It’s a time of change in Plattsburgh city government. Thursday evening, officials held four back-to-back public hearings on charter change proposals to eliminate several city departments. Councilors heard a mix of harsh criticism and strong support as they considered the procedural move.
The public hearings focused on resolutions to create local laws to amend the city charter allowing the city to implement the elimination of departments, formally adjust the departmental structure in the city charter and advance the submission of the budget to October.
Public hearings were held sequentially on each resolution.
Retired city employee John Linney was the first to step up to confront leaders about the proposed moves. “I still have not heard how or who union people are going to get their orders every day. So what is the plan? Who is going to be responsible? Is that going to be you Mayor? Are they all going to come to you every morning and get their direction? How is that going to happen?”
Mayor Colin Read: “This isn’t a question and answer? This…”
Linney: “Well yeah that’s what you just said! To come and get our questions answered. So number one you’ve told a lie already tonight.”
Ward 2 Councilor Mike Kelley: “You are you are not permitted to make comments about the mayor or any member of the council….”
Linney: “This is a free country and I will say what I want to say.”
Read: “You are out of order here I’m afraid.”
Kelley: “You read the rules. You are not allowed to do that.”
Several residents, including Linney, came forward during each consecutive hearing to express their support or criticism. Jeff Moore supports the changes. “Seventy-three percent of the budget is payroll and benefits. So there’s no way to balance the budget without cutting some positions. I mean it’s unfortunate I really feel for all these people but somebody has to go and not just a few but quite a few. Even massive tax increases will not save the infrastructure and the bureaucracy that this city has created. Things have to happen and I support these changes. We cannot continue down this path.”
During the regular Common Council session, Ward 3 councilor Dale Dowdle asked Mayor Colin Read if their decision would be permanent if passed. “So if there’s some information that’s brought forth through the budget lines we can re we can address this again revist this? At any time?”
Mayor Read: “Using your right as the council.”
Ward 5 Councilor Becky Kasper questioned the fiscal wisdom of eliminating the city engineering department. “My concern is absolutely with the status of the city. In particular I am very concerned about the cost to the city from abolishing IT and Engineering. I look at the supposed savings and yet if we’re going to shift that then that is solely paid by the general fund. I’m just trying to understand where we see a benefit to this, a cost benefit.”
City Attorney Dean Schneller noted that one councilor had received inquiries from a former charter commission member questioning if a public referendum is necessary. He says the council has the authority to make the changes. “Certainly municipalities under the home rule law have authority to enact local laws. So basically the council has the power by local law to amend the charter and there was no elective offices impacted, this wasn’t a new charter. So under the plain language of the charter the city can certainly modify its city departments and has a duty to guarantee that the services are provided but there is no duty that the services are provided by a specific department head.”
Councilors voted 4 to 2 to amend the city code to eliminate the Recreation, Engineering and Planning Department and 5 to 1 to amend the city charter department structure. Councilors unanimously agreed to amend the budget submission to an earlier date.