City of Newburgh Struggle To Solve Critical Budget Deficits
By Edie Johnson
The shocked look on many in the audience of this week’s City Council Meeting tells it all. A Preliminary Budget for the City that only has a few revisions to go includes the possible necessity of severe cutting of emergency services funding . That includes the possible loss of 25 police and firefighter positions. Of the daunting challenges that the City faces it has one of the few professional firefighting units in the County, and that results in extra cost. Other municipalities in the area are also struggling with firefighting costs, because work and lifestyles these days make it very difficult if not impossible to gather a sufficient group of experienced Volunteers”. Police hiring and training is an ongoing challenge as well, since most municipal police departments in Orange County pay less than those in New York City and Westchester. With state-of-the-art training in community relations and a host of community relations programs developed in recent years between police and residents, the City is very lucky to have the rapport it currently has, and cannot afford to lose those experienced officers to far off places that offer more money. In fact, many existing emergency team members freely offer that they stay here just because they love the City and its people.
With a legacy of financial problems that many say goes back decades in the City and cannot be corrected overnight, City Manager Joe Donat and Mayor Torrence Harvey have the challenge of not only doing without the SAFER grants for fire and police personnel that they had in other recent budgets, but massive infrastructure expenses this year, having repaired all but a few of many leaks in its water pipes, and having made a lot of street and curb repairs that have been a bone of contention to those who visit the City for years. New and very successful efforts at tourism as well as revitalized business sites cannot continue to improve the overall income and tax rateable balance unless the infrastructure is solid. Efforts at a better transportation to help mobilize the City’s workforce also comes at a steep cost.
But worried constituents still have hope, that mitigations and compromises can be found, and that like in previous years there may yet be as yet unknown grant resources uncovered.
Sources familiar with the City’s financial history say that it will take time to correct the financial issues that developed over a decade. Contracts are due to be renegotiated in 2021. The County of Orange is working very hard to develop programs of “shared services” that can save budget resources in many ways. The City’s new businesses are adding to the tax base. And few would disagree that the City of Newburgh has been shorted in its need for some of the seemingly endless resources of state and federal support. These will again be sought.
Meanwhile, the City has hired an experienced Comptroller, one who, along with the City Manager and Mayor are at the threshold of their second year. As they trouble-shoot over the next weeks and try to slash the cuts rather than the budget, the City’s residents and surrounding communities can only hope for some timely and expedient solutions.
(Photos by Bob McCormick)