Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Council hears about $1.6 million grant for firefighters; laws regulating smoke shops


The topic of smoke shops returned for discussion at Monday’s Common Council Committee of the Whole meeting. The proposed legislation featured efforts to temporarily halt smoke shops intending to open in Peekskill and regulate existing smoke shops. Councilman Brian Fassett, Corporation Counsel Timothy Kramer and City Clerk Cassandra Redd were all absent from Monday’s meeting. 

Acceptance of SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) Grant

For the second item of the meeting, Fire Chief James Seymour explained the details of the $1.6 million SAFER grant which the fire department was recently awarded. He is seeking Council authorization to accept the grant which would allow for the hiring of six new firefighter/emergency medical technician personnel. 

From November 2022 to March 2023 fire department staff worked collaboratively with staff from Fire Grants Expert Inc. to formulate an application for a SAFER grant through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  When submitting the application, the fire department analyzed their needs and specific areas of improvement which was highlighted in a memo shared with council members and the public. Read more here.

Peekskill Fire Chief Jim Seymour was chief in Scarsdale before coming to Peekskill. .

The results of this analysis determined that requesting six firefighters through the SAFER program put the city in a position to receive the highest achievable score with FEMA. The addition of six firefighters to the total number of department career staff would allow the department to increase the daily staffing to eight firefighters with a contractual minimum of seven firefighters. This number aligns the department with NFPA 1710, the standard for the organization and deployment of fire suppression operations, emergency medical operations, and special operations to the public by career fire departments. 

On September 20, 2023, the department was notified that the City of Peekskill was an open-round recipient of the SAFER grant and that it would be awarded $1,603,584.06 to fully fund six new Firefighter/EMT positions. This funding includes full salary and benefits for the first three years of employment.

According to Chief Seymour’s memo, these new positions will significantly impact the department’s ability to respond to the needs of Peekskill residents, and will broaden their interoperable response assignments with the Peekskill Ambulance Corps, the Peekskill Police Department and their  mutual aid fire departments. These new positions will also allow the department to create a rescue task force along with the Police Department in order to respond to incidents related to active shooter and hostile events.

Seymour believes that these new positions will impact the operating budget relating to overtime expenditures, projecting  a 36 percent decrease. Currently, due to the number of total staff, the need to utilize overtime to cover vacancies related to long-term injury, retirements and vacation leave is significant, according to Seymour. 

When council members asked if Chief Seymour would be hiring from within the city of Peekskill or looking elsewhere, he responded “One of the reasons I believe the members are so passionate about the job here in Peekskill is the far majority of us grew up here in Peekskill, went through the Peekskill school system, and when you are deeply rooted in the community, in my opinion, you seem to care about it (the job) a little more. My first preference is to look at our resident list and give an opportunity to some Peekskill residents,” said Seymour. 

A resolution to accept the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grant will be put on the agenda for  the October 10th Common Council meeting. 

Police: Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee Grants 

Chief of Police Leo Dylewski addressed council members about two grants the Peekskill Police Department was recently awarded. The two grants are designed to help enhance traffic safety in the city of Peekskill. The first grant is for $14,402 and will allow for additional traffic enforcement in categories such as seat belt usage, distracted driver, school bus safety and other issues.

Painting by Janice Barsuch

The second grant is for $1,000 and will allow the police department to continue with the statewide “Child Passenger Safety.” This program focuses on the proper installation of child safety seats and is conducted both monthly and by appointment.

A resolution to accept these grants will be put on the agenda for the next Common Council meeting.

Smoke Shop Moratorium and Legislation

Assistant Corporation Counsel Michael Hartman presented the Council with three new pieces of legislation to address the issue of illicit cannabis sales in the city of Peekskill from unlicensed smoke shops. 

The first piece of legislation is a temporary moratorium on smoke shop licensing. This would be done by the adoption of a local law amending the zoning code to prohibit new smoke shops from opening until February 1, 2024 and giving the city time to amend the public nuisance point system and amend the enforcement model prior to that date. If the Council decides to move forward with a moratorium, a resolution will be submitted for the next Council meeting to refer the matter to the Planning Commission and to schedule a public hearing.

“This is a bit of a band-aid but it allows us up front to freeze the problem and to start to put our other pieces of legislation in and start to amending the code and get that in the works,” said Hartman.

Papi’s Secret Stash on Main Street has been open a year.

The second piece of legislation is a draft local law which is a real estate based enforcement model based on the law passed by New York City, which will make landlords liable for lessee violators. This will place the burden and cost of civil enforcement upon the landlord and or property owner. This new law explicitly prohibits landlords from knowingly renting to illegal dispensaries that sell cannabis or tobacco products and imposes a fine after a warning. The law authorizes the City to inspect premises for violations, and where a violation is found to exist, the landlord is provided a written notice. Any subsequent violations will subject the landlord to a fine of $5,000 to $10,000. Landlords can defend themselves against alleged violations by showing that they started eviction proceedings against the illegal dispensary. This type of law has the backing of the Real Estate Board of New York, which represents property owners.

The third piece of legislation will amend the existing zoning code to add a special permit process for tobacco and smoke shops, which include spacing and proximity requirements. Existing smoke shops will be grandfathered under existing laws and would not be subject to this new law unless ownership changes hands or a new lease is signed.

According to documents provided on the online agenda, tobacco or smoke shop or electronic/vapor substance inhalation shops will need to meet the following minimum spacing and proximity:

1) No such use or establishment shall be located within 1,500 feet of any other shop. 2) No such use or establishment shall be located within 100 feet of any parcel of land zoned for residential use and/or public parkland. 3) No such use or establishment shall be located within 200 feet of any house of worship or religious facility. 4) No such use or establishment shall be located within 500 feet of any school and any facility used for education of children. 5) No such use or establishment located in a building sharing one or more common walls with another retail or commercial establishment, or sharing common attic space with any other use, shall permit smoking anywhere on the premises.  

Any person found to be in violation of this legislation shall be ordered to cease and desist the operation, sale, furnishing and/or distribution of such tobacco and cannabis products and/or devices and shall be subject to the revocation of their special permit. Enforcement of the provisions of this legislation may be enforced by the Peekskill Police Department, the City Manager, the Building Department, the Fire Department, Corporation Counsel, the Department of Public Works, and any other person designated by the City Manager.

Hartman estimates that the legislation could take effect within five weeks if the local law goes through at the first scheduled public hearing. 

A resolution that would refer the temporary moratorium to the Planning Commission as well as scheduling a public hearing on the three new pieces of legislation will be placed on the agenda for next week’s Common Council meeting. 


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.