Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus visited the City of Newburgh Fire Department on Tuesday to announce the city will receive surplus funds of more than $536,000 in sales-tax revenue. The announcement location highlighted the county’s hope that the money will go to save 12 city firefighter jobs.
“We just presented a check for $536,000,” said Neuhaus. “The City of Newburgh can utilize that money that they’ve gotten in sales tax revenue… to keep those firefighters rather than lay them off.”
Neuhaus explained the county took in a surplus of $3.7 million in 2017 fourth-quarter sales tax revenue. The City of Newburgh will receive a total of $536,635 in surplus sales-tax funds, he said. “The economy is doing better in Orange County than anywhere else in the Hudson Valley,” said the county executive. “These sales-tax numbers show that.”
Shortly after Neuhaus finished speaking, the firehouse alarm began to wail. Four firefighters geared up, in what seemed to be seconds flat, and sped off in a fire engine.
Paid for through a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the 12 positions are funded through the end of July.
Citing the high cost of mandated work on water and sewer infrastructure, among other expenses, the city recently passed a Spartan 2018 budget that raised taxes on businesses and skipped funding for the positions. The budget also cut the fire department’s overtime budget by about half.
County Legislator James O’Donnell described the county sales-tax surplus as a fortunate “windfall” for county municipalities, including the city. “It’s critical that those 12 firefighter positions are funded,” he said. “Those positions have a ripple effect outside of the City of Newburgh with other fire departments,” he said, referring to mutual aid. “You lose 12 positions, it’s not just the City of Newburgh, it’s the Town of Newburgh, it’s the Town of New Windsor, its every other town in Orange County.”
City Manager Michael Ciaravino, who was present at the event, stopped short of promising to use the money to save all 12 positions. “We have a ton of competing priorities,” Ciaravino said. “We have to run it by the city council,” but the funds will be “considered strongly” to save the positions, he said.
The surplus money is “potentially good news for short-term funding,” Ciaravino said, noting the money would cover the positions for several months only. “We need to recognize a long-term, sustainable plan,” he said, to secure the positions in the future.
Acting city Fire Chief Terry Ahlers said the city fire department would apply for another SAFER grant this spring.
By SHANTAL RILEY