:
The "Art" of Communication and keeping people informed in 2020
When it comes to "means of communicating", society has changed a lot in the past 35 years since I got out of college. I remember my awe when I first saw a fax machine send a paper memo from the office I worked at in the late 1980's in Rochester to another office 3,000 miles away in California and print it out there within minutes. Prior to the fax machine, such a written communication would have had to be USPS mailed and received 3-4 days later.
In 2020, the fax machine is a dinosaur, and if you still use one, you are often looked upon as a dinosaur yourself! During my 30+ years in private business, I became a student of the "art of communication". It's an art, not a science since you can never truly master it, and it is always changing. The two constants are that there is a party who is looking to communicate a message, and a party that the message is intended for. I'll refer to these 2 parties as the communicator and the intended recipient.
As a private company CEO, I saw the intended recipients as two distinct categories; 1. the employees of the company, and 2. the customers and service providers of the company. The message content which the company as the communicator sent to the intended recipient categories was often very different. However, the means by which we communicated was not. I found that there were two genres of these means; 1. overt, and 2. passive.
Overt was "sending the message out" such as USPS mail, phone call, text, or e-mailing the intended recipient. Passive was "putting the message out there" and the intended recipient could look at it at their leisure 24/7 such as Facebook, or a website. When possible, we would try to make sure the message was sent out or on ALL overt and passive means of communication. That way, the intended recipient would have the best chance of seeing it, and actually absorbing the message based on what their personal preference was on means of consuming their news. I think this last point is critical within the "art of communication". The communicator often makes the mistake that the means that THEY like to consume their news is the way the intended recipient does too. Simply said.... just because I may like Facebook doesn't mean the 45,000 Webster citizens in 15,000 residences in town do too. It would be a huge mistake to tie the town government's whole communication structure to its citizens (I.e. intended recipients) to Facebook if only 1,500 of the 15,000 residences are on Facebook. We'd be communicating to 10% of the households if we did that.
One of my goals as Town Supervisor is to maximize the overt and passive communication means that the town government utilizes to communicate with its employees and its citizens. An informed staff is a better organization, especially if ALL staff get the same message at the same time. In that same spirit, an informed community is a better community and most likely a more involved community. I'd love to see public meetings in the future have 500 people attend and need an auditorium, instead of having 10 citizens attend in our town board room.
Within this effort, we are in the process of revamping the communication structure to the 230+ employees of the town of Webster. We are also starting the process of trying to communicate to 15,000 households in Webster. COVID-19 has shown us that we most likely hit less than 20% of those households currently on town communications through newspaper, website, Facebook, signed up for text or e-mail alerts, etc. The strategy to hit all 15,000 households will be multi tentacled and need cooperation of ALL departments at the town of Webster, and input from its citizens. If you'd like to hear more on how we tentatively plan to accomplish this, feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 585-872-7068. STAY HOME AND STAY HEALTHY WEBSTER!!!!!
Supervisor’s Column April 8, 2020:
The Town of Webster 2020 budget and COVID-19
There is no doubt that when the Town Board and the department heads collaborated in mid-2019 on the Town's 2020 budget, they never imagined the effect COVID-19 would have on it. They used the time tested and traditional means to come up with the budget such as historical department expenses, and the 2% tax cap. Simply said.... the board and department heads did a great job of producing a final 2020 budget that balanced the departmental needs to perform their services, and the fiscal responsibility the town taxpayers should expect from the board members. That is not an easily accomplished balance as the town department heads often are challenged with the same dilemma, I encountered in 30 years in private industry; "American business in the last half century is expecting more, but with less resources". Those resources can be personnel, newer equipment, and/or newer facilities.
Between March 13th and April 7th, I convened the department heads in Webster eight times to give COVID-19 updates so they could go back to their staff with the information. Initially these update meetings were all in person, but as time has gone on with the social distancing mandated by COVID-19, they became more teleconferences. Also, the first few weeks were "changing by the minute" as to what we were presenting to the department heads due to daily federal, state, and County Executive orders. As things smoothed out the past 2 weeks and we entered our "new norm", I presented to the department heads the 3 main things we will be focusing on in the April 6 - May 1st time-frame; 1. Safety of our employees, 2. Maximizing Productivity, and 3. Researching and pursuing every means of reimbursement possible.
