Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Money, water and sewer upgrades dominate council work session

List of streets to be paved approved
Work began on April 1 at the Hollowbrook Dam.

Money, money, money was the theme at the April 15 Common Council meeting. 

Three of the meeting’s presentations centered on money: tax exemptions for homeowners (Robert Morin, City Assessor), proposed increased fines for Building Department violations (Toni Tracy, City Comptroller), and a nearly $330,000 estimate to overhaul McKinley Park (Jonathan Zamora, Community Hub Director).

During the rest of the three hour meeting, the council heard project and grant updates from the Departments of Water & Sewer, Recreation, and Planning. Additionally, Corporation Counsel Michael Hartman proposed amendments to the city’s outdoor smoking code. 

The city’s Assessor, Robert Morin, described to the public the various real estate tax exemptions for which homeowners may be eligible (based on age, income, Veteran status, disabilities, etc.). The deadline to apply for tax exemptions is May 1. Morin also described the process to request a property tax review by June 18. Residents may contact the Assessor’s Office (914-734-4190) for more information about the tax exemptions and getting their property’s value reassessed. 

Deputy Mayor Patricia Riley and City Clerk Cassandra Redd were absent from the meeting. 

Water & Sewer: Projects and Grants Update 

Superintendent of Water & Sewer David Rambo discussed five of his department’s projects, three related to sewers (Lower South Street sewer replacement, sewer replacement for Water Quality Improvement, rehabilitation of the Travis Point and Riverfront Pumping Stations) and two on water: (Rehabilitation of Hollowbrook Dam, Main Street water main replacement) .  

The Lower South Street sewer project (part of the SOLO development project) includes the replacement of the sewer line on that street and the installation of a new pump station. Rambo informed the council that his department met with the Westchester County Department of Health on March 20 to review the city’s plans. He hopes to hear back from the county in May with a final set of plans. 

Councilman Ramon Fernandez asked if the department would repave South Street during this project, to which Rambo responded that the Water Department will need to tear up the road but it will be repaved after the project is completed.

The city’s Water Quality Improvement project (WQIP) is funded by $801,544 in New York State WQIP funding with a $200,386 city match. The project will replace and repair sewer piping that is allowing stormwater to enter the sewer system. The city interviewed engineers earlier this month and the work from this project will be combined with the rehabilitation of the Travis Point and Riverfront pumping stations.

Rambo then recommended Barton & Loguidice (B&L) design and manage this joint project. After advertising a bid entitled “Request for Qualifications for Engineering Services Phase II”, four engineering firms submitted responses. Rambo stated in his memo to the council that hiring B&L makes the most sense from a transition point of view, as B&L is currently providing engineering services for Phase I.

At the April 23 meeting, the council unanimously approved a resolution authorizing the selection of a bid from B&L for professional engineering services for the city’s Phase II sewer system improvement project. 

Water project updates

Rambo noted that for the Rehabilitation of Hollowbrook Dam, regulatory permits are in place and construction started on April 1. The company in charge of the Hollowbrook rehabilitation project is Con-Tech Construction. They were awarded the project in late January by the Common Council.

The last project Rambo discussed was the replacement of a 4 inch water main on Washington Street and another on Main Street, from North Broad to Armstrong. This project will also replace a 1922 drinking water storage tank and replace valves at Wiccopee Dam. Rambo’s presentation stated that the city will go out to bid for the replacement of the four- inch water main this coming fall, and sewer pipe lining will also occur this fall.

Finally, Rambo noted that the department plans on replacing four main inline water valves over the next two months. He also informed the council that the department is working on creating a digital map of the water, sewer, and stormwater systems, to help workers when they go out in the field. Rambo stated workers will be able to pull up information on hydrants and valves and see when they were replaced and see a list of previous water main breaks. Finally, Rambo notified residents that the department will be doing hydrant flushing throughout the city for the next month and a half: work will be done between 8 A.M. and 4 P.M. 

Recreation Department: McKinley Park Presentation 

Before Jonathan Zamora presented on McKinley Park, City Manager Matt Alexander announced that Zamora (former Nutrition Site Manager) will now serve as Community Hub Director and will support the three entities that make up the community hub: Recreation, Youth Bureau, Nutrition/Seniors. 

Zamora’s presentation showed Kompan, Inc.’s renderings of McKinley Park, which featured images of a triple tower with ramps, mega deck upper deck, universal carousel, and a play panel. Zamora explained that the renderings are just a template and the city will get bids from at least two other companies. Zamora provided in depth descriptions of all the equipment that the playground could feature according to the Kompan renderings, as well as materials used, prices, and warranties and guarantees. 

The total quote provided in Zamora’s presentation from Kompan is $329,449.12.

The proposed play equipment for McKinley Park.

