Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Council grapples with “too much art” in Pugsley Park

Council+grapples+with+too+much+art+in+Pugsley+Park

Can you have “too much” art? This was the question at the May 6 Common Council committee of the whole work session.

After years of planning and working with local artists, Larry D’Amico, Vice President of Peekskill Arts Alliance (PAA), presented the murals composing the city’s Making Connections mural series, which will be installed on Central Avenue, near the Lincoln Museum, and in Pugsley Park. While the council was overall in favor of public art installations, members shared concerns about the number of pieces D’Amico presented, and their placement.

The empty wall on Central Avenue that will be the site of a mural created by PHS students and artist Lance Johnson in collaboration with the Peekskill Arts Alliance.

Also at the May 6 meeting, City Comptroller Toni Tracy provided updated projections for the 2024 budget, based on the actual first quarter revenues and expenses. Tracy projected $890,484 of additional revenue and $308,375 of savings on expenditures by year’s end. The anticipated additional revenue is contingent on the city selling properties with tax liens (some owners have not paid property taxes since 2016). Close to half of the lower expenditures is driven by staffing vacancies in the city; Tracy did not provide information as to if or when the city plans to fill these open positions. 

Making Connections DRI Public Art 

Making Connections is a part of “Enlighten Peekskill”, a three part public arts initiative, funded by Hudson Valley Museum of Contemporary Art (HV MOCA) through $500,000 in DRI funding. 

The first piece D’Amico presented was a mural made by artist Lance Johnson, in collaboration with Peekskill High School students and PAA. The mural has a background of flowers and features a quote from Tupac Shakur, “Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete? … Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams, it learned to breathe fresh air.” The mural will be installed on a city-owned retaining wall at 657 Central Avenue. (D’Amico showed the council an example of one of the mural’s panels, which will be made of aluminum and can be removed if the wall needs repairs). 

 

Rendering of what the wall will look like when completed. Artist Lance Johnson worked with PHS students and the Peekskill Arts Alliance to create the piece.

The second mural presented, also by Lance Johnson, is centered on the theme of “Abolitionists”, displaying photos of former slaves and abolitionists and text from articles of the Civil War era. The mural is a set of three banners, each 8 feet high and 7 feet wide, and will be installed on a three sided panel at the intersection of Central Avenue and North Water Street, located between the Lincoln Depot Museum and Dain’s Lumber. “We figured it’s really appropriate next to the Lincoln Depot to have something like this there,” said D’Amico.

Rendering of another piece of art created by artist Lance Johnson in collaboration with PHS students and the Peekskill Arts Alliance. The piece is proposed at the intersections of Central Avenue and North Water Street by the Lincoln Depot.

D’Amico then presented the art commissioned for the Pugsley Park artwalk: 13 murals, all by PAA artists. Each piece will be an 8 feet by 8 feet square printed double sided onto mesh material (so wind can pass through without damaging the art). Ten of the murals will be installed along the park’s western wall, perpendicular to the Main Street entrance, creating a colorful barrier between the park and the Carquest Auto Parts parking lot. The other three murals will be installed on the other side of the park. 

Mayor Vivian McKenzie liked the intention of using ten of the murals to create a wall of art “that’s rising up as you’re coming up Main Street”.

Ten murals proposed for Pugsley Park along the border of SavMore Auto Parts store.

However, Councilwoman Kathleen Talbot shared reservations about the art walk. “It feels like too much to me. Especially the long row of all of these very different pieces of art that don’t have any breathing space… I would take out half of them and let the rest of them have their own space. You’re going to put it all over the park… that to me is too much too.” Councilman Brian Fassett suggested changing the color of the framing from black to white to provide a visual break between each piece. 

Finally, D’Amico presented seven murals (also 8 feet by 8 feet) that will be affixed to the west-facing façade of the Peekskill United Methodist Church. D’Amico noted that the murals have not received approval from the church yet.

Proposed art for the wall of the Methodist Church that borders the park to the east.

Council members were quite critical of the art proposed for the church facade. The principal criticism from   Mayor McKenzie and Councilman Dwight Douglas was that the murals did not have a theme related to the church. However, all the Pugsley Park art that D’Amico presented to the council conformed to the theme of “A Day in the Park”, as advertised by the PAA in its call for artist submissions. Councilwoman Talbot said the church wall is fine the way it is, deeming the artwork unnecessary for the unadorned, cement wall.  

