Also, moratorium proposed, but not likely yet, along Fishkill Avenue

Beacon residents will have a second chance to comment on the city’s proposed 2024 budget on Monday (Dec. 11), when the City Council reopens a public hearing on the $35 million spending plan, which includes about a $100 property tax increase on the average home and $1,000 employee-retention raises for city staff.

After the hearing, the council is expected to vote on the budget.

The plan proposes a decrease in the residential tax rate for the third straight year and a decrease in the commercial tax rate for the second consecutive year. While residential property taxes are likely to see the modest increase because of rising assessments, a $500,000 commercial parcel would see a 14 percent decrease, or $760, in its tax bill.

The budget would use $250,000 from savings to balance the $25.4 million general fund and $96,500 in savings for the $4.2 million water fund. The $5.3 million sewer fund would not be supplemented by savings. Water and sewer fees would increase for city residents by 4 percent and 6 percent, respectively.

Only one new municipal position, a part-time police dispatcher, is proposed for 2024. Two positions created this year — a recreation assistant and deputy building inspector — are retained in the budget. The recreation assistant will allow the Recreation Department, which is slated for a 20 percent funding increase, to expand its afterschool programming from three to four sites in early 2024. The department’s summer camp at University Settlement will also expand by two weeks.

Council members decided during their Dec. 4 workshop to schedule another public hearing, this one for Dec. 18, their final meeting of the year, on a proposal to increase the salaries paid to council members and the mayor. The pitch, made by outgoing Council Member Justice McCray in October, would raise council members’ salaries from $9,000 to $11,000 annually and the mayor’s from $25,000 to $29,500.

The reasoning, said McCray, who did not seek re-election last month and will be replaced in January on the council by Jeff Domanski, is to adjust the salaries for inflation and potentially remove one of the barriers that may keep some candidates from running for the office.

“There are a lot of people in the city who are passionate about making Beacon better” but do not have the resources to run for office and devote time to the position, McCray said in October. The last time the elected officials’ benefits were adjusted was in 2017, when the council voted to give its members the option of a $2,500 payment if they choose not to enroll in the city’s health insurance plan.

If the council adopts the salary increases following the hearing on Dec. 18, they would take effect in 2024. In essence, the council could adopt the 2024 budget on Dec. 11, hold a public hearing on the raises a week later and then vote to amend the 2024 budget following the hearing.

If approved, the amendment would require using an additional $16,500 — $2,000 each for six council members and $4,500 for the mayor — from savings to balance the budget.

Council Member Dan Aymar-Blair said Dec. 4 that he believes the stipend paid to council members “is disproportionate to the amount of work” the job requires, “but I’m very wary of using this position to give myself an increase.” Mayor Lee Kyriacou said he had at different times voted for and against salary increases during his nine terms on the council.

Fishkill Avenue moratorium?

During the Dec. 4 workshop, Aymar-Blair and Council Member Paloma Wake proposed a moratorium on new development in the Fishkill Avenue corridor while a committee that’s expected to be named next month studies the area.

Since the council began discussing the potential rezoning of a mile-long stretch of the corridor, Aymar-Blair said he has heard from constituents who want to see smaller buildings, affordable housing and bike lanes — measures not necessarily supported by current zoning — in the area. Kyriacou last week announced that he will soon appoint a citizens’ committee to study the corridor and advise the City Council, but that group, once formed, is not expected to complete its work for six to nine months.

John Clarke, a planning consultant, and City Attorney Nick Ward-Willis both said that a moratorium would probably not withstand legal scrutiny at this point.

Development moratoriums are usually reserved for emergencies, such as in 2017 when the council enacted one while consultants studied Beacon’s long-term water supply. In this case, Kyriacou has said he hopes the Fishkill Avenue committee can complete its work within nine months, “but there’s no guarantee you can stick to that,” Clarke said on Monday, noting that the Main Street Access Committee needed two years before it made its recommendations to the council.

Ward-Willis said a moratorium would be appropriate to “preserve the status quo” while a committee examines changes to a law, such as the zoning code. But because the Fishkill Avenue committee has yet to begin its work, the situation does not meet that threshold, he said.

However, if a development project that conflicts with the council’s vision for the corridor is submitted to the Planning Board, a moratorium could then be used. “If there was a proposal made that you thought was at odds with the revisions being fleshed out [by the committee], you would have the ability to adopt a moratorium to stop the ‘rush to the gates,’ ” Ward-Willis told the council. That scenario would support a freeze “because you have a concrete example of something that is being proposed that would be at odds with what you’re hoping to accomplish.”

In the meantime, Clarke said the city could revise its parking standards in the general business district, which includes the Fishkill Avenue corridor. That move would allow the city to require parking behind new buildings, for example, which would protect against the “worst” types of projects in the corridor, such as fast-food restaurants, “without short-circuiting the work of the committee.”

Regardless, it will be important for the committee to meet frequently and complete its work as quickly as possible, “so bad projects don’t sneak in the back door,” Clarke said.

Internal subdivisions

The City Council could vote on Monday (Dec. 11) on a zoning amendment to allow developers of residential and mixed-use projects with multiple buildings to “internally” subdivide so that individual buildings are recorded as separate lots.

Internal subdivisions allow developers to separate construction loans for one lot, for example, from long-term financing for the remainder of a site to make a project more viable. The law governing such subdivisions currently applies only to commercial developments.

The amendment was requested by the developer of the Edgewater apartment complex, which was approved in 2018 and when complete will include seven buildings. If the council approves the amendment, any lots “newly created” by internal subdivision would still be bound by special-use permits, if applicable, and zoning restrictions as if they were part of one cohesive site.

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Simms has covered Beacon for The Current since 2015. He studied journalism at Appalachian State University and has reported for newspapers in North Carolina and Maryland. Location: Beacon. Languages: English. Area of expertise: Beacon politics

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