Mayor Chris Rosenquest Discusses City Of Plattsburgh Issues
With fall quickly approaching, a new season starts for many communities: it’s budget preparation time. Democratic Plattsburgh Mayor Chris Rosenquest is beginning the process to create his proposed 2022 budget for the Common Council to approve by January. Because it is in the preliminary stages, Rosenquest says it’s too early to determine the budget’s total amount.
“We're still meeting with department heads. We're still meeting with councilors. This year is hopefully going to be a little bit different than last year, where we do have council in department and meeting with the Chamberlain, myself, the department heads, going over their budget line by line, figuring out where are the increases, where are the decreases. That way the council understands what is all going into the thinking around the budget,” Rosenquest says. “After this budgetary meetings with individual departments happen we have a series of public budget hearings, budget meetings, towards the end of September where we are carving off about three hours a night for three nights to review department by department with the entire council. And then that way any feedback or any questions or any comments or any concerns can be addressed. And then I can take some of those numbers back, make some adjustments if needed. And then on October 7th that's when I deliver the final budget, or the proposed budget, I should say, with a message from the mayor's office on how we got there and where we're at. And then after that the budget then gets handed off to the council and the council can make adjustments from there.”
“How much will federal pandemic recovery funds play into the budget?” asks Pat Bradley.
Mayor Rosenquest responds, “There may be some when it comes to filling in some payroll. But other than that, you know, some of that money is really geared towards infrastructure investment and other types of revenue offsets. We are looking at how much of that can be offset or can offset some of those revenue losses that may play a role in reducing some of the burden on the tax on the tax burden.” Rosenquest adds, “So but we're looking at, we're looking at right now is what is the viability of using that money for that reason. And then also having some of our auditors look at the regulations for the use of those funds, how much money we got, and then really fine tuning where we can spend it and where we really should be spending that.”
“The city council approved the AFSCME contract,” Bradley notes. “How significant is this contract and was it difficult to come to agreement?”
“Not at all. It was the furthest thing from difficult to come to an agreement,” says Mayor Rosenquest. “Everybody was in the room. We all talked about, you know, what the city needs, what the unit needs. At the end of the day my biggest concern going in was certainly that they have been without a contract since 2017. And so signing this contract really is an eight year contract for them. It goes all the way up to 2024. And that's when it wraps up in the middle of 2024. With that though there's an amount of retro pay that's owed to that unit based on increases, fair increases, I would say. One of the things that was addressed that I 100% agreed with was the lowest wage earners in that unit were making around 13 something an hour, right. And so my goal was to really bring them up to at least $17 an hour. So a lot of the most lowest paid, hardest working people we wanted to bring them up so that you know their wages were a lot more competitive.”
“Which departments does this contract apply to and about how many employees?” asks Pat Bradley.
“Oh, I think that I would have to go back but I think it's about 60 to 80 employees altogether. And really ASFCME unit spreads out throughout the city,” Rosenquest says. “We've got people working upstairs in the Community Development Office, people downstairs in finance, people over water treatment, people at the Water Resource Recovery Facility as well. But the majority those folks do work at DPW. So those are the some of the most lowest paid people in the city of Plattsburgh and we really wanted to make sure that those folks were taken care of too.”
“Now this is retroactive, Bradley says. “When will the employees see the retroactive pay in their paychecks or does this basically get spread out over the next few years?”
“No, no, no. They'll see it before the end of this year,” Chris Rosenquest asserts. “The previous administration did budget for some retro. So we're not going to be saddled with the entire amount owed. There's some budgeted in there. Not all of it unfortunately but it will help along the way.”
“That was my next question,” Bradley interjects. “Since it's retroactive how's the budget prepared for it?”
“Yeah, like we will have to go back into some general fund reserves that we have had that we've been able to build up over this year,” the mayor says. “But again some of that money was budgeted last year as a contingency. Not all of it. Maybe about a third of it was budgeted for contingency. So we'll have to go back and look for the other amounts which last that we double checked it's really hovering around about $500,000.”
Bradley asks, “And you said this contract is effective through?”
“Mayor Rosenquest,” she continues, “what's the status of the search for a new police chief?”
“Yeah, so to date, we've received 31 applicants,” Chris Rosenquest notes. “There is a search, I should say a selection committee at this point. The selection committee will meet to discuss the individual candidates. I've asked them to go through several rounds of review of these candidates. All very impressive. Some local. Some not so local. And at this point, you know, really what we're doing is looking at the candidates, getting them qualified via Civil Service. And then once we have that pool of eligible applicants then we engage with the selection committee. I've asked the selection committee to boil it down over several rounds and then at the end make really quite honestly two very solid recommendations for hire. Then we'll go into a different process for negotiation, ah, for negotiating employment.”
Bradley murmurs, “Sounds like it'll be a while yet before we actually have a new police chief.”
“Yeah, you know, my goal was mid-October,” says Mayor Rosenquest. “Given that we're now just getting into the civil service eligibility we may look at mid to late October, if not early November sometime. We're certainly targeting this year. And that's, you know, I don't think we can go much longer than that.”
“There is an event coming up: the dedication of the Betty Little Arts Park is coming up on 9-11 during the Battle of Plattsburgh,” Bradley says. “This is one of the first big completed projects for the DRI. How significant do you find that?”
“I think it's, it's certainly one of the most public facing, the most, the nicest event or the nicest project that got completed,” Rosenquest says. “There have been a number of other completed projects in terms of storefront, storefront facade improvement, as well as second floor apartment renovations downtown. Those, you know, we don't see those, but those have happened. But this is interesting. This is a good one. We've had a lot of public support for this. A lot of positive comment. You know we're looking at having former Senator Little here for the dedication, along with Senator Dan Stec and a number of other local political representatives and local community members come together for this one. But it is very exciting, you know, that we're putting in the Arts Park. And although it's not part of the DRI at the same time we're finishing up Saranac River Trail Phase Two and we're looking at an opening for that later on in the year as well. So there's a lot of interesting and very cool quality of life things that are coming through this year.”
“When you think about the controversy over the DRI,” Pat Bradley wonders, “Does this kind of perhaps help move the other DRI projects forward and, and kind of leave some of that controversy behind I want to say?”
“You know I think that's a little of wishful thinking. But, you know, we're still working through some of those other DRI projects. You know I would hope that at the end in 10 years time we look back and we learn a lot from this process. We learn a lot from the mistakes that we've made along the way. And, but we can also look back and say we're all the better for it,” the Mayor responds. “You know, even with adding new apartments, the new Arts Park, new quality of life pieces. We are looking forward to turning the page on this and moving forward with all the other development projects that we have.”
“The town is applying for a DRI grant. Have they approached you for any advice or anything?” asks Bradley.
“Oh, my goodness. So Cashman and I talk every week. We have talked about their DRI and the Town Center. And no I said you know I think you'd best to leave our names off of this one. It’s a little tongue in cheek. It's a little jokey. Yes,” Rosenquest laughs. “But no we have talked about it because part of their DRI application includes development and improvements to Route 3 corridor, which is really crucial for us as well. We are too looking at a number of development and improvement options to upper Cornelia Street for us, which really will include bike lanes and walking paths and, and that type of infrastructure, that type of complete streets infrastructure. But yeah, we're you know, we've talked to them about that. We wish them well. I think all their projects that they proposed are fantastic. We like seeing regional development. It helps everybody here. But yeah we'll support them and we are absolutely in support of their DRI application.”