Republican aldermen Andi Turco-Levin (Ward 1) and Ron Polacco (Ward 6) voted against the plan, which would impose fines starting at $35 and increasing by $10 for each week that the leaves are left at the curb. Previously, work crews from the city’s Department of public works would collect loose leaves from curbside.
The legislation has been kicking around the Common Council since 2007 when it was pushed, unsuccessfully, by former council members AnnMarie DiBella and Michael Madsen. In December, the council again rejected the legislation and voted 5-4 to send the bill back to the Laws and Rules Committee. Bob Senor (D-Ward 8) who voted no on leaf bagging in December said that the city’s financial state, and the layoffs of 14 DPW workers last year made the legislation necessary.
“I don’t know when the people of this community are going to understand that there is just no more money,” said Senor. “We say we don’t want to cut services and we say we don’t want taxes raised, but in this economy you can’t have both.”
Polacco, meanwhile, said that city residents were fed up with seeing services scaled back. “The residents of this city have already paid for this service,” said Polacco. “This is just another service being taken away while the tax bills keep going up.”
DPW Superintendent Mike Schupp estimated that leaf bagging would save the city $11,000 each week during the fall. But Turco-Levin said that she doubted the figure in part because the department will still have to dispatch crews to collect leaves for residents who, for whatever reason, fail to comply with the new law.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the council voted unanimously to allow DPW Superintendent Mike Schupp to appoint city workers to issue violations of recycling and solid waste ordinances. Currently, Schupp is the only city employee with the authority to issue tickets for code violations. Senor said that the DPW superintendent has to rely on managers to spot violations, and then confirm the problem before he writes a ticket.
The new legislation would allow trained city employees to handle enforcement directly. Senor said that City Environmental Educator and Recycling Coordinator Steve Noble could be assigned to enforcement duties.
“This is long overdue,” said Senor. “This will be a tool that will give us revenue, from violations and save us revenue in tipping fees.”
Also, the council voted 8-1 to approve a $105,000 bond to pay for an upgrade to City Hall’s heating and air conditioning system. Ron Polacco cast the dissenting vote because, he said, he believed the problem could be fixed for less money. Supporters of the bond claimed that a more efficient system would pay for itself within 10 or 15 years.
Council leaders talk money
in ‘state of the city’ speeches
On Tuesday, April 6, the Common Council’s majority and minority leaders had their turn address the city’s needs and challenges in their annual “state of the city” remarks.
Majority leader Bill Reynolds (D-Ward 7) and Minority leader Andi Turco-Levin (R-Ward 1) both acknowledged the city’s fiscal woes, but explicitly rejected a suggestion floated by a leader of the Kingston Uptown Residents Alliance (and last year by Ward 3 Alderman Charlie Landi) that Kingston declare bankruptcy to get out of burdensome labor agreements with city workers.
“You have to be bankrupt after all to declare bankruptcy,” said Reynolds. “To declare bankruptcy, as I have said publicly, would be equal to raising a white flag.”
Reynolds said that city needed to focus on fundamental issues in order to be prepared to take advantage of any economic upturn by “cleaning up our city, cracking down on crime and blight and cutting back on a cost structure that has outgrown our ability to pay for it.”
Key to scaling back the city’s expenses, Reynolds said, would be negotiating new contracts with city unions which would allow for more flexible staffing and work responsibilities. Reynolds called for cross-training more firefighters to serve as building code inspectors and new rules which would allow the city to put more police on the street. Reynolds added that the city would need to seek “realistic” contributions by employees towards their health plans.
Reynolds also criticized what he called “serious flaws and inequities” stemming from the 2008 citywide revaluation and called for the reimbursement for excess Safety Net costs incurred by the city.
Freshman alderman Turco-Levin called for lawmakers to look beyond the current fiscal crisis and institute long-term plans.
“We have no roadmap,” said Turco Levin who pointed to the failure to develop the Uptown parking garage site and the collapsed Noah Hotel project as byproducts of Kingston’s lack of an up-to-date comprehensive plan. “Getting through difficult issues on a day-to-day basis is not working. This approach is not successful in life and it doesn’t work in government either.”
Turco-Levin called for the creation of a long-range planning committee to guide growth over the next 25-30 years with eye towards expanding the city’s economic base, while preserving historic districts and amenities which make it an attractive place to live. Turco-Levin also called for merging city services to create a cheaper, more efficient system and tax incentives to encourage small businesses to open in Kingston. Addressing public safety, Levin said that ongoing cuts in the city’s parks and recreation budget were ultimately harmful to creating a safer city.
“Fighting crime is important, just as important is engaging our young people early and giving them something to do instead of getting into trouble,” said Turco-Levin. “Continually cutting programs that offer these options for them is backwards thinking.”