The common council Monday night voted to restore $687,611 of the funds cut last week by the aldermen from the city’s proposed new operating budget, setting up a legislative showdown over the city’s spending plan for FY13.
The council first voted 15-3 to reject the board of aldermen’s budget of $139,620,983. Lorrie Bruno, Rosemary Miller and Catherine Tomassi Hicks were the only ones recorded in favor of the aldermen’s cuts.
The council then voted 13-5 to pass its own version of the budget, which totals $140,308,594.
Voting against adoption of the council’s budget along with Bruno, Miller and Hicks were Thomas Mills and Rosa DiFlorio.
The rest of the council membership voted to approve the budget plan, as amended by the “committee of the whole” in conference.
In effect, the council chose to ignore the aldermanic cuts and to only cut the $259,986 that was agreed upon in committee – $250,000 from the unemployment compensation account and $9,968 from the E911 salaries account.
Leading the charge in favor of scrapping the aldermanic budget plan was Council President Daniel Napolitano, who called the $947,579 in cuts favored by the aldermen “detrimental to the city’s future”.
The cuts that were supported by the aldermen – but restored by the council – included $400,000 from the stabilization (“rainy day”) reserve fund; $200,000 from the capital improvement program; $85,000 designated for the hiring of two new code enforcement inspectors; and $2,611 from the salary account in the human resources office.
The only cuts that the Councillors and aldermen agreed upon were the cuts in the unemployment compensation and E911 salary accounts.
Napolitano was critical of the board of aldermen in general for making cuts that the budget committee had already rejected. He opined that this serves to undermine the budget review system.
The council president took a specific verbal swipe at one alderman, Millie Cardello.
He charged that Cardello had ample opportunity in the conference room to cut the budget, “but she didn’t offer any cuts”.
In fact, said Napolitano, Cardello was originally opposed to cutting money for the hiring of the two new code enforcement inspectors in the conference room, but when the matter came up at last week’s aldermanic meeting, she changed her mind and voted for the cut.
Councillor Dominic Puleo explained that the duty of the city council is not only to make cuts in the budget, but to also preserve city services and programs that are essential for the residents of the community.
Councillor David Rodrigues asserted that the aldermen’s proposed cuts in the city’s stabilization fund, the capital improvement program and in funding for needed code enforcement personnel “are ill-advised and reckless”.
According to Councillor Richard Dell Isola, the cuts proposed by the alder-men wouldn’t help taxpayers very much. He claimed that the $900,000 in cuts would result in a savings of only about $25 per household.
Council President Napolitano contended that the proposed cut in the $9-million stabilization fund was particularly disturbing because the city’s “rainy day” reserve account needs to be increased now so it can be an asset in the tough economic times that loom in the future after FY13.
Tony Rosselli, the mayor’s financial consultant, was on hand to explain that it is vital that the stabilization fund be built-up in advance of the years ahead when the city won’t be able to raise taxes due to its difficult tax levy issue.
Rosselli also claimed that a healthy stabilization fund is essential for the city to maintain its current enviable bond rating because it allows the city to borrow money for capital improvement projects at a lower interest rate, which can save the city millions of dollars down the road.
Councillor Miller, however, insisted that the taxpayers of the city deserve some relief from soaring budgets and the administration’s practice of trying to compete with the private sector by offering salaries that the city just can’t afford.
With more and more businesses leaving the city and with residents who are struggling to pay their taxes and water bills, Miller charged that “we need to be more fiscally responsible”.
The budget issue now returns to the board of aldermen Monday night. Their budget is dead. Their first order of business will be to act on the council’s version of the budget.
To finalize a budget for FY13, which starts July 1, 2012, both legislative branches need to agree upon a spending plan.
Time is running out.
The city council only has until June 29 to come together on the budget issue.
If they don’t meet that deadline, the mayor’s original budget of $140,568,562 – with no cuts at all – will automatically become the city’s budget for the new fiscal year.