Everyone that marched through Peekskill city hall Tuesday has a legitimate stake in what happens with next year’s municipal budget.
Some people were there because they knew a person whose job would be cut in acting City Manager Brian Havranek’s $35.6 million budget proposal for next year. The proposal would cut 31 full-time jobs, seven which are currently vacant, and nine part-time jobs in the city.
There were some who participated because they feared what the cuts would do the police department’s ability to fight crime and the fire department’s ability to answer emergency calls. Others feared what the elimination of two jobs at the Kiley Youth Center would do to the facility’s operations.
Kevin Ferris, a firefighter with the Peekskill fire department, had more immediate and tangible concerns. He and his wife recently purchased a house and they have a kid on the way. Ferris found out last week that he would be one of the firefighters whose job will be slashed under Havranek’s plan.
“What am I supposed to do.....I didn’t create this problem and neither did anyone else in this room,” Ferris said as he addressed the common council. “It’s up to you to step up.”
At least 200 people gathered in front of the Michael J. DiBart Neighborhood Center on Nelson, marched in to Peekskill city hall and attended Tuesday’s common council meeting. Members of the police, firefighters and city workers unions wore bright red shirts in a show of solidarity.
Havranek’s proposal, which was released earlier this month, would slash 15 administrative positions, 10 public safety positions and six positions in the department of public works. The cuts are expected to save the city, which is facing a gap of about $5 million in this year's budget, a little more than $3 million.
Carl DeMarco, president of the Peekskill Police Benevolent Association, said the cuts will have a detrimental effect on a department that has already been depleted the past few years.
“If these cuts go through, we’re looking at the smallest police department that Peekskill has had in the last 25 years,” DeMarco said. “In the past 25 years, this department will be at its smallest and it doesn’t make sense considering how everything has grown in this community, that we’ve gotten to this point in 2012.”
Demarco said at least three police officers, along with civilian staff and community service officers, will go under the budget proposal.
“They have inflated numbers where they tell everyone we’re at 70 people,” DeMarco said. “We’re at 57 cops and they’re looking to put us down to 54.”
Gary Horne, president of Peekskill Firefighter Association Local 2343, said at least two firefighters could lose their jobs.
Horne blamed mismanagement by city officials for the budget situation.
“There’s been mismanagement in the handling if the central firehouse project,” Horne said. “We think that doesn’t have to happen right now. If you’re laying off people then you don’t need to build something like that. We don’t need to put that tax burden on to people.”
Louis Picani of Teamsters Local 456, which represents the city’s blue and white collar workers, said the unit could lose 19 jobs. He told city Mayor Mary Foster that the job cuts would impact everything from trash collection to public safety.
He also said the common council did not reach out to union members to discuss what can be done to ease the budget situation.
Mayor Foster told Picani that the common council has scheduled five budget workshops and is in the process of meeting with department heads.
“We have not voted on anything yet,” Foster said. “We’re trying to understand the details of what’s been presented and what the impact will be on the delivery of services. I know the city manager is always willing to sit down with you and other labor leaders at any time.”
Picani said the union isn’t going to back down.
“We live here, we work here and we vote here,” Picani said. “Our vote is going to count.”
James McNair, a Peekskill resident, said he had a problem with the proposed cuts to two youth workers at the center. He said the move was made without consulting any of the volunteers, the kids who use the center, any studies or site visits.
He said many of the kids who go to the Kiley center are in need of guidance.
“You see all these red shirts in this building?” McNair said. “These red shirts are men and women from the City of Peekskill that are standing up for their jobs. But in other cities, these red shirts represent Crips, Bloods, being a gang member. You see that we don’t have that problem.”
A public hearing for the budget is scheduled for Oct. 22 at 7:30 p.m. The common council must approve a final budget by Dec. 1.
The Peekskill Common Council’s next budget workshop is scheduled for Wednesday, at 7 p.m.
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