Mayor McKenzie asked Zamora how the Recreation Department plans on using the $1.7 million the city received last September from New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. She also asked for staff to review equipment and repair needs at all Peekskill parks, before going out to bid for McKinley Park, to ensure the city will have enough money to be able to cover every park’s needs. City Manager Matt Alexander responded that city staff are currently putting together a list of each park’s needs.

Comptroller: Public Hearing for Proposed Increases in Building Department Fines

City Comptroller Toni Tracy presented a proposal to increase fines for Building Department violations.  Tracy noted that the proposed increases are in response to the fluctuating economy, budgetary concerns, and inflation. She added that the city has been reviewing fees and fines for the past year.

Tracy provided the council with a spreadsheet that listed the building department fines currently being charged and the new proposed amounts. The spreadsheet also included the rates for first violations, second violations, and third violations, along with the total violations written last year for each item. Last year, people were cited most often for littering (161 violations) and lack of commercial property maintenance (99 violations).

Tracy informed the council that some fines, such as violations for abandoned refrigerators and signs, have not been updated since 1984. She added that the fine for improper maintenance by an owner was last updated in 1994 and many other fines were last updated in the early 2000s. 

Fines would be increased for the first time since 1984 for abandoned refrigerators (istock photo)

“We’re just looking to bring these more in tune with what current fines should be,” said Tracy. 

After an intra-council discussion, council members requested that the Building Department provide more information on certain items that have ranges next to the proposed increases. The Common Council was set to authorize a public hearing on April 23 for the proposed increases of Building Department fines, but decided to delay the hearing until the council receives the information requested.

Planning Department: Project Updates and Contract Amendment

Project Updates

City Planner Peter Erwin noted that the city received a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation permit to continue in-water work this spring for the Fleischmann Pier project. This project is funded by the Department of State and has received a share of Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) funds. The Planning Department hopes to have the pier open this summer.

Fleischmann’s Pier is expected to be open this summer. (Photo by Jim Striebich)

Erwin then discussed the Pugsley Park project, noting that Con-Tech Construction is on track to finish work at Pugsley Park by May; landscaping and planting was partially completed last week. The project is funded by DRI monies and a $500,000 grant from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation.

Erwin moved on to the city’s DRI Marketing & Branding Strategy and Wayfinding Signage project, noting that the project’s advisory committee met on March 28. The Planning Department will present the highlights from that meeting at a later date. The department expects to circulate a draft wayfinding strategy to the advisory committee this month, and will present that to the council as well. 

Finally, Erwin estimated a cost of $50,000 for the Department of Public Works’ Highway Garage Reuse Study, which is part of the city’s efforts to move the highway garage into a larger facility and determine the best reuse of the current property at 100 South Street (as noted in Erwin’s memo). The Planning Department will obtain a qualified and experienced planning or real estate consulting firm to assist staff with this study. NYS Empire State Development (ESD) awarded the city a $25,000 grant to support this study, which requires a 50 percent local match.

At the April 23 meeting, the council unanimously approved a resolution authorizing the city manager to accept the ESD grant and to issue a request for proposal for consulting services.

DRI Engineering Contract Amendment 

For the second time this year (the first time in February), Erwin requested council authorization to execute a contract amendment with Barton & Loguidice (B&L) for additional design and engineering services for the city’s Civic Hub and Pedestrian & Cyclist Connectivity DRI projects. Erwin stated that the price to amend the B&L contract to include this additional work will cost $73,450 (versus the initial estimate of $50,000), which can be paid from allocated DRI funds. The city has a contract with B&L for $378,750, and with these additional services will bring that amount to $452,200. 

 The new work will be amended into the city’s contract with B&L according the following:

Critical water infrastructure improvements at N. Division Street and Park Street, coordination with other ongoing capital projects and initiatives, including the Metro North Railroad grade crossing improvements at Hudson Avenue, State Historic Preservation Office Phase 1A Investigation, and one additional project advisory committee meeting and the development of architectural renderings to provide better public awareness of the project. 

At the April 23 meeting, the council unanimously approved a resolution authorizing the city manager to execute a contract amendment with B&L for $73,450.

Amend “Outdoor Smoking” code to include the BID and additional public spaces 

Corporation Counsel Michael Hartman took the podium at the April 15 meeting to discuss holding a public hearing in regard to proposed amendments aimed to expand the city’s current outdoor smoking code (Chapter 408). According to Hartman’s memo, the proposed amendments will add public areas, including the streets, sidewalks, and outdoor dining areas of the Business Improvement District (BID) to the current city code.

Currently, Chapter 408, titled “Outdoor smoking”, prohibits smoking at 14 city parks under Section A. Corporation Counsel Hartman stated the city can add a Section B to include the proposed amendments.

