NEWBURGH – The Newburgh City Council Thursday night approved the city’s 2020 budget that will include extensive staffing cuts for public safety and exceed the state-mandated tax cap at their regular meeting.
The council approved a $48 million budget that will cut 16 positions from the fire department and 19 positions from the police department. There are currently 69 firefighters and 83 police officers before the cuts. Two of the cuts within fire and four within police are for vacant spots that were intended to be filled. The rest of the cuts represent current full-time employees. The cut, collectively, represents $3 million in savings.
Addressing public criticism, city officials maintained they had tried every possibility to move money around and make cuts; but, since personnel and benefits make up approximately 75 percent of the budget, the majority of which is fire and police, there were no feasible options.
City Manager Joseph Donat said the city is in a real financial crisis and the decision had to be made.“The City of Newburgh is one, or two, unfavorable events away from being insolvent. These cuts needed to happen to avoid that,” said Donat. “We’ve looked at all possible areas and the areas that were identified are the areas that we’re moving forward with,” he said.
Local 589 Firefighters VP Nick Bedetti said the department feels cuts cannot be made on the backs of public safety employees and that the city cannot afford to lose any fire, or police, officers. With that, he added concessions had been made before in the late 2000s and they still don’t feel as if they are totally out of options. It’s not over yet. It’s not 2020. Obviously, we’re going to continue to try to work with the city to do what we can,” said Bedetti. Union firefighters from the Hudson Valley traveled to Newburgh to show support for their colleagues. Several Poughkeepsie firefighters were present and Local 596 President Nick Bucher said “We 100% support our brothers in Newburgh. Sacrificing public safety and jeopardizing the safety of firefighters to balance a budget is irresponsible and dangerous.”
One of the consequences, for the cuts in fire staffing at least, is the city will most likely have to pay back $500,000 in funds already used from the current SAFER grant. Breaking that contract could have repercussions when applying for federal funding in the future. Fire and police staff that are laid off will be protected under Civil Service law and put on a priority list when, and if, their jobs become available again.