As Plattsburgh Mayor Offers Early Budget Proposal, Opponents Question Timing | WAMC

As Plattsburgh Mayor Offers Early Budget Proposal, Opponents Question Timing

Jun 19, 2020

Plattsburgh Mayor Colin Read is discussing his proposed 2021 budget, which is being criticized for being released early and close to the Democratic mayoral primary.

Mayor Colin Read released his 2021 proposed budget on Monday.  The nearly $58 million fiscal plan, according to the mayor, “focuses on finding efficiencies, encouraging partnerships and maintaining essential services.”  “The budget I prepared is a number of percent lower than the budget I prepared at this time last year, 5.5 percent I believe and about 1 percent lower than where we ended up with after the end of the budget process last year to take into account that the levy went up a little bit. So we wanted to make sure that when everything is settled people aren’t paying more next year in this day and time.  We want to make sure that it was neutral on behalf of our taxpayers.”

The early submission of the proposed budget is coming under fire by some – and not entirely for its content.  The city charter requires the mayor to submit a budget to the common council on or before October 8th and the council to pass a final budget by January 14th.  

Mayor Read faces two primary challengers and if he wins a Republican challenger in the general election.  Democratic challenger Chris Rosenquest says the months early release of the proposed budget has more to do with political than fiscal concerns.  “It’s not lost on me that we do need to start thinking through a post-COVID financial plan, a post-COVID operations plan.  I just think that the timing of this has been more political than it is out of necessity. And cursory yes I have looked at it. I have looked at specifically the areas that people are most concerned over and it’s disappointing.”

While Republican mayoral candidate Scott Beebie does not face a primary, he also questions why the proposed budget was released about a week before the primary and during early voting.  “If you look at what we are facing today the unknowns are so much that we really have to be careful of how we proceed forward. Our northern border is shut down. We don’t know what type of federal or state aid we have. We don’t know what type of sales tax revenue we’re going to have from the county. There’s just so many unknowns at this point. So I think especially when there’s an election so close releasing the document is curious to me.”

But Mayor Read says he started on the 2021 budget in January and COVID-19 has forced acceleration of the budget process.  “Really the necessity was COVID-19 occurred. We need some predictability. We need to start moving on things. When we’re bleeding couple hundred thousand dollars of cash every single month. Couple hundred thousand dollars is the equivalent of five or six layoffs. Maybe they can tell me how many months they’d like me to wait and how many more people they’d like me to lay off because we’re bleeding and hemorrhaging cash.”

Common Council Budget officer and Ward 2 Democrat Mike Kelly said this is the first time he’s ever heard complaints about a budget proposal being completed early.  "We started having weekly finance meetings when we realized we were going to have a huge budget shortfall this year as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. And I just would ask the same people who are criticizing an early budget why didn’t you criticize weekly finance meetings? How is that different? I just think this is really not a time for politics. The city has a $3 million budget shortfall this year. So we need anything but political posturing at this time. You know we need help.”

A public hearing on the mayor’s plan is scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday, June 25th at City Hall.