The safety aspect is based on the fact that more than half of the town’s 230+ full time and year-round part-time employees are out of work right now due to mandated facility closures and non-essential staff designations being told to go home. The staff that is still working we want to BE and FEEL as safe as possible. I capitalized "be and feel" as they can mean different things to an employee in the Sewer department versus one in the Assessment office. We are trying to respect that. On productivity, we are trying to "think outside the box" and try to make lemonade out of the lemons that COVID-19 has dealt us. The taxpayers deserve to have this productivity maximized so that when we return to full staff and all facilities open, we don't enter a phase of heavy overtime to catch up. On reimbursements, the 2020 budget to actual in the town will ultimately come down to how successful at this we are. We have people NOT working who are getting paid. We have budgeted revenues in 2020 such as rec center fees, and sales tax that will be significantly less than what we anticipated. No doubt that the 2020 budget will not balance to the actuals on revenues and expenses due to the 1, 2, 3+ months we are affected by the COVID-19 shutdown. I'm confident that between the Finance Director, Town Attorney, and other department heads that we will maximize these reimbursements from federal, state and/or county agencies so as to minimize or eliminate the effect on the 2020 budget and the taxpayers of the town. Hopefully, upon execution of that... we'll be entering the 2021 budget development season!
As always feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at email@example.com STAY SAFE AND HEALTHY WEBSTER!!!
Common Sense and Enforcement during COVID-19
I wanted to do this week's article on something totally independent of the COVID-19 situation we are currently in. However, no matter how hard I tried to come up with a pertinent topic, the reality is that COVID-19 is the dominant influence in all of our lives at this point. My article in last weeks' edition was already inaccurate by the time the Webster Herald hit the newsstands and people read it. I have done a follow up to that article that you can find on the Webster Herald Facebook page and Webster town government website.
As of the April 1 edition of the Webster Herald, The COVID-19 situation has been prevalent in all our lives for about 3 weeks. Doesn't it feel like 3 years!!!!!! Some milestones have been the week of March 9-13 when sports leagues shut down, March 16-20 when facilities like the Library and Rec center in Webster were shut down by government mandate, and March 23-27th when employees and businesses had to be quantified as "essential or non essential" to determine who can stay open and who has to work from home. Wow!!! That was quite a whirlwind of 3 weeks! For those of you familiar with the 5 stages of grief, we as a community had to process almost ALL the stages at once in parallel.
The week of March 30-April 3rd seems to be where the community is starting to enter the "acceptance" stage of COVID-19. The stage where we understand that life will not be normal for at least the next 2-6 weeks. Social distancing is a term none of us had heard of 1-month ago and now it dominates our day to day. This acceptance stage has brought with it an interesting dynamic to citizens contacting Webster Town government officials such as me.
The contact has been about questions, comments, and concerns about social distancing they have seen or heard about at places like the parks, and certain stores in town. Often within the contact, they have asked "What is the town of Webster government going to do about it?" Essentially this means they are asking about enforcement. All of these contacts have validity, but the COVID-19 situation has created government mandates so fast that the mandate really never considered the subjectivity of it.
A store may be considered "essential" within these government mandates and thus is allowed to be open, but what about the "non essential" items the store sells? Should the store be allowed to sell them? Should a person leave their house to go to that store to buy non essential items? What is a non essential item? Should the police be called, and if so, what enforcement would they legally be doing? How should they dispense out this enforcement when the court system has been shut down by mandate until April 30th? Ask these questions to 100 people and you may get a 100 different answers.
The problem is that much of the COVID-19 government mandates depend on individual citizen common sense to be carried out since the enforcement in many ways has not been clarified. As we know, common sense is a subjective thing. My 14-year old son who is a freshman in high school is a great kid, but his common sense is different from mine at 55 years old.
In conclusion, The Town of Webster government will trumpet loud that social distancing is so important during this COVID-19 situation to assure we "flatten the curve". However, there is something my parents taught me long ago..... I can only control my actions. How other people act is on them and should not have an influence on how I conduct myself. I hope that the majority of Webster citizens got this same lesson from their parents and practice it at this most critical of time.
Follow up to Supervisors Corner article in Wednesday March 25, 2020 Webster Herald
The news cycle in 2020 is "fast-paced." Daily newspapers like the Democrat and Chronicle often have articles that by the time the reader gets the paper, the articles are old news. COVID-19 has exacerbated that. County, state and federal mandates, executive orders, and stimulus packages are coming so fast and furious, that news is now changing by the minute. That is very challenging for a daily newspaper, but it is exponentially more challenging for a weekly paper like the Webster Herald.
I have gotten a lot of calls, text, and e-mails, and seen a lot of social media posts related to my "Supervisor's Corner" article that was in the Webster Herald's Wednesday, March 25 edition. The reality is that I wrote that article later in the day on Friday, March 20 so as to meet deadlines of printing the weekly paper. By the time it was published and people actually read it... 6-7 days had passed since I wrote it. Frankly, the number and frequency of mandates, executive orders, and unemployment changes per the stimulus package that had come in since March 20 had rendered most of the decisions articulated in that article moot! Simply said... the decision-making process was taken out of my hands by a "higher power" in the form of county, state or federal government.