Mayor McKenzie wondered if the murals could be centered on the wall. City Planner Peter Erwin explained that the murals need to be placed higher, in order to view them through plantings and trees, which may grow up to 18 feet. 

Councilman Douglas raised a question about the longevity of all the murals, to which D’Amico responded they would last at least five years.

Another example of murals to be placed at Pugsley Park.

D’Amico explained to the council that the PAA is still considering how best to install plaques/signage that would provide the public with artist details and history for each of the murals proposed for Pugsley Park. D’Amico is considering putting information online and having a QR code so people can scan and read about the art on their phones.

“We should have the majority of the artworks installed in the next two months – at least six new murals and two additional sculptures with more to come in the summer,” said City Planner Erwin.

At the May 13 Common Council meeting, council members unanimously passed three resolutions accepting these art donations. All the artworks include an 18 month warranty, with PAA responsible for fixing damages. 

In addition, due to the city wishing to expedite the completion of “Making Connections”, the council unanimously passed a resolution authorizing the city manager to enter into a temporary funding agreement with PAA for up to $50,000, to support installation work. The city would be fully reimbursed through the city’s DRI grant.

First Quarter Budget Review

In her presentation on May 6, City Comptroller Toni Tracy presented council members with a first quarter (January 1 – March 31, 2024) budget review. Tracy then compared the first quarter revenues and expenditures to previous years to project the end-of-year 2024 budget. Tracy said this process allows the city council and management to proactively identify and address significant issues that may impact year-end performance, and to make adjustments where possible.

The 2024 budget includes $48,903,234 in revenues and $2,125,000 in appropriated fund balance, totaling $51,028,234. Tracy projected $890,484 of additional revenue and $308,375 of savings on expenditures by year’s end. Her projections have determined that the city will only use $926,142 of the appropriated fund balance, rather than the $2.125 million originally budgeted. Tracy said the city was able to get additional revenue and save by department heads “paying attention to what they are doing, saving where they can… and plus fine and fee increases that the city has put into place.”

Then Tracy presented a slide showing projected variances for various revenue categories. 

Interest and Penalties: The city had expected to raise $275,000 in interest and penalties; Tracy now projects $600,000 (118 percent increase) if the city sells properties with tax liens (properties for which the owners have not paid city taxes) and the city realizes a higher interest rate from investments (versus a lower interest rate bank accounts are currently providing). 

Parking Meters and Fines: Recently, the city raised parking meter rates and fines; the city also anticipates hiring a new parking enforcement officer. These changes are projected to bring the city more funds than anticipated. The city is projected to make $561,266 from parking meters, a 22 percent increase from the previously expected $460,000. Parking fines were expected to raise $1,000,000 this year; current projections anticipate $1,576,350 (58 percent increase). 

 

Parking meter prices increased this year which will net the city an anticipated $561,266, a 22 percent increase from the previously expected $460,000.  

Fire Inspection Fees: The city had expected to raise  $100,000 in fire inspection fees. However, as of May, the city has not hired a fire inspector, so no one is available to conduct those inspections or identify violations. Tracy’s updated projections anticipate $50,000 in fire inspection fee revenues for 2024, as the city anticipates hiring a fire inspector midway through the year. 

Code Enforcement Fees: The 2024 budget had the city receiving $250,000 in building fines, but now Tracy projects raising $180,000, a 28 percent decrease. Tracy noted she would speak with the Building Department to find out why building fines were lower than expected. Councilman Douglas also expressed interest in seeing a detailed breakdown of Building Department fines and fees.

Then Tracy presented updated expenses. 

Corporation Counsel: The city budgeted $243,984 for Corporation Counsel services. According to year-end projections, the city will only use $146,000 (40 percent savings). This is due to an unfilled position in the department. While this vacancy is saving the city money, the city is expected to use more money this year to pay outside counsel to assist Corporation Counsel Michael Hartman. Hartman, formerly the Assistant Corporation Counsel, replaced Timothy Kramer last year as Corporation Counsel and Hartman’s former position was never filled. The city expects to spend $175,000 on special (outside) counsel this year, $75,000 more than anticipated. 

Recreation Department: The city budgeted $326,599 for expenditure on personnel services in the Recreation Department, but spending projections fell to $281,166. The city will save $45,433. This is driven by a vacancy for the Director position, after the retirement of Cathy Montaldo.

