As the deadline for the City Manager’s final 2020 fiscal budget edges closer, Newburgh has officially re-elected three incumbents and elected one long-time hallmark of the community.
The three incumbents are Mayor Torrance Harvey, Councilman-at-large Anthony Grice, and Ward 3 Councilman Robert Sklarz. The newcomer is soon to be Councilman-at-large Omari Shakur. Shakur will officially take office in January, after Councilwoman-at-large Hillary Langford’s term is officially over.
This election was especially pertinent for Harvey, as this will be his first full term. “This new term means I have a full four year-term to continue some of the great stuff I’ve initiated,” said Harvey. “Also, the former mayor, Judy Kennedy, some of the things that she started.” Harvey first came into office as mayor via special election after Kennedy’s passing in 2018.
In many ways winning this new term has reminded Harvey of his youth. This new term has been like “crossing the burning sands,” joked Harvey. “It’s like pledging.” Harvey reminisced over his years at Morehouse College, where he found community at a fraternity. In some ways, Harvey finds winning the election to be similar to the happiness of getting into college and the struggle to do well in a high-pressure atmosphere. Despite successfully winning, Harvey believes the fight isn’t over. Running a successful new term that benefits the city is his top priority.
On election night, Harvey felt excitement over winning with Sklarz, Grice, and Shakur by his side.
“I was overwhelmed and thankful for the volunteers who helped guide and support my campaign,” said Sklarz. Sklarz is relatively new to the council, as he was only appointed to office for the first time this past January.
Sklarz has been heavily involved with the city’s transportation advisory committee since his initial appointment. “Stop signs will be installed at an intersection I advocated for,” said Sklarz. On November 11, stop signs were installed at Fowler Avenue at the intersection of Poplar Street. This installation altered the intersection from a two way stop to a four way stop. “My job is to act as a catalyst to advocate for the concerns and suggestions of our residents,” said Sklarz “I look forward to working with transportation issues and continuing to work on providing service to my constituents.”
Grice recently won the Activist of the Year with Local Progress. “To be recognized by my peers was definitely a surprise that I didn’t expect,” said Grice. “It inspires me to do more.”
“I’m still excited about it [winning the election],” said Grice. “Some of the things I wanted to do as a Councilperson, I started early on when I won the special election. So, this is really a continuation of that.”
In many ways, Grice’s recent Activist of the Year award recognizes his work as a Councilman. Grice is focused on serving the city residents to the best of his ability. He hopes to pass legislation on community choice aggregation and finding ways to improve access to housing. Like Sklarz, Grice is heavily focused on transportation. Grice believes there’s an intersection between issues like transportation and housing.
Although, Shakur’s term hasn’t officially started, he’s excited to continue his work with the community. Shakur has been a long-term outspoken activist for the residents of Newburgh.
“Right now, I feel elated, ready to go to work,” said Shakur. “Right now, I’m trying to wrap my head around everything.”
For members of the city government, the budget is a top priority right now. At the moment, Shakur hasn’t had the chance to take an official look at the budget. “We’re trying to work our way out of a deficit,” said Shakur. “Right now, we’re looking at ways we can get out of it.”
“It’s a real numbers budget,” said Grice. Time and time again, members of the City Government have expressed that the current budget isn’t ideal but it’s necessary. In the budget there are 25 proposed layoffs to the police, and fire department. In addition, there’s a current proposed increase in the tax levy of 7 percent. As the final budget date of November 26 comes closer, the City has been working over the past month to reduce those numbers as much as possible.
“I’m concerned, but I don’t want to say I’m worried,” said Harvey. “The numbers, you know, they are what they are. I’ve expressed a million and one times, I personally don’t want to lay off one firefighter, not one police officer.”
But Harvey believes that there have been problems with overtime being abused by public safety department. “We got to trim some of the fat, as they say,” said Harvey. “We’re going to go through some growing pains.” Harvey is still optimistic that the final budget will work out.
“We as city government need to ensure that we are looking at all of our areas of revenue, not just tax payers,” said Grice.
In an effort to increase revenue, and decrease problems, the council has worked to expand the tax base through development and new businesses.
“We got to continue to work on the crime element,” said Harvey. “Get minimizing the crime, minimizing our urban blight. Getting rid of these abandoned buildings, which we’ve done aggressively. Getting our landlords or investors to clean up these abandoned buildings, fix them up. We’re cracking down on our codes, getting rental properties on the rental registry. Ameliorating our urban blight! Fixing our infrastructure, paving these roads.”
Harvey believes residents can help with economic revitalization by getting involved in various different ways like helping out with community cleanups. Harvey and other members of the government hope to continue to increase community engagement.
Just last summer, the Mayor’s Strategic Economic Development Advisory Committee was formed. The committee is composed of ten residents and business owners. They are currently working on reviewing two RFPS for development of city-owned properties located on South Colden and Montgomery Streets. This committee is one of the many community-focused efforts to increase revenue.
“I look forward to all of us working together,” said Sklarz. “To effectively address complicated issues and continue what we all want — to keep Newburgh moving forward.”
None of the four officials have announced their official inauguration activities for this January. But one thing is certain, all of them would like to keep their inaugurations community-centered.