I'm writing this follow-up to that article on Saturday, March 28 at 9 a.m. over a cup of coffee at my house. Therefore, if you are reading this 1 hour, 1 day, or 1 week from now, there may have been several new "twists and turns" within COVID-19 per county, state, and federal mandates. The one thing that was not rendered moot in the last 7-10 days by county, state, and/or federal mandate were the two (2) following foundational principles to the initial decision to NOT pay people who were NOT working:
1. Failure is not an option: There is a scene in the movie Apollo 13 where Ed Harris's character comes into a conference room in Houston's NASA headquarters and drops a bunch of "junk" on the table and essentially says to the 10 engineers in the room, "You need to make this into a contraption the astronauts need so they can get back to earth." The engineers initial reaction is "can't be done." The Ed Harris character replies by saying failure is not an option, so change your paradigm from CAN'T to "How can we". The result was the engineers figured out a way, made the contraption from the junk, and the astronauts got home. The parallel to the Town of Webster was that I wanted the 15 department heads to have a "How can we" attitude to figuring out jobs our employees could do as of March 23 that would benefit the Town of Webster today and in the future. This was to be done even if those jobs had to be done from their home and were outside the normal scope of what the employee did. Those department heads were more likely to "find a way" than to just accept that Governor Cuomo's 100% non-essential mandate and/or other mandates that closed facilities meant that their employees would be home NOT working and getting paid to NOT work. I feel that "challenge" to them was met and I'm proud of what the department heads have accomplished in this effort with the help of the town's IT department. I truly believe more of Webster town employees are home working due to these efforts than any other town in Monroe County.
2. Work is cathartic to the employee: Maybe I just come from a different era, but I always felt that working gave a sense of pride for people and was "good for the soul" to take the person's mind off of hard times they may be encountering. COVID-19 is hard times for sure. I felt that the mental health of the town's employees was improved if we could find ways to have them work, and do so in a manner that would make them feel they were contributing to the greater good of the Town of Webster today and in the future. Statistics show that people out of work are more likely to be depressed. Couple that with the stresses of COVID-19 and it could be a real bad result for "idle time people." I'm proud of the efforts of the department heads and the 230+ town employees that are trying everything in their power to work.
I'd like to think that we have tried to be sensitive to the specific individual situations of our employees within this overall desire to "have them working." We want our employees and their families first and foremost to be safe. If they, one of their family members, or someone they caretake for is at high risk if they contract COVID-19, we are trying to be respectful to that.
As always, please feel free to call me at (585) 872-7068 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions, comments, or concerns you may have. STAY WELL, WEBSTER!
March 25, 2020: Leadership and Decision Making during turbulent times
The week of March 16-20 was challenging to all of us within this COVID-19 situation. Fear and anxiety ran rampant and threatens to be a bigger problem than people actually contracting COVID-19. Some feared getting COVID-19. Some feared their loved ones who had compromised immune systems and/or respiratory issues getting it. Some feared the financial ramifications of lost income from the private business they own or work getting shut down.
One of the bigger challenges to me as Town Supervisor in making decisions for the 15 departments and 230+ Town of Webster employees was the quickly changing landscape of the “rules of engagement”. One day Governor Cuomo mandates that 50% of non-essential staff needs to be out of the facility they work out of and positioned to work from home... then two days later, it was 75%... and finally, on Friday, March 20, it ended at 100%.
At my private business I owned for 25 years, we were built to work remotely. Unfortunately, the Town of Webster government is the 180-degree opposite and is built to NOT work from outside the facility out of which you work. This made Governor Cuomo’s mandates to “get them out of the office and working from home” exponentially more challenging. The IT staff at the town did an amazing job getting as many employees able to work from home by Monday, March 23 as possible.
Another challenge to this was the potential that Webster town employees may end up being home, NOT working, and getting paid their normal salary/hourly wages. This weighed on me. I knew that many of the 45,000 citizens in Webster were hurting financially from the business they owned or worked for closing. It did not sit well with me that these same hurting citizens had paid real estate taxes to the Town of Webster and now those tax dollars were being used to pay town employees who were not working. Some said to me, “The payroll is in the budget, so what is the big deal?” Depending on how you do the math, the town annual budget is between $25 and $30 million, of which approx. $15 million is collected from real estate taxes. The annual aggregate payroll to all town employees is almost $15 million, so to me it IS a big deal if employees are getting paid to not work. Once they come back to work in 2, 3, 4, etc. weeks, there will be a backlog of work and we’ll have to pay overtime, which will just further hit the taxpayers in the 2021 budget or from the general fund balance. It was not an easy decision, but leading means you have to make tough decisions and sometimes you will not know if they are the right or wrong decisions for a long time.
