2018 State of the Village
January 27, 2018
Somehow I blinked, and now I’ve been mayoring for five years. But when I think about the big strides we’re taking as a village, the progress on the goals we enumerated five years ago, and all the efforts by our terrific staff and community volunteers, it sometimes seems instead that much more time has elapsed. Thank you for the opportunity to continue to serve. —Rick Hauser, Mayor
Restore Population, Revisited
When I started, we set our sights on one primary theme: Restore Population, and with the indisputable fact that our village had been losing population for 20 years – from 4,215 in 1990, to 3,673 in 2010. That’s 542 fewer people here, volunteering, contributing to our tax base, investing in our homes, starting businesses or supporting existing ones. The concern was that if this trend continued, then when 2013’s newborns were high school seniors we would be living in a village with 25% fewer people than when 2013’s high school seniors were born. Even maintaining our current services as a village would be challenging, and as these were cut and as pressure on property taxes rose, we would be at a competitive disadvantage - creating a vicious cycle rather than a virtuous cycle.
As a result, many of our efforts - investing in our infrastructure, our downtown, promoting fresh economic development partnerships, recruiting business, identifying recreational amenities in which to invest - have had this goal in mind of restoring population and jumpstarting a virtuous cycle. The 2020 census will be as good a measuring stick of our success as any - will we have reversed the loss and returned to the population levels of 2010 by then? If so, we’ll be on solid footing.
There are lots of good indicators. We have recovered from the loss of large manufacturing with many new, diversified businesses. At each gateway to the village we have major employers – some new, some recently expanded, some acquired, reorganized and saved. And if “downtown” were a business it would be the one with the most new jobs, adding roughly 85 jobs there in the past decade or so.
Growing Regional Partnerships
We have strengthened our reputation as a regional recreation destination, and built partnerships not only with Wyoming County but with Geneseo and Mount Morris through the Letchworth Gateway Villages (LGV) Initiative launched last year. The County’s Rural Arts Initiative (RAI) has provided funds to support 11 artists throughout Wyoming County, eight of whom have studio or business space in Perry related to dance, theater, photography, ceramics and the visual arts. The County’s FastTrac Entrepreneurship training, and the County Chamber both continue to support our small- and start-up businesses. Meanwhile, LGV had a great first year and is funded for year two thanks to the USDA, the three villages and their respective towns. The initiative already has provided business assistance and developed strategic direction for the future based in part on results of a summer-long survey of Letchworth Park visitors and what they’re looking for (One example: if you’re interested in being an AirBnB host, let me know - we’ll be helping folks get established in 2018 to host visitors, earn some income, and encourage those visitors spend more time locally).
We’ve seen millions of dollars of private investment in new and expanded factories and equipment in the past four years. One example? Creative Food Ingredients - our progressive, meticulous and delicious-smelling cookie (ingredient) factory - is in the midst of its second multi-million dollar facilities upgrade in the past 4 years; each has resulted in job opportunities that are largely filled locally. Newer businesses - such as East Hill Creamery and Silver Lake Brewing Project - have become regional models, hosting tours and inspiring the next generation of new enterprises. Like our established businesses, they also benefit from loyal locals like you, who walk the walk when it comes to “shop locally”. Plus, Perry broke through regionally via “destination tourism”-themed publicity, with multi-page spreads last summer in the Democrat & Chronicle and (585) Magazine.
This all isn’t just great news for jobs and the economic ripple effect. Let’s talk numbers. We’ve seen over $20 million of investment in properties over the past three years. The Village of Perry has led Wyoming County in the number of building permits issued, and in the total cost of construction. Increased demand from homebuyers have resulted in the median home sale price increasing 9% over one year ago, while the inventory of homes for sale has dropped 22%.
Over the next 5, 10 and 15 years, it is investments like these that stabilize our tax base and allow us to maintain a high level of village services while lowering your tax rate. On that front - so far, so good: your village tax rate is 2% lower than it was 9 years ago,. By way of comparison, neighboring villages have seen their rates increase by 7%, 16%, 22% and 28% during that time.
The village continues to invest in its infrastructure too. We are poised this spring to complete the latest $700,000 drainage improvement project, this time on South Main Street. These drainage projects not only keep basements from flooding. They also deal with serious interconnection problems between our stormwater collection system and our sanitary (wastewater) treatment plant. When stormwater finds its way to the plant, we waste resources treating it, and sometimes it overloads our capacity.
