Residents protest proposed layoffs, tax hike in Freeport

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After protests from Freeport residents at a packed village board meeting, trustees postponed a vote on a proposed budget that would cut four jobs and raise property taxes 5.5 percent.

Scores of civil service workers filled the meeting room Monday after staging a rally outside village hall to challenge the layoffs, which Freeport unit president Peter Reinke said were the first contemplated in his 10 years as a union leader.

Past 10 p.m., after workers and residents questioned spending on new hires and raises, trustees voted to roll back their salary increases and adjourn the budget hearing.

"We all know how bad the economy is. . . . Instead of fighting each other, we need to come up with solutions," said trustee Carmen PiƱeyro, a Democrat, who proposed cutting trustees' pay to $19,500, the salary before they voted a raise to $25,000 in April. (Mayor Andrew Hardwick, also a Democrat, who agreed to a $2,000 pay cut last month under the tentative budget, did not take an extra cut. He'd earn $123,000, up from the $120,360 in this year's budget.)

The votes capped a contentious meeting in which Hardwick traded barbs with Reinke and some residents - and with a trustee from a rival party, Republican William H. White Jr., who at one point told Hardwick to "stop running for office and start being a mayor."

When audience members criticized the mayor for breaking a campaign promise of no layoffs, Hardwick, who took office in April, said that vow was conditioned on the village's fiscal solvency.

"It was never my thought that I'd be sitting in this chair, number one firing people, and number two raising taxes. It's not what I want to do," he said.

Despite having trimmed some $3.3 million from the proposed budget, officials still had to contend with a $3-million shortfall, which Hardwick blamed on overshot revenue projections by the last administration.

White countered that the projections were made before the impact of the recession was felt, and questioned the village's $529,000 projected expense this year on the settlement of a multimillion-dollar lawsuit brought by developer Gary Melius.

In another matter, library board officials exhorted village leaders to include funds in the budget to replace a leaky roof, which they said the village had previously agreed to replace.

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The hearing will continue Friday at 5:30 p.m. The village board must adopt the budget by Feb. 1 or the budget as proposed goes into effect.

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