Peekskill Under Fire For Lack Of Public Voice On Budget

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Peekskill employee Diane Blank, right, was among those who spoke at Monday's public hearing on the 2013 city budget.
Peekskill employee Diane Blank, right, was among those who spoke at Monday's public hearing on the 2013 city budget. Photo Credit: Art Cusano

PEEKSKILL, N.Y. – The newly revised Peekskill city budget for 2013 reduced the proposed property tax increase from 6 percent to 3.82 percent, but some residents who attended a budget hearing Monday took issue with how the process was handled.

City resident George Ondek told the Common Council members that he didn’t believe they cared about the public’s opinion, since the council already had planned to adopt the budget just three days later.

“You put this out tonight and it’s going to be voted on in two days, so no matter what we say tonight isn’t going to make any difference to you,” Ondek said.

The $35 million budget reduces spending 2 percent from the city manager’s proposed budget presented last month, and restores several positions, including two full-time positions at the Kiley Youth Center. There are 18 layoffs in the budget. Eleven employees took early retirement offered by the city, and nine of those retirees won’t be replaced.

Some of the people who took early retirement also spoke at the meeting, saying the system was unfair.

City resident Diane Blank, an employee of the assessor's office, told the council she was very unhappy and very disappointed to end her 21-year career in such a manner, and said the council members had been unresponsive to questions she had asked them.

“I’ve worked hard for this city for a long time, and worked with a lot of seniors, and I just want to thank you all for ending my 21-year career and I wish you all a merry Christmas,” Blank said.

The total number of positions to be cut has dropped from 24 to 18, with many of the cuts coming from managerial and white-collar jobs. No city Police or Fire department positions are being cut, because of union negotiations.

David Pachianna, owner of Panio Wines and Spirits, told council members that their claim that the planned central firehouse project wasn’t affecting the 2013 budget was false, since the city would be making interest payments on bonds issued in September. Mayor Mary Foster said those notes replaced others that had expired.

“If you weren’t building the central firehouse you could retire those notes and use that interest, rather than projects we don’t need,” Pachianna said.

Resident Denise Davis asked about the monthly usage fees being considered to help pay for Kiley Youth Center programs and staff. The mayor said the fees have not yet been decided but are among possible revenue streams being considered by the city to fund the center.

“One of the recommendations from the Kiley staff is a fee for an ID card. We haven’t figured out what that fee will be,” Foster said.

The Common Council reduced the 2013 property tax increase from the 6 percent in the city manager’s proposed budget to 3.8 percent, meaning an increase of about $73 per year for the average city homeowner. The city can exceed the 2 percent property tax levy cap because of exemptions for payments in lieu of taxes.

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