The decision was ultimately made to not pay town employees who were home and not working. It was made knowing 18 other towns in Monroe County did NOT make that decision and are “paying all their employees even if they are home not working”. It was made with the town board being split on this concept, but with the understanding and respect of even the town board members against it. It was made being mindful of factors including but not limited to full-time versus part-time status, unions, and the current state of emergency we’re in at the state and county level. It was made while collaborating with the department heads to find ways to have these employees WORK so they can get paid as of Monday, March 23, even if the job we come up with for them during this COVID-19 situation is NOT what they normally do. As long as the job they will be doing will benefit the town and its citizens today and in the future, I can get behind it. It was made knowing I could NOT go in front of the 45,000 citizens of Webster and say with a straight face, “We’re all in this together...” if the facts were we were not and private company citizens were not getting paid to be home not working... but Town of Webster employees were.
People’s opinion on this decision will vary. Some will think it is great while others will think I am the devil incarnate. If I had my druthers, all decisions made by the town board and/or me would have 100% consensus, but that will never happen and people in leadership positions need to be cognizant of that. However, I hope that people in leadership positions make measured and pragmatic decisions based on a moral compass and the good of the whole community.
In closing, I heard a story this past week about Cathie Thomas, the Webster town supervisor 20 years ago. It essentially was that she was counseled on a decision she was about to make that it would cost her votes and she replied, “I don’t make decisions based on whether it gets me or costs me votes. I make decisions that are good for the community as a whole.” I think I would like Ms. Thomas and hope I get to meet her someday.
March 19, 2020: Multi-faceted Approach to Communication:
As we enter into uncharted territory with the Covid-19 virus, communication with our residents becomes vitally important. Residents can find the latest Town and County updates, via the following media platforms:
On the Town Website: ci.webster.ny.us
- On the main page, there are blue tabs on the right side that can direct you to the following resources:
COVID-19 Town Updates: ci.webster.ny.us/561/COVID-19-Updates
- Here residents will find the latest information from the Town regarding services and facilities, along with updates from the Monroe County Dept. of Health and the CDC.
NOTIFY ME: ci.webster.ny.us/list.aspx
- Here residents can sign up for direct notifications to your email and/or phone via our “Notify Me” system. We recommend residents sign up for “Emergency Alerts” and “All Town-Wide News & Updates”.
All of the latest Town and County notifications will also be posted on our social media pages:
We will continue to provide timely updates to residents and encourage you to sign up for notifications and follow our social media pages. If you have any suggestions for additional modes of communication, please feel free to contact me at: 585-872-7068 or email@example.com.
March 11, 2020:
Webster Library in 2020
One of the treasures we have here in Webster is our public library. If you have not visited it lately, I strongly suggest you do soon. It is in the middle of town on Hard Road, south of Route 104 and north of Ridge Rd. It has approx. 45,000 square foot of space to house books, meeting rooms and other special items.
Being a public library, you can take out books and other materials at NO cost/rental fee as long as you have a library card as a member. The only cost you might incur is a late fee if you bring back the book after the due date. I know personally I paid a lot of those in my younger days!
Something I have learned in the past few months is that the library has "gone digital" in much the same way as the rest of the world. This transition has its pros and cons, both today and in the future. Digital books that you can take out and read on your Kindle or tablet are starting to grow in proportion to hardcover and paperback books that people take out. If that trend continues, and there is nothing that portends it won't, the number of hardcopy and paperback books the library will have to buy annually and store on shelves will decrease. In such, it is not hard to imagine that in 10+ years the library will need far less space than its current 45,000 square feet. Less space will mean either less rent or building ownership cost.
However, the cost of hardcover/paperback books versus digital in 2020 is surprisingly different to the point it could be concerning in years to come, with regards to the economics of funding a public library from municipality tax money. Currently in 2020, the publishers are charging the library approximately $18 to buy a new hardcover or paperback book that will sit on the library shelves for years to come, and potentially be taken out by an infinite amount of people to enjoy. Conversely, the publishers are charging the library approximately $65 for digital books. Worse yet, the library does not OWN that digital book. It is essentially renting it, as it can only be taken out 24 times by the public. Therefore, if the book is popular, the library may need to "rent it" 3 or 4 times at an aggregate $200+ to meet the demand of its members.
The publishers will sell these digital books to individuals and bookstores for significantly less than the $65 charged to a public library. They also govern the supply of the books they will rent to public libraries for what I can only assume is to make sure they have a market of individuals and bookstores to sell to. I appreciate that publishers are "for profit" businesses, but this has a feel of subsidizing their profits through government monies since Public libraries are funded by municipal tax dollars.
