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By Douglas Sciorra

Mayor Buckley: Hornell is “bustling with activity”

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Read the full text of the “State of the City” address

Reporting and photos by Syrena Lynn Carver

The annual organizational meeting was opened with a prayer by Pastor Matt Sassano and the pledge led by former US Congressman Joe Sempolinski.

The city address was well attended: Sempolinski, Mike & Suzy Palmesano, Paul Van Caeseele w/Ashley Bottomley, Mike Nisbit, Ted Murray, Frank Brzozowski, Leo “Bud” Burdett, and Ed Flaitz.

Mayor Buckley was very positive in his address telling about how Hornell is “bustling with activity.” Buckley cited the revitalization project with water/sewer plant led by Lenny Fucci & Ruch Dunning – 2 new water storage tanks, specifically. DPW is getting some much needed new equipment and a new facility. Hornell Area Transit will also soon have a new facility to operate from. Code enforcement is reviewing the city codes, rehabbing zombie houses, helping residents with related issues. The mayor announced the addition of two new code enforcement vehicles, three new ambulances, and police cars.

Bail reform and other State mandated laws making it a challenge to apprehend and detain criminals, mental health issues are also problematic. Hornell Fire & Ambulance departments have been servicing the outlying areas more due to a shortage of volunteers in the outlying departments: 4,248 calls so far this year! Contracts for the outlying areas have been negotiated to help unburden the city residents tax bill.

Buckley announced that Alstom will be hiring 250 more employees in the near future; the new hotel will have 80 units and employ 25-30 people (opening this year); The new Union Park on Seneca St will be revamped this year with benches, walkways, and a memorial for Officer Daniel Swift who was killed on duty 50 yrs ago. Improvements to James St. Park are planned with new tennis courts and a splash pad.

There is nearly 1 million in grant money for qualified residents: -upgrades in windows, roofs, etc. Contact Cindy Burdell at City Hall for more information.

He stated that the local media outlets have not been informing on city news so Assistant Mayor Jessica Cleveland will be starting a newsletter that will be mailed to residents and it will include a message from the Desk of the Mayor.

He mentioned that while all these projects are great, inflation is taking its’ toll and he is using a “common sense” approach and it’s “no easy task.”

He ended with a quote by MLK, jr: “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk. If you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

Buckley closed with, “Thank you and God Bless.”

Below is the full transcript of the Mayors “State of the City:”

