Kingston Mayor Steve Noble last week used his annual State of the City speech to look ahead and look back…all the way back.
“This year marks the 150th anniversary of the City of Kingston,” said Noble. “In 1872, the villages of Rondout, Kingston, and Wilbur came together to form a new, unified city. Today, I call on all residents — new and longtime — to make 2022 the year of uniting.”
Noble was speaking during a meeting of Kingston’s Common Council held at City Hall on Tuesday, January 4. One year earlier, Noble had made his speech virtually due to a spike in COVID-19 infections, when a vaccine had yet to be made available to the public.
“At the time, we hoped that we’d be back to normal by now, and Zoom would be a thing of the past,” Noble said. “COVID has dealt us many challenges over the last two years, and it appears we have a few left in store. Kingston, you have been courageous, resilient, and compassionate. With heartfelt gratitude, I want to appreciate our healthcare professionals, our teachers, our essential workers, and all those who kept their businesses operating and their homes safe through these difficult times. Though we are all fatigued, I know we will carry that same resiliency into this new year, and into this next phase of recovery. If we continue to offer our neighbors a helping hand, if we ask for assistance when we need it, our community can — and will — keep moving forward together.”
Noble referred to Mayor James Lindsley’s 1872 State of the City speech as carrying wisdom through the ages, particularly its opening passage: “The duties and responsibilities that have devolved upon us call for energy without precipitancy, care in devising, and courage in execution.”
“He [Lindsley] is referring to the challenges the community faced as three villages combined, but those words are just as resonant today,” Noble said. “We need energy, care, and courage now more than ever.”
Noble said the city will move forward by working together.
“I believe one of our biggest challenges in 2022 is the painful division in our nation, state, and local community,” Noble said. “In order to accomplish our goals of rebuilding our roads and vital infrastructure, ensuring every member of our community is fed and housed, and making meaningful change to our policing methods, it will take a coordinated and collective effort. Together we can heal the divides — because we can only move forward if we are working with one another, helping each other along.”
The mayor said that Kingston had thus far done a good job of weathering the challenges of the pandemic and a shaky economy to stay fiscally sound.
“We acted early, utilizing sound budgeting techniques and conservative spending while maintaining services for residents and keeping the city running,” Noble said. “The NY State Comptroller’s office gave Kingston a fiscal stress score of 1.7 out of 100 for 2020 — our best score to date.”
Noble pointed to a 2022 budget that expanded services without raising taxes for a seventh straight year. Kingston added 22 new full-time jobs, including three police officers, 5 Department of Public Works employees, and four project managers to help navigate numerous municipal projects.
“2021 turned out to be nearly as challenging as 2020, but, with our secure financial footing and our learned experience dealing with the pandemic’s hardships, we were braced to withstand the tough times,” Noble said. “Despite scaled-back budgets, we were able to finish or move forward many significant projects.”
Rezoning, Dietz renovation, tiny homes
For the future, Noble cited numerous municipal initiatives, including an $18 million renovation project at Dietz Stadium, and a Kingston Forward rezoning project geared toward using a form-based code meant to promote revitalization, affordable housing, and small businesses. The city hired a director of housing initiatives, Bartek Starodaj, to steer the rezoning initiative, implement an anti-displacement grant and seek further opportunities to increase affordable housing. In partnership with Family of Woodstock, the city has identified a pair of vacant lots at 81 Cedar Street and 78 Franklin Street to spearhead the Tiny Homes Project. And Noble said he also hopes to help the Common Council pass Good Cause Eviction legislation sooner rather than later.
Noble also said that Kingston will continue its efforts at re-envisioning community policing, which began following the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by white Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin in May 2020. A comprehensive list of recommendations was compiled by 13 members of the Kingston community who researched policing practices and policies, and ratified by the Common Council in April 2021.
“In 2022, we want to take our commitment one step further, and turn these concepts into real change,” Noble said.
Working with the Peaceful Guardians Project, a community organization designed to bridge the gap between youth and law enforcement, Noble said the city will present a 1-year plan for immediate implementation, and a 5-year plan for “loftier goals.”
“I, along with the Kingston Police Department, take very seriously our role in maintaining public safety, ensuring fair and equitable treatment for all communities, and protecting our residents with integrity,” Noble said. “I thank the men and women of the Kingston Police Department who proudly serve the City, and do so with the best interest of all at heart.”
In closing, Noble again reached into the past.
“Mayor Lindsley recognized back in 1872, ‘Putting aside local prejudice and personal interest, let us bring to our work a singleness of purpose and desire to benefit our whole city…’” Noble said. “I call on the folks of Kingston once again to put aside prejudices and personal interests, and work with a singleness of purpose. Let’s move forward and heal as a community. Let’s push ourselves and our City to be all that we know it can be. We are making progress, and we won’t stop now. If we work together with energy, care, and courage, we can accomplish anything.”