Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Common Council votes to recommit to electric bill certainty

But also wants to find ways to keep the public better informed
One of the three newest murals installed in the downtown last week. This is on the side of the building that houses the Bruised Apple bookstore. The other two are on the Bean Runner Cafe and the police station.

Knowing what your monthly electric bill is going to be every month provides stability, even if it’s more expensive than other options. That reasoning led Peekskill’s Common Council members to vote to recommit to Westchester Power at its June 24 meeting. Westchester Power also offers the choice of  a renewable energy option. Several residents spoke about this program, mostly in favor of the council recommitting.

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  • Closeup of the mural on the Bean Runner.

  • This mural by Leonardo Moleiro on the side of the Bean Runner Cafe was installed last week.

  • Closeup of the mural by Misha Tyutyunik on Bruised Apple building.

  • This mural by Robert Barthelmes is on the side of the police department building. This piece of public art is part of the Downtown Revitalization project.

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As an arts community, Peekskill has welcomed many public art pieces (three just last week). To advise the Common Council and guide public art selection and maintenance, on June 24 the council voted to establish a new board: the Peekskill Council on the Arts (PCA), to advise the Common Council and guide public art selection and maintenance. The newly-formed advisory body is expected to meet quarterly and will consist of nine members. 

Westchester Power MOU

Dan Welsh, Director of Westchester Power.

Between May and June, Peekskill’s Common Council heard three presentations from Sustainable Westchester, the non-profit that runs the electricity program Westchester Power. Westchester Power is a Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program; CCAs allow cities, counties, and other governmental entities to purchase and/or generate electricity for their residents and businesses. Peekskill joined Westchester Power in 2019, and last acted on the program in April 2022, when the Council selected the 100 percent renewable clean power option as a default.  

At the June 17 council meeting, Dan Welsh, Director of Westchester Power, spoke about the options the program hopes to offer in their upcoming contract cycle (November 1, 2024 – October 31, 2026). Option 1: a 50/50 blend of fossil fuel and hydropower. Option 2: a 50/50 blend of hydropower and wind/solar power. (Previously, Option 1 was entirely fossil fuels, and Option 2 was entirely hydropower.)

Councilman Brian Fassett expressed his discontent with the program “I’m still not a great fan of this program. I don’t like the way that it rolls out. I think there are many municipalities that haven’t taken advantage of this to help push the green initiative forward. I’m concerned based on the contract that we are currently in, and I’ve had this conversation already, that we’ve unintentionally contributed to further poverty here in Peekskill for our residents. We’re putting green energy on the backs of our residents to solve the problem.” 

The current contract cycle for the Westchester Power CCA program will end on October 31, 2024.

At the June 24 meeting, Noam Bramson, Executive Director of Sustainable Westchester, provided more information on the upcoming contract options and to address the concerns raised by the council at the June 17 meeting. After Bramson’s presentation, Deputy Mayor Patricia Riley, Councilwoman Kathleen Talbot, and Councilman Dwight Douglas indicated greater understanding of Westchester Power’s updated contract offerings. Councilman Fassett was still concerned about the financial burden for Peekskill households, and hoped that the city could do more to keep residents informed about ConEd’s variable rate compared Westchester Power’s fixed rate, so that people could opt out and back in (at no cost) to take advantage of whichever offered the lower rate.  Anyone who has opted out previously would remain opted out under the new contract according to Bramson. 

Several residents spoke on this issue, three in favor of recommitting to Westchester Power, and one against.  The resident against the program said that Peekskill households, especially those on a fixed income, are already struggling with high energy costs, and there are other options besides Westchester Power.

A member of Peekskill’s Conservation Advisory Council (CAC) said the CAC is in favor of recommitting. Her comments addressed previously stated concerns by council members and members of the public, saying there was buy-in from a broad economic range of Westchester communities and that there are public and private programs to help with energy costs for fixed income households. The Chair of Peekskill100 spoke, saying that her chapter supports the CAC’s recommendation on recommitting to Westchester Power. Finally, a third resident spoke about how Westchester Power is essentially energy insurance, allowing households to know what their electricity bills will be each month.  

At the June 24 meeting, the Common Council unanimously authorized a resolution allowing the city manager to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Sustainable Westchester. The resolution states that the city manager will execute an amendment to change the city’s default product to a 100 percent renewable default option, should such an option become available before the commencement of the 2024 electric service agreement.

Peekskill Council on the Arts (PCA)

Proposed mural for the arches on Water Street was the impetus for the newly formed Peekskill Council on the Arts.

At the June 17 council meeting, City Planner Peter Erwin introduced the PCA. According to Erwin’s memo to the council, the responsibilities of the nine member PCA include: creating inventory of city-owned artworks, adopt a plan for monitoring conditions and maintenance needs, seek funding for and schedule conservation work, create application forms and process, complete artwork reviews in a set period of time, make recommendations to the city council on acceptance of public artworks, review and approve temporary exhibits and performances in a set period of time, work with local developers, businesses, and entities to host artwork, install and maintain consistent PCA plaques and signage attributing works to artists (possibly QR codes directing people to a website), and contribute ideas to allow Peekskill to grow as an arts destination. 

