Looking back on 2021 as we approach 2022, I'm struck by the resilience and determination of our community. The various constituencies that comprise the Town of Ossining - residents, Town government, first responders, health care workers, business owners, not-for-profits, community leaders, and elected officials - have all pulled together admirably to keep moving Ossining forward. I am grateful to be able to say that the Town is greener, fairer and more prosperous at the end of this year, in spite of the daunting circumstances we faced.
This year, we made major progress on environmental initiatives. We adopted the New York Stretch Energy code, which will increase our energy savings and make us eligible for more state grants down the line. We passed legislation to make the Town more pollinator-friendly, and began planting native species in our parks to help revive dwindling local populations of bees, birds and butterflies. We also passed battery energy storage legislation and approved our first battery storage development, at St. Augustine’s. We ordered an electric bus, hosted a watercraft stewards program, initiated our habitat stewards program in our parks, and approved our first community solar project, which turned a parking lot at Maryknoll into the largest solar canopy in Westchester County.
We also won a number of grants to support green initiatives, including an urban forestry grant that supports much of our tree maintenance work and a $125,000 Department of Environmental Conservation grant to design a living shoreline project at the Henry Gourdine and Louis Engel Waterfront Parks. Speaking of parks, we did much to improve our parks this year, including new kayak racks at Louis Engel, improvements to refuse bins, repairing and re-lining our tennis and pickleball courts, and the total restoration of Sally Swope Sitting Park. In the midst of completing a variety of major repairs to that park’s systems, our Parks department also teamed up with staff from Teatown Lake Reservation to identify and remove invasive plant species and replace them with native plants.
Our green initiatives built on progress we began in previous years. We continued our partnership with Sustainable Westchester to promote community programs like EnergySmart Homes and Grid Rewards, and enjoyed another year of 100% green Community Choice Aggregation. We received Tree Bank Fund payments from local developments who needed to remove trees but could not replace them onsite, compensating us to find appropriate places to plant new ones. And we celebrated the one year anniversary of our Food Scrap Recycling Program with our first compost giveback day!
Our efforts to make Ossining greener often dovetailed with efforts to make Ossining more equitable. For example, we adopted a Complete Streets Policy, establishing a goal of designing and operating streets that are safe for all users, regardless of age, ability or mode of transportation. In the coming years, as we make it safer for anyone to travel the Town without a car, we’ll reduce our carbon emissions and become healthier together. On Car-Free Day, we took some time to imagine the possibilities of car-free and car-lite travel.
Equity has long been one of the key principles that guides my administration. In 2021, we took our commitment to equity to new levels. We supported our young people by signing an intermunicipal agreement establishing Ossining’s Youth Bureau, and our seniors with the reopening of indoor dining in the senior program (unfortunately on hold once again for COVID, but we will be back!). A new organization, Ossining for Refugees, was born in Ossining in collaboration with volunteers in Briarcliff, Croton, and Mt. Pleasant in an effort to help with the Afghan refugee crisis. We are fortunate that our Town is well-positioned and well-resourced to be able to do that. The Community Equity Task Force held a number of informative events, including, most recently, The New Giving Tuesday. We also participated in Ossining’s first-ever Juneteenth celebration, and have dedicated funds in the 2022 budget to support an annual Juneteenth program. Juneteenth is now also a paid holiday for all of our workers.
The 2022 Budget we passed this year made considerable investments in equity. The Town recently negotiated a new contract with its CSEA bargaining unit, which contains nearly two-thirds of its unionized workforce. The new contract adds parity adjustments for some titles that were determined to be underpaid in comparison to similar positions in other municipalities, and applied a similar parity analysis approach to salary increases in 2022 for the rest of its workers as well. Although the Town of Ossining has traditionally been more conservative in budgeting than other municipalities, it is important to ensure our staff is equitably compensated for their work, especially in a unit that is mostly composed of women and people of color.
Our commitment to equity is born of a desire to ensure that everyone shares equally in the benefits of living in Ossining, which are substantial and increasing. Investments in capital projects like the Morningside Drive repaving and the McCarthy Drive project will result in smoother, safer streets. We’ll be using the ARPA funding we received this year to continue making improvements to our infrastructure. Strong local institutions like our school districts, partnering governments, and Ossining-based not-for-profits improve our quality of life during normal times, and rose admirably to help us meet the moment when COVID struck. Together, we assisted residents with accessing emergency benefits programs and distributed food, masks, vaccines, and, most recently, home test kits. Our new Public Health Emergency response plan will enable us to draw on what we’ve learned during this pandemic to improve response during future public health crises.
Effective policy and planning, from seemingly peripheral undertakings such as this year’s new boat launch and events policy legislation to major endeavors like our Comprehensive Plan revision, position Ossining to become an even healthier and more prosperous community in the years to come. Our approach to new cannabis legislation, reflective of community support for dispensaries but not on-site consumption, will enable us to take advantage of a new source of tax revenue in future years. Our participation in the Westchester County Hazard Mitigation plan will help us secure our safety and prosperity as climate change increases the need for disaster preparedness, and will also position us to apply for and win more grants in that area. (Speaking of grants: this year we engaged Millennium Strategies to supercharge our efforts at grant writing and management, in a continuation of our commitment to seeking outside funding to offset the cost of improvements for local taxpayers.)
Ossining is a beautiful place, with thriving local businesses and organizations led by motivated, compassionate people. This year, we honored our neighbors, living and departed, at every opportunity.
We restored one of our local landmarks, the Superintendent’s Cottage at historic Dale Cemetery, and won a planning achievement award in the process.
And we enjoyed ourselves, with the much-anticipated return of Food Truck Fridays and the Summer Concert Series.
We have so much to treasure and be proud of today, and so much to look forward to in 2022. From the bottom of my heart, I thank the Town of Ossining for a fantastic year, and send my best wishes for the new one!