Common Council Members, Friends and Neighbors, Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you for being here this evening. The State of the City continues to be Strong.
And the proof is in the pudding. Just yesterday, Hornell was named the most affordable place to live in the entire State. The City recently earned an “A” grade and another glowing report from our auditors while adding to an already healthy fund balance. Working closely with City Chamberlain Michele Smith, Department Heads and the Common Council, my administration continues to deliver a sound, responsible budget that meets the needs of taxpayers while continuing to deliver the high level of City services residents expect and rely on.
My administration continues to prioritize and invest in infrastructure. Coming off a 7.8 million dollar rehabilitation of the Water Filtration Plant, which included the construction of two new water storage tanks, the City has embarked on another large project at the Water Pollution Control Plant to make necessary upgrades to that facility. As I’ve said before, water and sewer are two things we take for granted. We are blessed and fortunate to have dedicated, professional Chief Operators Lenny Fucci and Rich Dunning at the helm, along with their staff providing these two essential services to our City.
The Department of Public Works continues to play a pivotal role, improving infrastructure as well as quality of life. Designed by Assistant Superintendent Ashley Brown, the 11th house built by BOCES students resides on Preston Avenue at the site of the horrific fire that consumed several homes in the Fall of 2019. This new house, which is out for public bid, will help breathe new life and revitalize this neighborhood which was devastated a few short years ago. The 12th house, which will be placed on Madison Avenue, is currently under construction.
From A to Z, the Department of Public Works simply does it all. Led by Superintendent Mitch Cornish and Foreman Rob Guy, the DPW prepped and help pave an additional 12 City Streets this past year with repaving of Crosby and Thatcher Streets among those planned for this coming construction season. Crews also kept the Downtown area and City Parks beautiful and in immaculate condition.
While we continue to invest in our aging infrastructure, my administration has prioritized investing in the DPW itself. This past year the Common Council passed a resolution designating $850,000 in ARPA funding to purchase new heavy equipment to replace aging and failing equipment that is decades old. This year, we are taking bold steps to acquire a new facility for the both the Department of Public Works and Hornell Area Transit.
HAT, like many other transportation providers, continues to face many challenges coming out of the pandemic with reduced ridership, a national driver shortage, and new onerous CDL requirements from the Federal Government. Deputy Mayor Jessica Cleveland is now working with HAT Supervisor Kim Courtney to overcome these challenges in order for HAT to continue meeting the needs of residents.
Our Codes Department continues to be very proactive and successful in helping to get blighted Zombie and Vacant properties in the hands of contractors who are rehabbing these properties and returning them to the tax rolls. We also have embarked on a comprehensive review of City Codes in order to meet today’s needs and standards. Head Code Officer Bud Burdett and staff go above and beyond working with property owners ensuring Code compliance, and often times playing the role of social worker to help residents solve problems which ultimately benefits the quality of life in neighborhoods throughout the City.
My administration continues its support and investment in public safety, adding 2 Code vehicles, 3 police vehicles and 3 ambulances this past year.
Led by Chief Ted Murray, we are fortunate and blessed to have such a dedicated, caring and community minded police department. However, law enforcement continues to face increased challenges including dealing with mental health issues and disastrous Bail Reform policies which in many cases excuses and ignores criminal behavior while endangering individual and public safety. While State lawmakers have recently pulled back on some of the reforms, more must be done.  
The Hornell Fire Department continues serving the needs of not only City residents, but increasingly, residents of our neighboring municipalities. This is due to the decline in the ability of the volunteer departments to deliver EMS to their own residents. If fact, the Hornell Fire Department set another record for EMS call volume responding to an astounding 4248 EMS calls this past year. I commend Chief Frank Brzozowski and his team for their extraordinary service. With the growing strain of providing EMS outside of the City, my administration is working to correct longstanding and inherited inequities. With the help and will of this Common Council, no longer will City taxpayers shoulder the financial burden of providing free Emergency Medical Services to neighboring municipalities. Beginning this year, those services will require contracts so that those municipalities have real skin in the game and the good will of City taxpayers is not taken advantage of.
From large business to small, economic development continues to flourish in the Maple City. Construction is wrapping up on Alstom’s new Car Shell manufacturing facility which is gearing up for the 1.8-billion-dollar Metra contract to replace the aging Chicago metropolitan area fleet. This contract calls for a base order of 200 cars to be built in Hornell with the option of 300 more. Alstom expects to add an additional 250 employees which means more good paying jobs here in Hornell for years to come.
The new business class Hampton Inn hotel is expected to open this later this year. This new hotel will offer nearly 80 units and is expected to create between 25 and 30 new jobs.
Fresh off their successful transformation of the old Marion Rohr building into the luxury lofts of the Rockland Silk Mill, Park Grove Reality is busy working to repurpose the former Bryant School into affordable living units which will add more housing opportunities to our growing City.
Hornell’s downtown recently welcomed the beautiful Hush Cocktail Lounge to Main St. This 1920’s inspired venue has been wildly successful offering unique cocktails and appetizers while attracting customers from around the region.
As I said before, winning the DRI is a game changer for the City of Hornell. Projects that were once mere dreams will now become reality. That reality will begin taking shape later this year as we break ground on the highly anticipated Union Square Park. This 4 season, downtown, pedestrian park will feature an amphitheater, lighted walkways, benches and a fountain. The park will also be home to a memorial honoring the life and service of Police Sergeant Daniel Swift who lost his life in the line of duty nearly 50 years ago.
The DRI doesn’t stop there. We are in the midst of planning other municipal projects such as streetscape and alleyway enhancements, wayfinding, public art and improvements to the Community Arts Center, all of which will commence over the next two years.
While we are happy and appreciative of receiving the 10-million-dollar Downtown Revitalization Initiative, we are not resting on our laurels. During the 5 years I have been Mayor, my administration has and continues to aggressively pursue grants. With two CDBG Neighborhood Revitalization awards of nearly 1 million dollars, we are helping address essential needs of qualified home owners such as heating, windows, and roofing. Administered by Assessor Cindy Burdell, this vitally important program directly enhances the quality of life of residents and helps revitalize properties and neighborhoods.
Through the efforts of City Planner Heather Reynolds, the Maple City was recently awarded a $376,000 grant to make improvements to Veteran’s Memorial Park at James Street which will include replacement of the tennis and basketball courts, a splash pad to replace the baby pool, and improvements to the pool house.
The City was also awarded a $1.25 million dollar grant to address the aforementioned project at the Sewer Plant as well as a $50,000 Water Asset management grant.
To sum it up, the City of Hornell is bustling with activity.  However, over the last few years, we have seen a sharp decline in media coverage of City meetings. Common Council, Board of Public Safety, Board of Public Works as well as committee meetings, largely go unattended by the media. Important stories go unwritten and untold, leaving residents uninformed. Faced with this reality, we are taking steps to engage and inform residents. I have tasked Deputy Mayor Cleveland to write summaries on City meetings, send out press releases, and share the information on the City’s Facebook page. Tonight, I am proud to announce a new initiative starting this year; the development of a City of Hornell newsletter which will be mailed directly to residents. This newsletter will feature updates from City departments, information on grants, updates on projects, and a message from the desk of the mayor.
With this new year, comes many challenges. Record hyperinflation and rising interest rates are crushing residents’ personal finances. These two factors also impede the City’s ability to plan and complete projects, as costs have risen dramatically. New York State minimum wage continues to rapidly increase which ultimately costs taxpayers more and creates upward pressure on public and private employers.
Albany continues to burden us with several unfunded mandates with more looming over the horizon.  Overcoming these additional financial burdens and hardships will be no easy task. My administration will continue implementing common sense, cost saving measures to minimize pressure on taxpayers while still delivering the high level of essential services residents have enjoyed and rely on.
Our Nation’s Capital continues to be mired in controversy and partisanship, with no end in sight. Honest debate, reasoning and compromise have been replaced by the politics of personal destruction. 
My friends on the Council – it is up to us to stay above the political fray and continue setting a positive example to the people which we serve.  Let Hornell continue to be a beacon of light, an example of positivity and teamwork, working for the betterment of each and every individual living in this great City.
In closing, I would like to share my favorite quote from Martin Luther King Jr.
“If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”
Thank you and God bless.
Mayor John Buckley

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