The formation of this board has been a long-time coming. Last summer, City Manager Matt Alexander  proposed the creation of this board (formerly dubbed the Arts & Cultural Advisory Commission), to address an offer of murals from a group of waterfront business owners. The commission and murals never moved forward

Councilman Brian Fassett commented on the PCA saying it will be vital in keeping public art maintained and not forgotten, as well as allowing the city to continue to grow its art collection. 

At the June 24 council meeting, the Common Council unanimously approved resolutions authorizing the city manager to establish the PCA and appoint all nine board members. They include: Larry D’Amico (inaugural board chair), Deborah Liljegren, Bre Pettis, Robin Kline, Kathleen Reckling, Livia Straus, Ridvan Idara, Wilfredo Morel, and Bria Waterman. To avoid board vacancies coming up all at once, initial board member terms will be staggered: with three on a one year term, three on two year terms, and three on three year terms. The Planning Department will assign a liaison to the PCA.

Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) 

Peekskill’s Planning Department is seeking $562,500 in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding for the years of 2025-2027. At the June 17 council meeting, Director of Planning Carol Samol listed those projects selected by the department for the city’s application. 

The projects include: Replacement of an electrical panel for the elevator at the Neighborhood Center, Riverfront Green restroom improvements (increase size, ADA accessibility, winterize), Depew Park Mini-Soccer Pitch, and Intersection Improvements/Pedestrian signals (North division/main street, nelson/main street). The total cost for all the projects is $1,675,000, which would include $562,500 in CDBG funding and $1,112,500 in city matches. Match sources will be determined prior to application submission. 

In reference to the Riverfront Green restrooms, Samol said “It’s a bigger ticket item but we know if we don’t start asking now and planning for this, we will never see it. We think it is an important amenity that would help with maintenance and would also help with larger public events.”

Samol stated that projects were chosen after staff reviewed the capital budget and had conversations with different departments. The grant program requires that all projects benefit low-to-moderate income Peekskill residents. (Projects that benefit the entire city are eligible.)

According to Samol’s memo to the council, the County CDBG program allows any Peekskill non-profit agency to each apply for up to $800,000 in grant funds with a 50 percent match. Each non-profit applies for and manages its own grant projects without city assistance. 

The next step for the city in the application process is to hold a public hearing for the proposed projects in the city’s CDBG application, as well as for any non-profit agency to present its projects to the council and public for comment. 

Councilman Fassett requested that intersection improvements be moved into 2025 as opposed to 2026. “That’s been a priority for years already. Nelson and Main maybe we can push that into 2026 but I think North Division and Main and Bank and Main need to be looked at quicker.”

At the June 24 meeting, the Common Council unanimously passed a resolution scheduling a public hearing on July 15 for the required CDBG public hearing. The application deadline is August 16, 2024.

Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) Design Services

With Pugsley Park having its grand opening earlier this month, the city is now focusing its attention on Monument Park renovations. City Planner Peter Erwin stated that the goal is for Monument Park to be complete by the end of the year. 

During the June 17 meeting, Erwin explained that the city plans to use the remainder of the OPRHP (Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation) grant funding the city received in December, to make improvements to Monument Park. Erwin requested the city contract with Aspect120, in order to create consistency in the urban design the city is building through the DRI. Aspect120 provided design, construction documents, and construction management services for Pugsley Park.

Aspect120 will amend the city’s bid documents, provide bid assistance, and construction management for the Monument Park project. These services will cost the city $3,900 per month for a six to nine month design and construction period. The total cost would not exceed $40,000.

In addition, Erwin stated the Planning Department is seeking to contract with Aspect120 for shade structure design services, part of the Civic Hub DRI project. The shade structure would replace the gazebo at Brown Plaza. Aspect120 provided the city with an estimate of $45,000 for their services.

At the June 24 Common Council meeting, the Common Council approved a resolution authorizing the city manager to enter into agreement with Aspect120 for both projects. Mayor McKenzie and Councilman Brian Fassett voted against the shade structure services from Aspect120. The resolution passed 5-2 in favor.

2024 NYS Consolidated Funding Applications

Paramount Theater renovations have been placed on the back burner for consideration on the list of projects for the city’s 2024 NYS Consolidated Funding Application.

At the June 3 council meeting, Director of Planning Carol Samol presented the idea of re-submitting a grant application to OPRHP for Paramount Theater renovations (specifically HVAC) and Depew Park improvements.The following week, the city passed a resolution approving applications to OPRHP for both projects. But now the city has back-tracked. 

According to Johnathan Zamora’s memo to the council, the city has determined that requesting money from one organization for two projects is not “a good idea”. Zamora states that the Depew Park application has been selected over the Paramount because it will be a more competitive request. The Depew Park application asks to improve trailhead circulation and wayfinding signage, as well as add mini-pitch soccer, tennis courts, basketball courts, barbeque and gathering areas. 

The total request for the Depew Park project will be $675,000 and will require a city match of $675,000. The city plans to assist the Paramount in applying for a Empire State Development Capital grant for renovations.

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.