The Northern Westchester Examiner

Tempers Flare at Testy Peekskill Budget Public Hearing

We are part of The Trust Project

Emotions reached a fever pitch last week during a testy public hearing on the proposed 2015 Peekskill budget.

An infuriated Mayor Frank Catalina scolded Comptroller Ann Maestri for not being prepared with data to illustrate her claim that the city is “structurally imbalanced” financially based on a reliance on fund balance and other decisions that has the city facing a tax increase as high as 11% next year.

When City Manager Anthony Ruggiero stepped in to defend Maestri, asserting “the way you’re treating the comptroller is inappropriate,” Catalina turned his attention to Ruggiero by ordering him to sit down.

“I asked you (Maestri) to be prepared because the people have a right to know,” Catalina said. “I think people have the right to know the history of structural imbalances.”

A tentative $53.44 million budget submitted by Peekskill City Manager Anthony Ruggiero last month called for a 2.2% tax hike, along with increases in water and sewer rates and adding a garbage collection fee for all residents, but the council balked at the Sanitation Fund after receiving a barrage of complaints.

The council also put the brakes on any new hires, opposed the allocation of $350,000 to begin citywide property revaluation and disagreed with Ruggiero’s recommendation for the city to withdraw from the New York State Employee Pension Stabilization Program.

The city is mandated to pay a minimum of $257,000 in pension costs next year, but Catalina maintained it would be irresponsible for the city to defer an additional $500,000 since it had already put off $1.6 million in pension payments the last two years.

“This is all about defending a bad decision,” Catalina said about the council’s decision to hire Ruggiero as city manager last year. “It’s an unequivocal disaster and it’s all tied into qualifications. His big answer was to float that sanitation fund.”

The implementation of the Sanitation Fund would have translated to a 12% increase on its own with non-industrial users billed $7 per pickup and industrial users $14 per pickup, generating more than $2 million. Ruggiero also suggested increasing water rates by 10% and sewer rates by 20%, both of which he noted haven’t been raised in more than eight years.

Included in the current proposed budget is an increase in parking meters to $1 per hour.

Several residents urged the council to keep any tax increase minimal, with George Ondek even suggesting a tax decrease. “People in Peekskill are very hard pressed and they can’t afford $100 or $200 or $20,” he said. “Let’s work for tax decreases before this budget is over.”

The hearing on the budget is scheduled to resume on November 24, despite the objections of councilwomen Vivian McKenzie and Kathy Talbot. The budget must be adopted by December 1.

We'd love for you to support our work by joining as a free, partial access subscriber, or by registering as a full access member. Members get full access to all of our content, and receive a variety of bonus perks like free show tickets. Learn more here.