March 5, 2020:
On Thursday February 27th at 7PM, the Town of Webster hosted an informational meeting at Webster Thomas. This open to the public meeting was to give updates on Lake Ontario and Irondequoit bay water levels. The updates centered on 3 governmental agencies; 1. Federal with the International Joint Commission (IJC) , 2 The state of New York and REDI grants obtained by the town of webster for resiliency at the Sandbar, and 3. The Town of Webster and what they did in 2017 and 2019 to assist property owners on the water, and what lessons were learned from those years that we will use to assist better in 2020. The meeting had over 200 people in attendance and was advertised by a combination of USPS 1st class mailed invites to people who own property in Webster on the water, publication in the Webster Herald, and various town websites and social media sites
The meeting was purposely structured to have less than 30 minutes on formal presentation and give an hour or more for attendee questions and comments. That structure was executed flawlessly as the meeting went slightly over 90 minutes and less than 30 of those minutes were in formal presentation with powerpoint slides, and over 60 minutes were attendee questions/comments. We tried to assemble a panel of people from the state, county, and town that would be best suited to answer the specificity of the questions from the attendees. The meeting was not televised live, but taped and is now on the Town Website should anyone want to view it in the future.
Two(2) final comments on this February 27th meeting; 1.The IJC update given at this meeting has already proven to be dated. In the past few days, a bill has been entered in the United states congress that if it becomes a law, would give citizens who own waterfront property the ability to sue the IJC for the damages they have incurred. 2. One of the central themes of the meeting was VOLUNTEERISM. In the coming months there will be opportunities for groups and individuals to volunteer their time to the efforts of placing sandbags and other resiliency items on properties that will be potentially affected by high water levels in 2020. We envision these efforts would start in Mid April, but factors such as weather will go into that. I will be reaching out to various webster civic groups to see if they would be interested in helping. Individuals can go to the town of webster website for more info on this if they are interested in volunteering. The issues that these property owners have with the IJC and the State of New York are things that I plan on advocating for as the Webster Town Supervisor. However, in my opinion the best deployment of time and resources in the next few months for these property owners is to galvanize the community in helping them. That's what good neighbors do.
Finally, I'd like to say this.......This "open to the public" forum is something I would like to do more of in the coming months/years on a variety of topics/issues that affect Webster citizens. . Venues like the webster thomas and webster Schroeder auditoriums assure that if attendance is 200+, we can accommodate with no problem. Frankly, the "more the merrier" if you ask me!! An involved community is a better community. The webster town government is NOT the answer to solving all that is wrong in the world. However, I think it can be utilized to bring people together in town for. Stay tuned for more of these "open to the public forums" and I look forward to a robust attendance
February 27, 2020:
The old adage goes that the only guarantees in life are death and taxes. Where death is pretty simple to define, taxes are not. That is because taxes come in so many different formats including but not limited to Federal income, State income, sales, and of course Real Estate. In Webster, property owners pay 3 different real estate taxes; School, County, and Town, and a 4th if you are in the village. To add to the mix, you have fire district fees, and sewer fees to name a few that really are tantamount to taxes.
Of all of the things I have learned about Real Estate taxes in my first 2 months on the job, the most confusing aspect to me has been the STAR program. STAR is an acronym for School Tax Relief. It is a program started in New York State several years ago as an attempt to give Homeowners some relief from their annual School taxes. Seems simple enough. However, there are two different options where you can benefit from STAR; exemption and registration, and a homeowner can only enjoy one of them
The Exemption option utilizes a maximum household income as a qualifier. Initially if your income was under $500,000 annually, you qualified. A few years ago, the New York State budget lowered the income qualification to $250,000. The current New York State budget being proposed for adoption in April 2020 has in its draft an additional lowering to $200,000 annual income max to qualify. These reductions in maximum household income limits to qualify reduce the number of homeowners who qualify for this STAR option. How does a homeowner save on this option? Ultimately it reduces the homeowner's school taxes by giving a reduction to their house's assessed value. For example, if the house is assessed for $200,000 for county and town taxes, it may be lowered to $180,000 for the calculation of school taxes. The homeowner's benefit is the difference in school taxes between what it would have been at a $200,000 assessment, and the lowered $180,000 assessment.
The Registration option ostensibly is simpler in that the homeowner gets a check from New York State that is essentially a partial refund of the school taxes they paid. It is approximately equal to the same savings offered by the exemption. How "simpler" it actually is? Hard to say. The reduction of the income limit on the Exemption option over the years has moved people into the Registration option, and it appears New York State wants to do that. Is that good for the homeowner? Hard to say as each homeowner's situation can be unique as to their assessed value and annual income. In conclusion, one thing is for certain (besides death and taxes).... as a homeowner, just when you figure out all this STAR stuff, you may have to turn your attention to other potential exemptions you may have including but not limited to veteran, age, etc.
