PLATTSBURGH — With the city mayor presumably knocking more than $2 million off the 2021 Mayor's Budget, mayoral candidates Scott Beebie and Chris Rosenquest, one of whom is expected to take the Lake City helm come Jan. 1, have some things to say about it.
After a nail-biting vote last week, the Common Council majority, including Mayor Colin Read, voted to cut Read's previously OK'd $57.98 million budget proposal by 10 percent, or nearly $2.4 million.
Known as the Mayor's Budget, the proposed spending plan was traditionally used by city councilors to construct the City of Plattsburgh's finalized budget for the following year.
Per the city's resolution, the requested budget trimming, to be executed by Read, was to come via reductions in wages and salaries, primarily through retirements and totaling no more than 5 percent of the General Fund budget.
City Chamberlain Richard Marks said the resolution looked to subtract $1.2 million from salaries and another $1.2 million from expenditures.
Alterations were to be submitted to the council by Thursday, Oct. 8.
Scott Beebie, Republican candidate for the mayor's seat, called the evening's vote "suspect."
"In the wake of the unprecedented return of the budget to the mayor, it’s hard to believe the actions of the council weren’t agenda-serving and opportunistic," he said, "in light of the fact that not all councilors where present."
City officials have said budget adjustments could lower the tax rate by 14 percent for the 2021 year and Beebie said being forced to raise taxes the following year was of serious concern if he were to win the election this fall.
"No one wants to run for office on a platform of raising taxes," he said. "It’s become so convoluted it's almost vindictive. It is concerning and disheartening."
PUBLIC SAFETY CONCERNS
The original resolution, released one day prior to the meeting, had encouraged the mayor drop the public safety budget, which funds the city police, fire and Building Inspector's Office, by $900,000.
That language was changed the day of the vote, but Beebie indicated the initial proposal was still on his mind.
"These cuts will have lasting effects on all the agencies and services and City of Plattsburgh," he told the Press-Republican. "I understand that the mayor or city manager, live or die by the budget, however, I would really hate for someone to actually die because a budget line item was cut, preventing essential services from rendering assistance in a critical time of need."
The Republican candidate said there were also "indicators" that the mayor was planning to reduce all department head salaries and even cut the salary for the next mayor.
"This is an interesting move considering he accepted a raise for himself," Beebie said. "So, on the way out the door he is so disgruntled he is willing to reduce the salary of the next mayor by $27,000.
"The only people who are going to suffer by this 'scorch the earth' policy are the residents of our city," he continued. "I do not know how long it is going to take to clean up this mess after (he) leaves office, but rest assured I am up for the challenge."
'ULTIMATELY HURT CITY'
Rosenquest, who won the city Dems' primary, said the initial 2021 Mayor's Budget, which had been introduced not long before that election, was "done as a way to boost votes for a failed bid for re-election."
"Rather than taking the necessary time to develop a balanced budget, creating a plan in partnership with our department heads, our unions, and the council, we're now seeing another knee-jerk reaction to try to balance a mishandled budget proposal," the Democrat said.
"I would respectfully discourage these proposed actions and ask this council to refrain from giving an outgoing mayor broad and sweeping powers that will ultimately hurt our city," he continued.
"Our job as elected officials is to leave our communities better than how we found them through thoughtful planning and collaboration. This current approach can be better and I'm requesting the council to be my partner in creating stability and leadership in City Hall."
Mayor Read said he expected to fulfill the council's budget requirements without layoffs of the city's uniformed public safety officers, and believed retirement and attrition would account for most changes.
Rosenquest, Area 9 Clinton County legislator, said that approach begged the question, "How will departments who are already grossly understaffed be able to continue to function effectively?"
"For example, if our Fire Department who are planning for 2021 retirements are also forced to forego backfills, will we still be able to operate the ambulance service we just added?," he continued. "Our downtown community center is on the verge of closing due to lack of funding; how will that impact our community and what's the funding plan for that valued resource?
"Revenue generating departments who are already struggling to deliver their services will continue to struggle without the necessary staffing.
"This ultimately hurts the taxpayers and businesses who rely on these services."
A MORAL DOCUMENT
Rosenquest said the possible decrease to the tax rate was, "setting a future administration up for failure, more department cuts and a degradation in city services."
"Creating a budget is a balance between science and art," he said. "It's a moral document that defines our priorities and sets the tone for our future.
"This is a process that must take into account the people it affects, the services we deliver, and the livelihood of our community. Continuing to indiscriminately slash is not an effective way to plan for the success of our future and it's not how I'd run our city."
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