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Dunkirk Budget Talks Close To A ‘Circus’

DUNKIRK — City officials will meet one more time about the 2023 budget and are set to vote on it next week.

The next meeting will be Thursday at 5:15 p.m. in City Hall. The Common Council plans to vote on the budget Tuesday, Dec. 13 at a special meeting, to immediately follow the required public budget hearing.

The council’s meeting Tuesday saw some discord over the budget. There were complaints from members Martin Bamonto and Natalie Luczkowiak, and Mayor Wilfred Rosas and his administration, that they have not seen proposed changes to Rosas’ initial spending plan.

At one point, Rosas and council member James Stoyle each wondered if the other wanted to turn the meeting into a circus.

The commotion started when Ned Divine spoke during the public portion of the meeting. “I had questions about how the procedures on how the budget modifications were decided on,” he said.

“If there are modifications, I did not receive them,” Luczkowiak said.

“We’re not done yet,” Councilman-at-large David Damico said. “We’re nowhere near done.”

Luczkowiak replied, “I can’t even see them with my glasses on. It wasn’t emailed to me and we’re nine days out of the deadline.”

“That is correct,” said Damico.

“If you want to make a circus of this, I’ll tell everybody what we talked about,” Stoyle said. “But the last time we did talk about that, we were told to keep it strictly confidential. Mayor, what do you think? Want me to tell them what we talked about?”

Rosas replied he had no idea what was discussed because he was not at the last budget meeting Saturday, which he and the media were not informed of in advance.

“Want me to open that up into the public and we’re gonna make a circus out of this?” Stoyle said. Rosas replied that there was a recent executive session discussion about the former NRG power plant, which he attended, but was unaware of any discussions from Saturday.

“As far as making a circus of this, that’s up to you,” Rosas said to Stoyle.

Damico got back to budget business. “At this point there is nothing that has been decided. We are still not complete. … We are still looking for numbers and we were looking for numbers on Saturday. We don’t have those.”

Councilwoman Nancy Nichols said only two budget meetings have been fully attended by all five councilpersons and the financial officers in Rosas’ administration.

Damico then closed that portion of the budget back-and-forth, as it was the public speaking part of the meeting and he wanted to see if anyone else would speak. However, there was more later.

Luczkowiak — the newest councilperson, elected in 2021 — used part of her speaking time to blast the budget process.

“If there were meetings with more than two council people, that’s a quorum, that’s a meeting, that’s a legal meeting that the press should know about. I wasn’t even informed about it. That’s illegal,” she said.

“I mean, what we discussed at Saturday’s meeting, according to my magnifying glass, is not on here,” she said, apparently holding up a budget document. “But there are 12 changes here that I can count. Were these decisions made with more than two council members at a meeting? … I have heard others not on the council or administration were involved, and if that’s the case, I need to see what disciplinary actions need to be taken. I better not ever see it.

“This is not how we work together as a city,” Luczkowiak continued. “We can and should join together in a nonpartisan effort to achieve the budget. It’s now December 6th, nine days before the budget is due. The budget was handed to us October 7th by the mayor and here we are, two months later, and changes have been secretly created. They’ve not been known to me or handed to the mayor. At Saturday’s meeting it was stated the changes will be handed in on the 15th, the deadline date. At what point must I realize what we have here are excuses with manipulation and irresponsibility. Enough is enough.”

Closing with a shot at Stoyle, she said, “Of course you were going to call it a circus, because you’re defending your action.”

Bamonto later said the council’s actions “looks like and smells like” what happened in the previous two years, when he was more or less kept out of the budget modifications process.

Damico then had his say, starting about the Saturday meeting.

“I knew I was under a (meeting notification time) limit, I believed it was a 24-hour window. I reached out to the entire council. I think that Thursday night, I even said to you, ‘I am working on taking what we’ve gone through in budget and putting it on a spreadsheet.’ Those changes are what I’ve heard at these meetings. I just put them down because I haven’t had time to do it at one sitting. I’ve been doing it for the last three weeks.”

Damico apologized to the media for not notifying it of the Saturday meeting. He said, “I will make sure, after speaking with (City Attorney) Richard (Morrisroe), we’re going to try to stay to a 72-hour window. That is my responsibility, and I will try to stay with that.”

Rosas told Damico that Treasurer Mark Woods and Fiscal Affairs Officer Marsha Beach were unaware of proposed budget changes. He said he hasn’t seen them, either.

“Once I have them all, I’ll have them for you,” Damico said. Woods asked for them as well, and was told he’ll get them.

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