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Ogdensburg reflects on progress, plans projects

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OGDENSBURG — With new leadership in place and a tumultuous 2012 behind them, city leaders say they are optimistic about the future.

At the beginning of the year, a new City Council faced questions over the future of then City Manager Arthur J. Sciorra.

After deciding to part ways with Mr. Sciorra, the council began the long work of finding a new manager, while City Comptroller Philip A. Cosmo took over in the interim.

Councilman Daniel E. Skamperle said the gap in leadership may have slowed the city’s progress on some fronts.

“I would say that the city saw a lot of inaction in the first six months,” he said. “There could have been more progress done.”

In August, Ogdensburg announced the hiring of John M. Pinkerton as city manager.

“I would probably say the change in management is the biggest story of the year,” said Deputy Mayor Michael D. Morley. “To be honest, what else would it be?”

Mr. Pinkerton, an Ogdensburg native and longtime consultant and manager for Newell-Rubbermaid, left a position as business adviser at CITEC, a business development company based at Clarkson University, Potsdam. Council members hoped his business experience and his focus on efficiency and customer service would revitalize the city.

The city also managed to sell off a large number of properties at a July auction, including the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center’s former Community Resource Center at 100 Ford St. to the United Helpers Management Corp. for $401,000.

Grant programs help

Significant progress was made on two major grant programs tasked with rehabilitating and renovating property around Ogdensburg. The city successfully brought the Main Street Grant Program to a close this fall.

“I think the Main Street grant program that did work at Dillingham Jones, that improved the fašade at Philip’s Diner, I think that’s the biggest story,” Mr. Pinkerton said. “I like what happened at Hosmer’s marina and at Mayhew’s there.”

Mr. Pinkerton said that between the grant-funded work and the Oct. 6 opening of the pedestrian bridge at Lake Street, the city’s Marina District along the Oswegatchie was ready for a revival.

While the city’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program remains open, the council approved the sale of three remaining houses in the program, while another at 505 New York Ave. is being demolished.

Furthermore, Ogdensburg has received permission from the state Division of Homes and Community Renewal to remove income from the property sales from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which could lead to the program’s closure this year.

Mr. Morley said he wanted to prioritize bringing the program to an end.

“I would like to keep on with improving our housing,” he said. “That is on my agenda for the first few meetings of the year. It is time for our city planner to take over.”

In 2013, home rehabilitation will begin again thanks to a $400,000 Community Development Block Grant.

a better waterfront

Progress was also made along the waterfront as Ogdensburg entered a new phase in its Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, seeking ways to implement new signage along river and road entrances to the city.

Ogdensburg also finished demolition work at the former Standard Shade Roller site and is beginning an assessment at another site, the former Augsbury Tank Farm.

“I think the best story — and I like to stay positive — has been the brownfields clean-up,” Mr. Skamperle said. “Getting that accomplished is big.”

Ogdensburg will move forward with a pilot project to market and develop a small waterfront parcel, which officials hope will pave the way for the sale and development of decontaminated industrial sites along the St. Lawrence and Oswegatchie rivers.

If that’s successful, Ogdensburg’s revenue could be expanded by returning municipally owned property to the tax rolls.

That would help mitigate the effects of a series of tight budgets that has led to shrinking city staff and deferred equipment purchases while keeping the tax rate low. Ogdensburg’s 2013 budget will increase the tax levy to $4,604,457 from a 2012 level of $4,459,136, a $145,321, or 3.2 percent, increase. The city’s tax rate will increase by 53 cents, from $16.21 per $1,000 of assessed value to $16.74, a 3.3 percent increase.

“This year, we were able to keep the tax rate increase down. I think that is a big story,” said Councilwoman Jennifer Stevenson. “I would say we need to continue to be fiscally responsible, to look at new revenue sources. Without that we’re going to have some issues next year. We need to look at sources that do not include property tax increases.”

In the meantime, Mr. Pinkerton says he is looking at other ways to improve Ogdensburg’s efficiency, including alternative energy sources.

“I’m asking all departments to hold everything as tightly as they can and do things that save us money,” he said. “We’re working on improving the methane recovery at the wastewater treatment plant. We’re replacing the lights on the twin bridges with LEDs, that will save us money. All of our departments are doing things like that.”

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