City passes balanced budget
The Newburgh City Council Monday night passed a balanced budget that stays within the state-mandated 2 percent cap in a compromise hailed by Mayor Judy Kennedy as a “breakthrough” in council relations.
“I’m not happy that we had to raise taxes even a penny,” Kennedy said, “but we had to have a balanced budget.”
Kennedy predicted that revenue generation will be “a major issue for the City Council next year.”
The mayor expressed disappointment in a headline in this past week’s Mid Hudson Times reading, “Mayor backs off drastic changes.” She said that it would have been more accurate if it read “Compromise reached on city budget.”
The “drastic changes” referred to a plan that was being forwarded by Mayor Kennedy and Councilmen Cedric Brown and Curlie Dillard to appoint a super commissioner that would have managed three city departments – Engineering, Water and DPW. The managers of those three departments would have been reduced to deputy status, but without cuts in pay. The super commissioner would have been paid more than $105,000 according to the plan.
The compromise eventually achieved was the inclusion of two extra police officer positions in the budget. Those positions were not in City Manager Rick Herbek’s proposed budget.
Kennedy explained that she rethought the restructuring of the engineering, water and DPW departments and decided there wasn’t enough time to make such a major change in time to meet the deadline for the 2013 budget.
Dillard praised the budget as adopted because “we also made it possible to cut waste.”
Brown suggested about 10 areas of the city’s spending that he felt contained unnecessary spending that could be used to fund the expense of hiring two more police officers. In the end, the council whittled $70,000 from the budget using Brown’s suggested cuts.
Herbek had recommended an assistant fire chief’s opening be filled by promoting one of the department’s officers. The goal was to give Chief Michael Vatter, who also runs the city’s codes department and is the chairman of the Newburgh Land Bank, some administrative help. The promotion would have cost the city $5,000 but the council eliminated the item from its final budget.
Herbek also was denied the addition of a firefighter to fill a vacancy caused by a retirement and there was talk of returning Vatter’s secretary to full-time from half-time, but that wasn’t included in the final budget.
Tim Hager, president of Newburgh Firefighter’s Local 589, criticized the council Monday night for funding the two police officers on the back of concessions firefighters made to save its members’ jobs.
“The way we feel, it [concessions] was for naught and we’re funding another department’s two positions,” he said, calling the decision “ridiculous.”
Also eliminated from the city manager’s proposed budget were 2 percent raises for non-union employees.
Kennedy said she also regretted having to raise fees on such services as water, sewer and garbage.
“We had to do that in order to balance the budget,” she said. “Fees are just another word for taxes.”
She said the City Council was taking the steps necessary to keep city residents from losing their homes.
City Manager Herbek said that one of the recommendations made by the State Comptroller’s Office is that the city should pursue new revenue sources.
“We’re trying to implement all of them,” he said.
“We’re not the only municipality facing these kinds of problems, It’s happening all over the state and all over the United States,” he said.
By ALLAN GAUL