Mayor Giuliano provided details about his plan to get community input about the city budget in an interview with the Eye last week. He said that his office would give a presentation on the budget at community meetings in various locations throughout Middletown in March. Although the venues are yet to be determined, these meetings would likely occur at Fire Stations, the Library, and with neighborhood associations.
The mayor has directed department heads to prepare four budget scenarios:
- Department ideal: What the department would like to provide, if there were sufficient funds. Each department head has been asked to provide goals and a justification for this budget scenario.
- Level service: Providing the same services as currently provided. This would require an increase in funding, as the cost of salaries and benefits have risen in the past year.
- Level funded: No increase in funding, This would in most cases lead to a decrease in services.
- A 3% decrease from current funding. All the departments were able to provide this, but they required substantial cuts in city services.
Another revenue hole is a result of what the mayor said was irresponsible budgeting by the Common Council in previous years. Last year the Common Council used over $1 million from the sale of city-owned capital, the Remington Rand building, to pay for operating expenses. This year the city does not have a property to sell, therefore there is $1 million less revenue compared to last year. Last year's budget also did not account for items that in the end were paid for out of the general fund. The arbitrated and retroactive increase in the police contract was paid for from the City's general fund, as was snow removal ($100,000 was taken from the general fund at the last Council meeting to pay for overtime).
Giuliano decried the Democrat-controlled Common Council's budget "gimmickry" in establishing the budget last year, saying:
The council seems to look at [the budget] with blinders on. And that's how you get into the rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul kind of situations. One time infusions of cash to pay operating expenses, yeah it all looks good this year, but you're creating a bunch of problems next year. ... Next year, fiscal 2011, we got to worry about Aetna going, what kind of impact is that going to have on us? ... To bleed ourselves dry by creating these kind of holes in the budget or raiding the fund balance, you're going to lose the ability to deal with that problem next year.
Giuliano said that the biggest single item in the budget, the budget for education (about $70 million, in a total budget of $130 million), would be provided by the Board of Education by March 3rd at the latest. He anticipates a budget from the Board of Ed that contains an increase of between 0% and a 2%. Giuliano expressed his frustration at the lack of transparency by the Board of Education, which has yet to hold any substantive public discussions about their budget (they will be meeting this week to discuss the budget (Tuesday, February 24, 8:15PM)).
Giuliano hopes that a series of community meetings in March will offer residents an opportunity to provide thoughtful input into the budget priorities of the City. He wants to ensure that the city's budget is not cut to the point that the character of Middletown changes.