In his 10th State of City address on Jan. 25, Port Jervis Mayor Kelly Decker recounted initiatives in the past year that improved the city’s recreational and cultural destinations and looked forward to future projects to make it an even more visitor-friendly place.
He highlighted the completion of a yearslong annexation project with the Town of Deerpark in 2022 and the potential economic development it would bring to the city.
While commending his department heads for their work for the past year, he also thanked a group of volunteers for donating their time and money to building up the city.
“So, what really could draw even more people to Port Jervis? We see it, we know it, and we just need to expand it—it is rafting, canoeing, and kayaking down the river; it is hiking and biking on the watershed trails; it is camping in the Elks Brox Park; it is attending festivals and events,” he said
“It is having a city that has activities and museums for people to pass their time,” he said.
After having steered the city for almost a decade with a vision of making it a top recreational center, Decker said he is not seeking reelection this fall.
“Is there still work to be done? Absolutely,” he said, “But I believe that this is the time to step aside and give someone else the opportunity to help move our city forward.”
“Different ideas inspire change, and it is my hope that someone is elected who can offer a breath of fresh air to our city with positive hope for the future,” he added.
Museums, Parks, and Sidewalks
Last May, the Port Jervis Transportation History Center had a grand opening in the city, offering exhibits, an event space, and a dining experience in a restored dining car built in 1947.
“This development is breathing new life into our downtown as well as our past by attracting people from near and far to visit our little city on the banks of the Delaware River,” Decker said.
To make the downtown business district more friendly to visitors, the city added sample wayfinding signs last year and will continue to erect around thirty of them in 2023, he said.
The multi-year sidewalk improvement project will also continue, with new paving, lighting, waste receptacles, and trees in planning.
Two major park improvements will begin soon: new lighting and sound systems at the Orange Square Memorial Park and improvements to the bathhouse and parking lot at the West End beach.
A new disc golf course is expected to open in Riverside Park this spring, a project spearheaded and manned by volunteers from the Port Jervis Outdoor Club.
In the past few years, volunteers at the club built up multiple pieces of recreational infrastructure in the city, including the watershed trails and the pump track.
“Our volunteers cut the trees, clear the brushes, pick up the garbage, and tidy our city to make these places attractive for visitors,” Decker said.
“I’ve said this every year, and we’ll repeat it again: our volunteer organizations are one of the most vital parts of this city’s growing success,” he said.
Annexation and Economic Development
Last year, the city finalized a historic annexation agreement with the Town of Deerpark, taking in two parcels on two ends of the city from the town for further commercial development.
The official land transfer will go into effect on Mar. 1, 2023, after which the city’s planning board will start processing proposals from potential developers.
According to the agreement, the city of Port Jervis and the town of Deerpark will equally split the property taxes from the two parcels in perpetuity; the city will collect fees from businesses on the annexed lands for providing water and sewer services.
“[It] might not only bring jobs, but potential revenue,” Decker said. “This is certainly a win for all of us.”
After Decker was first elected mayor in 2013, the owners of two businesses, Dick’s Concrete and Equity Homes, approached him with the idea of annexation; both were located in Deerpark, and their future growth was limited by its water and sewer capacity.
It would take years of negotiations among the town, city, and two property owners for the idea to come to fruition. It is the first-ever annexation in the city’s history.
Decker also mentioned several new businesses in the past year, including the restaurant Saison Latino, a bagel eatery, and a raw juice bar.
In terms of the health care industry, the city welcomed its first urgent care center and saw an upgraded Cornerstone Family Healthcare center in 2022.
Not Seeking Reelection
Decker told The Epoch Times on Jan. 25 that after two years as a city councilman and ten years as mayor, he wanted to take a break, both for himself and his family.
He cited the case of the country’s first president George Washington.
“They wanted him to be king, but he said he didn’t want to be king and that he was only running for two terms,” he said. “His two terms were eight years. I surpassed that as a mayor. So, it is time.”
He added that he did not rule out running for political office in the future.
Looking back on his almost ten years in office, Decker said some of his most proud accomplishments are the historic annexation, the construction of the Frank Bell bridge, the ongoing large-scale sidewalk project, the redevelopment of the downtown business district, and increased homeownership in the city.
When he first became mayor, rental properties accounted for about 80 percent of the city’s housing stock, which has since dropped to around 60 percent, he said.
He said the increased homeownership was partly brought by the growing Chinese population in the area.
“They are great neighbors,” he said. “I have them down on both sides of the street from me, and they are wonderful people.”