February 20, 2020:
Last week, I got the opportunity to drive "shotgun" for an hour and half in one of the town of Webster's plow trucks. No matter how much I pleaded with Joe Herbst, Webster's Highway Superintendent, he would not let me drive. For that, all Webster citizens owe a thank you to Joe. The experience was "eye opening" to say the least. I got a perspective of what these talented plow truck drivers have to navigate within the effort to keep our roads clear of snow.
I drove with Tony on a sub division route. At some point in the future I hope to do a main road route. Some things I learned about Webster sub divisions is that there are currently 271 lane miles that need to be plowed. Within these 271 miles, there are 194 cul de sacs. Each cul de sac accounts for 0.2 lane miles. Therefore there are approx. 39 lane miles of cul de sacs out of the total 271 lane miles in the sub divisions or about 15%. Now here is the kicker.... the cul de sacs take about 50% of the time to make one plow run on all 271 lane miles in the sub divisions. Joe Herbst wants to be able to do one plow run of the sub divisions FASTER than his crew currently does it. If they do it faster, it saves the town money, makes the roads clear of snow quicker, and assures our drivers are not overworked. So how do we achieve the goal of doing a plow run faster? To me, the answer is one of two things; 1. find more efficient ways to plow when factoring in the cul de sac challenge, or 2. "Throw money at the problem" and buy more plow trucks, hire more plow drivers, etc.
Bottom line...… I don't like the answer of "throw more money at it". I did not like it as CEO in private industry and I certainly don't like it as Town Supervisor with the fiduciary responsibility to safeguard town funds and try to keep taxes low to its citizens. I feel trying to find ways to become more efficient is ALWAYS the first thing we should look at. I used the plowing example and the cul de sac challenge because in my first 50 days in office, I have seen several such challenges in almost ALL of the Town government departments where "Throw money at it" versus become more efficient needs to be assessed. I feel like we always need to exhaust strategies to become more efficient before resorting to spending money. Luckily, I have experienced town department heads who share in this philosophy. They understand that "throwing more money at the challenge" is not the first option, and often many not be an option at all. Webster citizens can be assured, the department heads and I are aligned in our efforts to improve services to the town while not spending more money while doing it if the opportunity for increased efficiency can be found.
February 12, 2020:
One of the main things I have been introduced to in my first 6+ weeks as Supervisor is the structure of the Webster Village government and the services they provide to approx. 6,000 village residents. Within that structure, there is a unique relationship with Webster Town government and the services the town provides to the approx. 46,000 residents. To me, the "uniqueness" is 3-fold;
The first is that The 6,000 village residents are included in the 46,000 town residents. In such, many services provided by the town are provided to village residents. In such, when Town government is discerning decisions that will be voted on by the town board, the village residents will most likely be affected by those decisions as they are town citizens too
The second is that when the Village government is discerning decisions that will be voted on by the village board, the 6,000 village residents no doubt will be affected by those decisions, but the 40,000 citizens of the town NOT living in the village most likely will not "directly" be affected.... but may have some "indirect" effect.
The third is that on paper what makes the MOST sense for the 46,000 citizens of Webster is that the Town and Village governments should work as collaboratively and harmoniously as possible for the good of the WHOLE community, while navigating the challenge that the two governments operate independently of each other. From the papertrails I have reviewed on several topics and stories I have been told by both town and village officials and citizens..... the history of the town and village has NOT always gone as collaboratively and harmonious as the ideal would have it. Perceptions become reality in people's minds, even if the fact pattern does not support those perceptions
Over the next 2-3 months, the 46,000 citizens of Webster today, and 20+ years from now will be directly affected by the town and and village government's decision on Sewers in this community. Simply said.... the Village government will vote on whether to continue on with their own sewer plant, or whether to join with the town on a regional/consolidate sewer plant. Mayor Byerts, Deputy Mayor Ippolito, Deputy Supervisor Cataldi and myself have been meeting the past month within the effort to work collaboratively and harmoniously for the good of the whole community on this issue. My goal in this process is to make sure the town and village have the facts on the dollars and cents of the 2 options the village government will ultimately vote on. As we progress in this process, we will "increase to number of people" in these meetings beyond the 4 of us. Already we have met with engineering firms who have conducted studies at town and village expense in the past 2-3 years so that we could get an understanding and agreement on the dollars and cents they came up with from their paid for studies. Our next endeavor will be to meet with the DEC and the State grant and financing agency to get facts on what the 2 options would mean to them. By March, The Mayor, deputy mayor, deputy supervisor and me need to determine how many more people to expand these meetings to. Since the village government is making the vote, Deputy Supervisor Cataldi and I will defer a lot of that decision to Mayor Byerts and Deputy Mayor Ippolito as to how many of the 6,000 village citizens should be included in this vetting and discernment process.