To that end, we’re in the midst of a $7 million investment in our wastewater treatment plant. Phase I is almost complete and Phase II will happen over the next year or so. In 2016, we completed $1.4 million of work via the Main Street Improvement Project fixing drainage, replacing streetlights and sidewalks, creating a more accommodating pedestrian environment, and helping re-activate downtown’s traditional role as a civic and commercial center. In 2017 we completed $200,000 of road paving and sidewalk repair/replacement, hitting streets based on an updated condition survey. Sidewalk-wise, Covington, Leicester, Church, North and South Main were the main targets, along with neighbors who signed up for the village’s Sidewalk Express program. The village plans to allocate more funding towards paving and sidewalks in 2018.
Businesses and Buildings
In 2017 alone, you witnessed the renovation of no fewer than 18 commercial spaces or facades in the downtown alone (yes, 18; that’s not a misprint); throughout the village seven new businesses opened and five more expanded, relocated and grew employment.
In 2018, 11 additional upper-floor residential units will be coming online, and my best guess is we will see at least seven more new businesses opening this year. The Village plays our part in all this - supporting and connecting entrepreneurs and existing owners with resources, seeking and administering grant programs that help owners take the leap and invest their own substantial dollars and sweat into their properties. We also just launched the Building Improvement Loan (BIL) fund to help commercial properties needing investment. Inquire within.
Take Stock, Abate, Enforce, Assist
We undertook a vacant parcel inventory to better understand our potential assets and be poised to recruit developers. The proposed Perry Knitting Mill Apartments is one result of being prepared when developers come knocking - final word on funding for that project will happen this spring. It would add 48 fully accessible housing units aimed at seniors and veterans, an identified need in our comprehensive plan, plus millions invested in a former factory that had an uncertain future, and add annual payments to the village and town to support emergency services and fire truck replacement needs. We’re now working with the Center on Leicester Street owners on a plan to create up to 10 additional apartments on the largely vacant 1st floor.
Another component of making Perry a place of choice for residents is an expectation that reasonable standards of property maintenance that are currently law - in order to protect property value and prevent blight - will be enforced. Over three years ago we added a part-time property maintenance officer. In the short time since, over 160 property owners have completed related work, and another 93 are in process. Thank you to everyone for stepping up as part of this community-wide effort.
On the incentive side, we’ve adopted property tax abatements and supported County-led PILOTS (Payments-In-Lieu-Of-Taxes) that give owners of residential and mixed-use properties a way to defer increases in their property’s assessed value that would result from improvements. Yes, that’s right - if you make improvements to your home that increases its value, the village will abate any increase in property taxes for a period of eight years.
These recruitment tools, incentives and heightened expectations of basic standards were augmented by $400,000 over the past few years in funding the Village obtained to assist income-qualified owners with essential repairs to single-family, owner-occupied homes throughout the village. That program helped two dozen homeowners and has been closed out. If you think you’d be interested in a “Round 2”, please leave contact information with the village clerk. When we have enough demonstrated demand to re-apply, we will do so.
With broad citizen involvement, we rewrote the comprehensive/strategic plan for the village and are following its priority action plan. This guiding document is also now helping us with the updating of our village zoning laws to help guide and direct future development, and what our community will look like. We’ve been at that for 18 months and are looking to finalize things this spring.
Wherever funding exists to support building owners and developers with planned improvements, your village has stepped up to pursue it on their behalf. That’s why you saw significant private-sector investment in buildings throughout Perry in 2017, including downtown where a $500,000 Restore New York Grant is helping with over $1.5 million worth of investment on the long-vacant N. Main block, and a $275,000 New York Main Street Program assisted a dozen other property owners with renovations and facade work. Some new Letchworth Park and Historic District signage just went up as a result of that program as well. Did you spot them?
Jumpstarting the Virtuous Circle
All of this takes us back to the goal of jumpstarting a virtuous cycle of investment. Such investment in improved conditions (infrastructure, appearance and amenities) strengthens your community’s image, resulting in improved market demand, which in turn strengthens your tax base and thus your village’s fiscal capacity to continue to invest while keeping taxes lower. That is a recipe for long-term success - and we are nothing if not in it for the long haul.