November 24, 2009

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Newburgh budget lays off 31 workers, increases taxes 24 percent

Mark Costas one of many citizens to
pack the council chambers and voice
outrage over the budget

NEWBURGH– Tensions were high in the Newburgh Activity Center on Monday night as the city council passed a budget that includes a 24 percent tax increase and 31 job layoffs.  The layoffs will include 26 full-time employees and five part-timers. Two police officers and two firefighters are among the casualties of the cuts.

The vote was three to two with Councilwomen Christine Bello and Mary Ann Dickinson opposing it.

During public comment, city residents voiced their outrage to the proposed budget going so far as to accuse the council of impropriety. City Assessor Steven Ruelke charged the council conducted an illegal executive session where they came up with the layoff numbers.

“I’m going to take you to court over that meeting; I’ve had it,” Ruelke said.

Some citizens, like Mark Costas, made pleas to the council for an alternative to balancing the budget with cutting jobs.

“Every day they put their lives on the line for everybody in the city,” he told the meeting.

Imposing the layoffs is “really bad,” said Councilwoman Regina Angelo.

“If I thought my $9,000 (salary) would do any good to help the situation, I would be willing to give it back to the city, but it’s not going to help.”

The city’s problems are the result of unpaid taxes, unpaid water bills and unpaid parking tickets, among other things, Angelo said.

Councilwoman Christine Bello, who voted against the spending plan, felt that it was “unconscionable for anyone to support any salary increases” when the council was faced with prospect of employees losing jobs.  She felt that the budget could have been trimmed in other places other than employee layoffs.  Bello also drew a comparison with the Town of Newburgh and the Town of New Windsor who are both operating in the black and are run by town supervisors whose pay is equal to that of the city manager, but whom also have a larger area to govern.

Mayor Nicholas Valentine ended the meeting with a direct response to the insinuations and accusations of the citizens. “We did not work in illegal meetings and I’ll take exception to that up one side and down the other.  We were dealing with personnel and with people’s jobs.”


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