In summary, I am an accountant by trade so I am biased. almost 100% of the time, consolidation makes more dollars and cents sense today and 20 years from now than 2 separate entities. However, I am keeping an open mind to the facts as them come in from engineers, DEC, state finance and grant agencies etc. Also, even though I am new to this process, I am sensitive to the NON dollars and cents aspect to this decision by village government that may influence the decision. I do have trust in the Village government that they will make a fiduciary decision based on the present and future of the community and not on what has happened in the past.
February 5, 2020:
I'm a self proclaimed "data junky". I went to college for Accounting and then was in some form of a financial business for the past 30+ years. In such, I came to depend on data as both a) being facts and b) thus being foundational to decision making. Data can also be misleading if not looked at from all sides. For example, saying that you attended 100% of the board meetings this year when there has only been one meeting is not really statistically relevant.
With the spirit of data in mind, I'd like to tell you some of the things I have learned the past year campaigning and now being in the Supervisor position about our great town of Webster! The town is 35 square miles and has approx. 45,000 people. Therefore there is approx. 1,300 people per square mile. For a point of comparison, Irondequoit has 51,000 people and is 17 square miles or approx. 3,000 people per square mile. There are 31,000 registered voters. Approx. 1/3 of them are registered Republican, 1/3 Democrat and 1/3 unaffiliated or other party. 13,000 people voted in the November 2019 election or approx. 42% of all registered voters actually voted. I'd like to think that the early voting opportunities now available to webster residents will increase voter participation in 2020 and beyond. I think we all can agree that maximizing voter participation is a good thing. Hard for me to hear a citizen complain about something and then find out they did not vote.
I was surprised to find out that 76% of the November 2019 13,000 voters were over 50 years old. My surprise comes from the fact that there are approx 8,500 students in the Webster school system and about 6,500 live in Webster. I have not done a deep dive on this, but I felt it safe to assume that the majority of these 6,500 student's parents are UNDER 50 years old. I sure hope they vote!
The 2020 town annual budget is approx. $30 million. That's the money we have to provide the services to the 45,000 townspeople such as sewers, highway department, etc. Of that, approx. $30 million, half comes from real estate taxes, and the other half from federal, state, county monies, other taxes such as sales, mortgage, and fees. The approx. $15 million collected in taxes is spread over an aggregate assessment of $3 billion on 17,000 tax parcels of which approx. 12,000 are people's residences. The simple math of $15 million taxes needed from $3 billion in aggregate assessment means about $5 per thousand. So, if your house is assessed for $200,000, the town portion of your real estate tax bill is about $1,000.
There are a lot more data points I have picked up in these past few months, but I'll conclude at this point before I have you all fall asleep from reading this. Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have on the data points I presented in this article
January 29, 2020:
One of the things I truly believe in is that "you are part of the problem or part of the solution". I used to tell the staff at my company that there was no talent in pointing out the problem, but that talent lies in proposing some solutions to the problem. WIth that in mind, I have been blown away by home many boards, committees, associations and clubs there are in Webster. The people on these boards and committees are giving their time, talent, and treasure to several causes. They by definition are "part of the solution". I would welcome getting a chance to meet all of these organizations. It gives me the chance to learn more about their mission and it gives them a chance to query me on things important to them to see where we match up.
The more involved the citizens are in a community, the better the community. Involvement in various organizations usually results in participants understanding that facts drive good decision making, and opinion drawing. They tend to be more understanding of other organization's challenges based on what they have experienced with their own, and less apt to just blindly accept as unequivocal truth a rumor they heard. The social media society we live in has wonderful aspects to it in the access to information we now all have. One of the unfortunate by products of this is that anyone can be a "keyboard, faceless warrior/troll" and put rumor and statements out to the world that are not based in fact and have them accepted by many as fact. Before social media, such people either were not heard, or if heard it was by a few people at the corner bar or diner and most likely the person was not take that seriously. Now that person's vitriol can be seen and heard by thousands and potentially drive decision making and opinion drawing. Very scary.
As previously stated, good decisions and opinion drawing are based in facts. The keyboard warrior/troll poisons the well to being able to make good decisions and draw opinions. My experience has been that involved people who are giving their time, talent and treasure to various causes tend to not be these keyboard warriors/trolls, and they also are not as willing to accept their bombastic statements as fact. In summary, if you're already involved, THANK YOU! If you are not involved, please consider doing so. It is so rewarding for both the community and you personally. Finally... please reach out to me to have me as a guest at your organization's meeting.
