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Peekskill protesters challenge budget cuts, layoffs

Reef Reeves, of Peekskill, protests outside City Hall

Reef Reeves, of Peekskill, protests outside City Hall against Mayor Mary Foster and recent proposed budget cuts. (Oct. 9, 2012) Photo Credit: Faye Murman

Waving handmade signs and chanting slogans as they climbed the steps of City Hall, Peekskill's public employees protested Tuesday night against layoffs and cuts to city services.

To reconcile a budget gap of almost $5 million, the city's proposed 2013 budget would slash 31 full-time jobs and nine part-time jobs and would reduce funding for recreation, transportation and other community services.

Among the endangered programs is an after-school program for low-income children, said Darrell Davis, co-organizer of Tuesday's protest and president of the Peekskill Committee for Justice, a community activist group.

"If this is closed, there's more kids on the street, which means more trouble," Davis said.

Davis was joined by some 150 other protesters wearing bright red T-shirts with large, white, printed letters spelling out "Not On Our Back." The group gathered at a park across from Peekskill City Hall on Main Street, then climbed the twin stone staircases leading up to City Hall's front entrance as they chanted protest slogans.

Although Peekskill's $51 million proposed budget features deep cuts, it also includes big increases, including a $1 million jump in employee benefits from the previous year and a $600,000 hike in the public safety budget.

Like many other municipal leaders, Mayor Mary Foster and other city leaders blamed state-mandated increases in employee health and pension plans for necessitating cuts in other areas. Local leaders cannot cut budget line items for employee pensions and benefits.

If the budget is passed, the average homeowner will pay an additional $121.60 in taxes next year, according to the proposed budget.

In his budget presentation, acting City Manager Brian Havranek said slashing 40 positions was "one of the most difficult decisions of my career." But he added that it was necessary to avoid a catastrophic tax increase.

Those 40 positions represent 14 percent of the city's current workforce, Havranek wrote in his budget draft. Eliminating those positions would save the city more than $3 million.

Of the 40 proposed layoffs, 15 are administrative jobs, 10 are public safety positions and six are positions with the city's Department of Public Works.

The proposed budget did not specify whether the public safety positions include uniformed police officers or civilians. Telephone calls and emails to Foster and Havranek on Tuesday night were not immediately returned.

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