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Plattsburgh Councilors Argue Over Revised Budget And Deadline

Plattsburgh City Hall
WAMC Photo
Plattsburgh City Hall (file)

Plattsburgh Mayor Colin Read released his nearly $58 million 2021 budget proposal in June. In mid-September the common council sent it back, requesting he propose reductions at least 10 percent by October 8th.
The mayor released his revision on October 5th and the council‘s budget officer set a November 19th deadline for final passage.  During Thursday evening’s meeting, tempers flared over the deadline and a councilor’s request to meet with the city chamberlain.When the common council passed the resolution in September requesting a revised budget, Ward 3 Democrat Elizabeth Gibbs was one of two who voted against the measure.  During Thursday’s Common Council session she outlined a number of problems with the proposed fiscal revisions.  “Civil Service has not been contacted about how changes are going to work. To collapse the planner into the building inspector would require a charter change. The one-stop shot between the city chamberlain’s office and the city clerk’s requires a charter change. There’s no updated five year plan as per the charter. There’s massive cuts in payroll with no plan. If people don’t retire it forces either using fund balance or massive job cuts. If there are fund balance depletions the only way out is to raise taxes. There’s no legal reason or basis to rush to the finish by November 19th. I object to that deadline because there is no way I can get behind this budget.”

Any council member who wishes to meet with a department head must request and receive permission from the mayor’s office. Democratic Mayor Colin Read is in his last weeks in office after losing the June primary; the general election will be decided by absentee ballots next week.

Gibbs said she asked for a meeting with the city chamberlain to discuss her budget concerns but couldn’t get access.  “Mayor can we have direct access to the chamberlain so we can go over items with him that we are concerned about?”
Mayor Read: “Certainly. We tried to schedule a meeting on Thursday at 9 a.m. with you to do that…”
Gibbs: “But I teach. You know that. I work full time.”
Steve Brodi:  “What about a resolution?”
Gibbs: “I don’t see why I have to ask for a resolution to have access to the chamberlain when we’re looking at a 14% cut in the budget. Can I have access to the chamberlain at a time when it’s convenient for my schedule?”
Read: “Certainly we’ll put that meeting together.”
Gibbs: “No I will put the meeting together. I want it convenient for my schedule.”
Mayor Read:  “No we’ll put that together as the charter requires.”
Councilor Gibbs: “This is ridiculous. We’re talking about massive, massive changes here. And we cannot do any of this and be ready by the November 19th deadline.”

Ward 2 Democrat Mike Kelly, the council’s budget officer who is trailing in his re-election bid as he awaits the absentee ballot count, tried to address some of Gibbs’ concerns and said the budget process is simple.  “Passing budget resolutions and an annual budget is really pretty simple.”
Gibbs: “Oh my God.”
Kelly:  “If there’s something you want changed in the budget prepare a resolution, find some way to offset increased costs and conduct a vote. That’s it.”
Gibbs:  “No it not that and…”
Kelly:  “The deadline’s not arbitrary. It’s a good goal to pass a budget before Thanksgiving. The budget schedule will continue as planned unless you can come with some life or death reasons why it shouldn’t.”
Gibbs:  “I can think of a number of reasons.  I have a number of questions that need answering. I want access to the chamberlain for that. There is….”
Kelly:  “As the head of the budget committee I would say yes let’s have that meeting with the chamberlain anytime you’re ready. Now keep in mind I’m retired.”
Gibbs:  “I don’t need an escort to have a meeting with the chamberlain! If I want to meet with the chamberlain I should have access to him and I don’t need somebody to come with me.”

Gibbs became so exasperated that she left the council chambers for a period of time.  “The public does not support this budget.  And for us to not listen to that we are not doing our jobs. And how anybody in this room can move forward with that is beyond my understanding. It is clear that the public does not support this. End of story.”

During public comments city resident Joan Jansen thanked Councilor Gibbs for speaking out and challenging the revised budget.  “The taxpayers are not clamoring for a tax cut. They are clamoring for police staff, fire protection, roads being paved and I could go on. The citizens are not demanding budget cuts. They are clamoring for the city to function now and next year with a budget that is the same as this year’s not less.”

The common council legally has until January 14th to finalize the 2021 budget.

The full council meeting can be viewed here: