Property taxes in the City of Peekskill will increase 5.9% this year after the state Supreme Court ruled last week the Common Council acted beyond its authority when it approved a 2016 city budget on December 1 with a 3.6% tax hike.
The decision, which was triggered by an Article 78 proceeding filed on December 14 against the council by Robert and Catherine Sullivan of Bleakley Drive, means the average single-family homeowner in the city will pay an additional $127 in taxes, or approximately $50 more than would have been imposed previously.
It took the four Democrats on the council three tries to pass the $37.2 million spending plan on December 1. Mayor Frank Catalina and Republican councilmen Vincent Vesce and Joe Torres did not participate in the third and final budget vote after an emergency meeting was called by Deputy Mayor Drew Claxton.
The special meeting was deemed necessary after Deputy Corporation Counsel Melissa Ferraro discovered the previous night’s vote was deficient based on an improper motion made by former Councilman Darren Rigger. Catalina claimed proper procedure under the City Charter wasn’t followed when notice of the emergency meeting was posted on Facebook. He walked out of the chambers before the vote was taken, while Vesce and Torres were not in attendance.
The Sullivans sided with Catalina in their lawsuit and asked that any action taken at the meeting be declared null and void. As a result, the city manager’s budget that carried a 5.9% tax increase would go into effect since the council failed to meet the December 1 state deadline.
Catalina said the court ruling supported his contention that the four Democrats on the council acted beyond their authority in an illegally convened session.
“I am pleased that the court has ruled in exactly the manner I expected and declared that these councilpersons acted without legal authority,” Catalina said. “The years of one party control and domination of city affairs ended when I took office and hopefully that is now understood by the self-described ‘majority.’ This is exactly what happens when they practice politics inside the Council Chamber and why I constantly plead with them to please leave their politics outside of the Chamber.”
“Regardless of whether or not they have a ‘majority,’ they simply cannot do whatever they want without consequence,” the second-term mayor continued. “I only hope they have learned a valuable lesson from this civics lesson and that no one is above the law. Bad things happen when you bring politics into the Council Chamber and the ends never justify illegal means.”
Councilwoman Vivian McKenzie contended the three Republicans “actively encouraged” the lawsuit by supporting the Sullivans by filing affidavits against the city and city staff.
“We don’t feel good about this disappointing outcome,” said McKenzie, who maintained two of the Republicans had originally agreed to support a compromise budget that would have kept the tax increase at 3.6%.
“While Mayor Catalina recently stated that the Democrats ‘bring politics into the Chamber,’ it is his polarizing statements, press releases, emails and online postings that constantly divide and distract the council, which negatively affect not only the city taxpayers but the reputation of our community,” McKenzie said.
Councilwoman Kathy Talbot added, “Given that the city ended last year with a $1.4 million surplus, due to a mild winter and the aggressive work of our finance department collecting overdue taxes, this excessive tax increase is a real slap in the face to our hard working taxpayers.”