The final slide shown was a fund balance graph. Tracy explained to council members that since the city is only using $926,142 of the $2,125,000 budgeted fund balance, the unrestricted fund balance (unrestricted proportion is available for budget shortfalls if they occur) to $3,440,913. “The city is using a little over a million dollars less fund balance, putting the city in a better position at the year end with this projection,”  said Tracy.

For Tracy’s slideshow presentation, click here.

Restore NY Grant – 201 N. Division Street 

The City of Peekskill will submit the 201 N. Division Street project as part of its final application for a $2 million Restore NY grant administered by New York’s Empire State Development Department (ESD). 

The Restore NY grant provides municipalities with financial assistance for the revitalization of commercial and residential properties. The program encourages community development and neighborhood growth through the elimination and redevelopment of blighted structures. Applications are due May 22, 2024. 

The 201 North Division Street project proposes the construction of a five-story mixed-use building at the corner of Howard and North Division Street. The project will include 125 residential units, 13 of which will be affordable and workforce housing units, and 7,500 sq ft of commercial space. 135 parking spaces are proposed in this project, with an additional 18 spaces for the commercial space. 

At the May 13 Common Council meeting, the city held a public hearing for residents to speak about the chosen project for the city’s application. One Peekskill resident spoke: Maria Pereira asked how the proposed building at 201 N. Division Street would affect the people living on Paulding Street, as it is a  one way street going down on North Division. She added if the city is considering putting up a traffic light and if a traffic study has been conducted. 

View of N. Division Street from Pauling Street, subject of a question at the public hearing. (Photo by Regina Clarkin)

Director of Planning Carol Samol responded to Pereira’s question stating that Paulding Street is currently being studied and based on the results the city will decide if improvements or changes will need to be made. 

On May 13, the council unanimously passed a resolution authorizing the city manager to submit a grant application to NYS ESD for the Restore NY Grant. 

Winter Parking Date Enforcement Change  

The city plans to install new signs throughout the city clearly outlining the rules for winter parking, 

The following locations have been identified as priorities for these new signs: Spring Street & Main Street; Central Avenue & Washington Street; South Street & Washington Street; Compound Road & Broad Street; Main Street & Broad Street; Paulding Street & North Division Street.

In addition to announcements, the city is planning to send alerts using Code Red to remind residents about winter parking restrictions.

In the city’s memo, it states that after the 2023-24 winter parking enforcement season, the city discovered there was a conflict with the winter parking ordinance and the street sweeping ordinance. Street sweeping currently ends on December 31st every year whereas winter parking begins on December 1st. 

On May 13, the city unanimously passed a resolution scheduling a public hearing on May 28, 2024 to discuss changing the end date of the street sweeping ordinance from December 31st to December 1st, to eliminate the conflict described above. 

Sexual Risk Avoidance Education Program (SRAEP) Grant Award

The Westchester County Youth Bureau has awarded the City of Peekskill Youth Bureau $32,621 for the period May 1, 2024 continuing through December 31, 2024 to implement the Sexual Risk Avoidance Education Program (SRAEP). The funding is provided through a New York State Office of Children and Family Services grant.

According to Youth Bureau’s Executive Director Tuesday McDonald’s memo, the purpose of SRAEP is to implement sexual risk avoidance education that teaches participants how to voluntarily refrain from non-marital sexual activity. 

These programs also teach the benefits associated with: work readiness, self-regulation, healthy relationships, goal setting, resisting sexual coercion, avoiding dating violence, resisting youth risk behaviors such as underage drinking and illicit drug use.

At its May 13 meeting, the Common Council unanimously approved a resolution entering the city into an agreement with the Westchester County Youth Bureau to accept these funds. 

Liaison Reports/Concerns and Issues

At the May 6 council meeting, Deputy Mayor Patricia Riley spoke on the Right on Red law. She noted that some cities in the United States have gotten rid of their Right on Red law. Riley told council members she would like to have a discussion to see if it is possible to do that in the city and if the city should do that.

Corporation Counsel Michael Hartman stated, “Under the general municipal law, we would be able to draft a local law opting out of the right on red. We have started to look at that and some minimum/maximum speed limits. I think there are some changes that we could make.” He added that if the council would like, he would put together a memo listing some alternatives and a list of villages and cities that are opting out of the law.

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.