“We are moving along pretty well,” said Freeport’s Mayor Robert Kennedy referring to the business of being mayor of the second largest village in New York state. When Mayor Kennedy was elected six months ago, he promised to be “more efficient in taking the burden of rising costs off of Freeport’s taxpayers and create more revenue.”
How is he doing so far?
Freeport’s preliminary 2014 budget indicates that the village tax rate will decrease, even with mandated increases of $1.8 million. The tax rate, now at $61.29, will go down to $61.89 (this was the tentative figure as of Friday, Dec. 13).
“We were able to do this because we increased the assessed valuation of the village by almost $1 million,” said Mayor Kennedy, “including addressing [assessment] grievances.” The assessed valuation of the Village of Freeport went from $68,239,520 to $69,653,075.
“We went through the tedious process of re-certifying all tax exempt properties and some of those properties were placed back on the tax roll,” explained Mayor Kennedy.
Revenue also increased at the Freeport Recreation Center by $500,000 with a decrease of $400,000 in expenses. “And we have a brand new gym,” said Mayor Kennedy.
The recently ratified CSEA contract with village employees has also helped keep the tax levy increase below the 2% cap. “They made many concessions and worked with the village,” said Mayor Kennedy.
Development on the Sunrise Highway corridor
The sale and development of village-owned property along the Sunrise corridor is important for the economic development of the village, as well as providing opportunities for recurring revenue by increasing the number of properties on the tax roll, said Mayor Kennedy.
These properties include Plaza West, Plaza East, a second parcel on Sunrise Highway by Goodyear and the Sunrise Meadowbrook parcel
The Plaza West parcel was put up for sale by the village earlier this year. Although the original RFP provided the village with a $5.5 million offer, the Mayor and village board decided to reissue an RFP amd increase the offering’s footprint. “We want to see a hotel there and want a mixed use for that property. We added the Plaza West Road behind the property on Sunrise Highway [as well as the Church Street triangle] to the RFP,” explained Mayor Kennedy. “There have been somewhere between 25 to 30 requests for the RFP and 23 walk-throughs. The RFP is due in mid-January so we’ll see what happens,” he said.
Mayor Kennedy is also looking to “annex a piece of property next to Goodyear on Sunrise Highway and put that up for sale for somewhere between $650,000-$700,000,” he said.
There is also the possibility of looking to sell some of Freeport’s Plaza East by the Long Island Railroad but the village is “working on the original agreement with the MTA to determine the number of parking spaces that must be provided.”
The Sunrise Meadowbrook property is still in development. This project, worth about $40 to $50 million to the village, has some preliminary agreements in place with the developer but “we have to get New York state to remove its storage facilities there,” said Mayor Kennedy.
“I believe that all this development will spill to the south along the Merrick Road corridor and to the north along the North Main Street corridor,” he said.
The Industrial Park
The Industrial Park is another potential economic engine for Freeport. Although “there is a 40% vacancy rate, it does not hurt taxes. The problem is with water and electric consumption due to poor occupancy,” explained Mayor Kennedy. “We are working with a marketing firm to bring in more tenants. We hope that a study will prove to businesses that our water and electric rates are good for business.”
Additionally, the village’s Albany Avenue property is also for sale.
The Industrial Park is also home to the village’s Department of Public Works. Mayor Kennedy is still hopeful that it will be possible to move that facility up to the Freeport Armory on Babylon Turnpike in order to save $4 million, including the cost of replacing oil tanks damaged in Sandy and the government’s cost for compliance to elevate its facilities.
But legislation was passed in the state Assembly and Senate that could transfer the Freeport Armory and the surrounding land to the Cedarmore Community Development Corporation, housed in Zion Cathedral Church of God in Christ, to provide services for at-risk youth.
“The bill is still sitting on the Governor’s desk,” said Mayor Kennedy. “We are urging him not to sign it...” At press time, Wednesday, December 18, no decision had been made on the bill.
Development along the Nautical Mile
The Hunter Marine building on the Nautical Mile is slated for development as a catering hall operated by MINT Restaurants, said Mayor Kennedy. Additionally, the property to the south, the former Schooner Restaurant, may be developed as a conference center and hotel.
Furthermore, Mayor Kennedy said he wants “to put a family amusement park like [the former] Nunley’s in Seabreeze Park. It would be open in the summer and would have rides for those up to 13 years of age. It would close at sunset.”
Parking and other quality of life issues
With all the potential development along the Nautical Mile, parking could be a problem. However, the village has hired a parking consultant to address it. “We could create a parking district for those who live on the streets near the Nautical Mile to keep people from parking on residential streets,” he said. Mayor Kennedy wants to “build a multi-level parking lot [in the municipal lot on the Nautical Mile] that would be aesthetically pleasing.”
Additionally, there could be a trolley service taking patrons from the Freeport Recreation Center to the Nautical Mile in an effort to manage the parking issues.
By late Spring of 2014, residents along Guy Lombardo and Hudson Avenue will see a decrease in nuisance flooding thanks to five new pumping stations at a cost of $125,000 per station.
The village has razed its electrical substations in the flood zone and installed new transformers so that voltage now “runs overhead,” said Mayor Kennedy.
Ten village roads were repaved this year and another five streets will be repaved in 2014.
The village has also increased its police force to 96 officers.
Finally, Mayor Kennedy said that “300 visitors have come to village hall over the last six months to address quality of life issues. It has been a pleasure to speak with people.”