January 22, 2020:
My friends and family have been asking me how the first couple weeks on the job have been going. My answer has been "challenging.... and pleasantly surprising". The challenging aspect has been that the position is robust as it pertains to all you need to know to be effective. To me, being effective means you support and advocate on behalf of the organizations employees and customers. The town of Webster has 45,000 customers in the form of its citizens. Between full and part time, the town has approx. 200 employees operating under more than a dozen departments. Bottom line... it is incumbent on me to learn and absorb all aspects of the position of Town Supervisor as quickly as possible so that my effectiveness can be sooner than later.
The pleasantly surprising aspect has been in what I have encountered with the department heads and employees of the town. The stereotype of government employees not having some of the characteristics of private industry employees could not be further from the truth in Webster. I've found several of the department heads to be type A personalities who work way more than 40 hours a week, own their department with the pride and attention to detail commensurate with high success individuals. These people would be successful in any line of work including had they chosen entrepreneurial business ownership. I cannot emphasize how critical that is to my potential success in the position of Town Supervisor. In any organizational structure, if the CEO, General, or whatever title is on top has great leaders, department heads, great things can be achieved. The top of the organizational chart has a lot to do with the culture that evolves at the organization. However, that person at the top can only do so much and if the department heads don't genuinely buy in to the culture, it will not happen. I'm very excited at what I have seen so far and feel confident great things will happen in 2020 and beyond for Webster.
Something i found on the campaign trail in 2019 and has continued to manifest itself since I was elected in November and took office in January is that there are a lot of talented citizens in Webster who have conveyed to me they want to help their hometown out. I want to tap into these people's talent and enthusiasm for the greater good of the town today and the future. I'm new to the position and still vetting how such citizens can be involved. Some of it is easy to assess as there are boards and committees they can be appointed to. However, I think there is an opportunity for several ad hoc committees to evolve in the future to research topics that are hot buttons to the town. A potential example of this would be an adhoc committee to research and make recommendations to the town board on amending zoning laws that have been in affect in some instances over 40 years. Webster and the world in general is very different in 2020 than it was in 1980. Do some of the zoning laws put in place in 1980 that made sense then not make sense in 2020?
As the saying goes, "Rome was not built in a day". I'm anxious to move forward with ideas and plans for Webster. I have also learned over the years that I need to be measured in that. I need to continue to learn from the great department heads Webster has. every day brings a something new I learn that will be foundational to any plans ultimately proposed. I promise you all I will continue to be a sponge and get in a position of being efective as soon as possible.
January 15, 2020:
As a 54 year old husband, father of 7, and business owner the past 25 years, I have seen a lot. The past year of campaigning for and now being the Webster Town Supervisor has accentuated something I am very familiar with. That being that "various forms of misinformation or being devoid of information" is the biggest hurdle to effective communication, decision making and/or determining one's opinion.
As I met with Webster citizens the past year, I found that many had a perception that Webster Town Government was not being transparent. The more I looked into it, the more I started to understand how that perception could be just a "form of misinformation/devoid of information". Now don't get me wrong, one thing I learned a long time ago is that you don't argue against perceptions by defending what you did in the past. You CHANGE perceptions by what you DO in the present and future. Hopefully this column can act as a start to that change
At the top of Webster Town Government is the 5-person Town Board. As Town Supervisor, I am one of those board members. We minimally meet 24-times a year for regular board meetings, on the 1st and 3rd Thursday of each month. These meetings are open to the public and are in the Town Board meeting room in the courts building behind town hall. These meetings are also by law given public notice by publishing in the local newspaper. (I.e. the Webster Herald) ALL decisions made by the board occur at such meetings including resolutions, ordinances, and laws. Based on the last 3-4 sentences.... Webster town government IS transparent. So why the perception it is not?
The first challenge is that the "relatively universal" law of publishing/posting government meetings in a local newspaper was adopted when newspapers were the main means of citizens consuming information. Reality is that in 2020, "print media" is having its challenges as other digital means of information consumption become more utilized by people. I'm not certain the current subscription levels of the Webster herald, but my guess is that a minor percentage of the approximate 45,000 citizens in town and 31,000 registered voters subscribe and/or read the "print version". That can lead to a majority of the population being "devoid" of the information about Webster Town government notices and just how accessible and transparent it can be.
One thing I learned as a CEO of a company was that you have to accommodate the demands of the customer base. Where I may like having a print version to read my news (which in fact I do cuz I'm old school) I have to be aware that a majority of people may not and want it in some digital form. I don't foresee the posting/publication laws changing any time soon from newsprint, However, as Supervisor, I will work to make sure that an expansion of these postings will be done in a variety of digital ways so that a majority of the townspeople will know when these town board meetings are, and what topics will be discussed at them.