Budget Off To A Smooth Start, Plus Surprises

RIOC Board September, 2019, Meeting Highlights

Updated 29 weeks ago David Stone
Board members mingle prior to RIOC's September 2019 meeting.
Board members mingle prior to RIOC's September 2019 meeting.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

RIOC's September board meeting's main business, the official start of public work on next year's budget, went smoothly, so smoothly that it was dominated by other business, new and old.

The product of a summer spent gathering data by CFO John O'Reilly and Comptroller Muneshwar Jagdharry, the material supplied to the board is a planning document, a foundation on which a final proposal will go to Albany for approval by the end of the calendar year.

April 1st is when the finished product will govern how RIOC collects and spends revenues for the next twelve months.

$40,881,000 for Capital Projects

We will go into greater detail once we've had time to go over the proposed budget (see attachment below), but for now, the headline is a $6,271,000 jump in spending for capital projects. That brings the the total to nearly $41 million. 

That's a lot of money, far more than that spent in the last decade combined. It's also more than is likely to be spent next year.

Do to the oddities of budgeting and accounting that most of us will never know much about -- but fortunately have O'Reilly and Jagdharry to manage for us -- the total covers projects that will not be finished during the budget period.

In the current year, for example, the capital budget totals $35 million, but only between $20 and $25 million will be spent. Some projects take longer, others get stalled for various reasons, but all must be accounted for.

More on this and other budget considerations in a future article.

Janet Falk Tries To Demolish "Ugly" RI Monument

RI Monument under construction, August 2018.
RI Monument under construction, August 2018.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

In an impassioned but well-organized presentation in the pre-meeting public comments session, Common Council representative Janet Falk challenged the board and president Susan Rosenthal.

"Hundreds of people ignore the monument, and thousands actively detest it," she said.

We've covered this story before and will do so with an update, but in brief, Falk argued that the 8 foot tall Helvetica fonts were wedged into permanent status in spite of fierce resistance from residents.

When she asked Rosenthal about the monument's status in May, Falk says Rosenthal "could not provide one statistic to prove that the monument had attracted visitors, enticed them to stay longer on the island, spend more money, be more active on social media, or generate more favorable comments by residents."

While the rest of the board looked on in stoney silence, new member David Kapell engaged with Falk and offered to take a look.

For the record, Falk is right in that RIOC's Real Estate and Development Advisory Committee approved only a three month trial for the structure and was supposed to meet again to vote on permanent approval. As far as the records show, that was never done, a sign of serious laxity on the board's part.

At that meeting, Hudson President David Kramer sealed the three-month deal with a promise to remove the monument "if residents hate it."

Residents hate it, according to Falk.

On October 10th, last year, RIOC brought out staff and a jazz band to promote interest in the monument and got mostly indifference:

Monument opponents, like Falk, activist Frank Farance and historian Judith Berdy, suspect that RIOC executives evolved the trial into a permanent installation as a fait accompli. That indeed appears to be what happened.

More to come on this.

Silvio Wolf Hopes to Beautify the Tram Plaza

In an agenda item added at the last minute, former board member Margie Smith spoke on behalf of the Roosevelt Island Visual Art Association about a temporary installation to beautify the Tram Plaza.

Silvio Wolf, an internationally known artist from Milan, reached out to RIVAA with a design that would wrap the station in vinyl. The covering would be painted to highlight the Island's natural textures along the water as well as the glassy look and feel of Cornell Tech.

RIVAA championed the "Island of Art" concept nearly twenty years ago and has pursued it with partners, including RIOC, bringing in installations and programs to accent the idea of public art uplifting a community. As a board member and after, Smith has been an avid supporter of RIVAA's mission.

In contrast to the RI Monument just roasted by Janet Falk, the Tram Plaza artwork would likely draw visitors to the Island and actually be temporary.

As for Wolf, although Milan based, he maintains a residence in New York and is a visiting professor at the School of Visual Arts.

The President's Report

Rosenthal brought the board up to date on several topics of interest to residents.

  • Blackwell House is still not ready for an opening because FDNY and DOB inspections have not been completed.
  • The much anticipated Octagon Field, she promised, with Vice President Shelton Haynes nodding agreement, will reopen this month. It's to be renamed in honor of retired PSD director Jack McManus.
  • Work has started on rebuilding the comfort station and a new access path, but RIOC will keep its promise to open the field without being held up by other, incomplete elements.
  • Double yellow lines on Main Street are finally done.
  • Rosenthal, city council member Ben Kallos and RIOC staff met with Citi Bike two weeks ago. Obstacles have been overcomeand work is in progress to determine the best location for docking stations. Expect Citi Bike to be available here by spring.
  • Finally, the Real Estate and Development Advisory Committee is set to get a presentation from Hudson Related about their efforts to develop Main Street retail. After ten years, major gaps in retail still plague the Island's main corridor.
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