PEEKSKILL, N.Y. - More than 100 protesters gathered in front of Peekskill City Hall and clamored into the Common Council meeting Tuesday to oppose a proposed budget that would cut 40 staff positions and raise taxes 6 percent, or $121.60 annually on the average Peekskill resident.
Hecklers hissed and booed as the Common Council and Mayor Mary Foster entered the room. More than one speaker called for the mayor's resignation.
The budget looks to save more than $3 million by laying off 24 full-time employees, eliminating seven full-time but vacant positions and laying off nine part-time employees. The layoffs would represent a 14.4 percent staff decrease and would affect administrative staff, police, firefighters and the Department of Public Works employees. Several city management positions were funded for only part of the year.
"We're here to save the Kiley Center, the staff of the Kiley Center, and to stand in solidarity with the city employees," said Darrell Davis, director of the Westchester Grassroots Coalition.
Residents and protesters wrapped around the room, waiting for their turn to speak at the podium. Many wore red T-shirts that said, "NOT ON OUR BACKS!!!" Dozens of teens lined rows of wooden benches, rallying around the Kiley Center, the drop-in recreation center that serves youths in the Bohlman Towers area.
Although the city's proposed budget would reduce the Kiley sports program from $269,021 in 2012 to $22,493 in 2013, city officials said they were not aware of plans to close the program. In the proposed budget, line items such as Light and Power, Building Maintenance and Recreation Supplies all received zeroes.
Pension costs had an "extreme impact" on Peekskill's budget, Foster said, and the state government was "passing the buck."
"We are looking to reduce whatever we can to save as many positions as we can. The challenge here is restructuring pension costs at the state level," council member Marybeth McGowan said.
Carl DeMarco, president of the Peekskill Police Benevolent Association, said that if the cuts went through, there would be 54 employees left, the lowest staffing level in 25 years. Three police officers would be cut under the plan along with one park ranger and one community service officer.
Cuts would force the department to end DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), GREAT (Gang Resistance Education And Training), and the Peekskill Youth Academy programs, DeMarco said.
DeMarco, a patrolman, began working midnight shifts in the city 10 years ago. Back then, he said, "The only thing that was walking around was prostitutes and drug addicts. Now, you got people from Cortlandt Manor, Croton walking around. They come here."
The Peekskill Fire Department is also facing layoffs. Gary Horne, union president of the International Association of Fire Fighters local 2343, said, "You don't lose 30 employees and build a mausoleum." He was blasting plans to build a centrally located firehouse in Peekskill for $15.6 million.