Under a proposed amendment to the city’s law banning smoking in parks, places in the downtown would be added. istock photo

Anyone found in violation of this chapter by smoking at any city park will be fined no less than $50 for the first violation, no more than $100 for a second violation, and no more than $250 for the third and each subsequent violation. 

When the council got a chance to comment, Councilman Brian Fassett said “As much as I would like to believe we should do it in all of the BID, I think it might be a difficult proposition for some to accept… I think we might’ve hit this a little too hard.”

Councilman Fassett added that the proposed amendments should not be exclusive to the BID, but rather prohibit outdoor smoking within a certain distance (say 25 feet) of any dining establishment that is outdoors. He advised Hartman to look at the wording of these amendments, as the city has a cigar lounge and could have cannabis lounges in the future that would be affected by the wording of these amendments to the city code. 

Councilwoman Kathleen Talbot also commented, wondering what the point of this amendment was. She stated she doesn’t think it is enforceable.

Mayor McKenzie asked if Hartman could look at adding all city-owned properties to the amendments. She expressed her desire to enforce the prohibition of outdoor smoking at parks. “I get phone calls and emails and text messages really about the parks. Kids playing in the parks. Parents are really upset because people are smoking close to the playgrounds. I think this will give us an opportunity to have it on the books, our officers will have something to go back to and somebody said – move folks along, and for the restaurants as well.”

The Corporation Counsel will return at a future meeting with updates to the proposed amendments, after taking comments made by council members into consideration. 

Request to Bid 2024 Resurfacing of Streets 

Director of Public Works Christopher Gross provided the council with a list of roads that the Department of Public Works (DPW) has determined are in the worst condition and ready to be repaved. Each year, DPW identifies streets throughout the city that have experienced damage due to weather conditions and overall use. The resurfacing of streets is funded by a state grant known as CHIPS (Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program).

The following streets have been targeted for this year’s paving bid: Montross Avenue, Brown Street, Elm Street (from Maple Avenue to Wells Street), Vail Avenue, Pomeroy Avenue, Summit Avenue, James Street (from Brown Street to Main Street), Catherine Street, Pemart Avenue (the dead end section), Prospect Avenue, Magnolia Avenue.

This section of Maple Avenue is near Montross Avenue which  is slated to be paved. (Photo by Regina Clarkin)

Gross said that based on the bids received by the city, streets can be added or removed.

At the April 23 meeting, the council unanimously approved a resolution authorizing DPW to request bids for the resurfacing of streets.

Westchester County Anti-Trafficking Task Force Program

For the last agenda item of the evening, Chief of Police Leo Dylewski spoke to the council about an opportunity for the Peekskill Police Department to partner with Westchester County and the District Attorney’s Office. According to the Chief’s memo, this opportunity would allow the police department to work with other entities to investigate complaints of human trafficking at locations where such activity is prevalent. 

When asked by Mayor McKenzie if the task force was new, Chief Dylewski said that it was something the county has had in place for some time. He noted that human trafficking is “a bigger problem than people realize – it’s an underground problem. And this [the task force] is just one of their ways to try and combat it.”

Westchester County will reimburse the City of Peekskill Police Department the cost of “overtime expenses” incurred by the police department in performing the services. Westchester County will reimburse the City of Peekskill Police Department up to $45,000 and not exceed that amount during the 5-year term. 

Councilwoman Talbot commented that this “wasn’t putting a lot of money into it, if it’s [human trafficking] that kind of a problem.” She asked the Chief,  “Is it $45,000 a year for 5 years?”

The Chief responded with, “It’s $45,000 for a year, for us if we have to pay overtime to go work in Peekskill. 

While the Chief’s response in the council meeting indicated the police department would be eligible for an annual reimbursement up to $45,000 from the Anti-Trafficking Task Force Program, the Chief’s memo indicated that the reimbursement would be capped at $45,000 over 5 years. 

Dylewski went on to explain that if a trafficking issue in the Peekskill area was reported, officers would investigate and be reimbursed by Westchester County. The department will not send officers to other cities to investigate reports of trafficking. 

At the April 23 meeting, the council unanimously approved a resolution authorizing the city manager to enter into an inter-municipal agreement with Westchester County to partake in the Westchester County Anti-Trafficking Task Force Program. 

About the Contributor
Jeffrey Merchan
Peekskill native Jeffrey Merchan is a 2022 graduate of Peekskill High School. He is the Collegiate Journalist at Peekskill Herald, funded by a grant from the DJ McManus Foundation. He is currently enrolled at Westchester Community College where he is studying journalism. As the inaugural recipient of the McManus grant, he will be covering city government, schools and feature stories with a focus on Peekskill’s growing Hispanic community.