Thursday, May 28, 2009
Council Undoes Budget Veto
The Common Council voted along strictly partly lines Thursday evening 8 to 3 to reinstate the budget they adopted on May 14. Mayor Sebastian Giuliano vetoed the budget, and the Council needed 8 votes to reinstate.
The $129.7 million budget assumes no increase in taxes and limited cuts of programs. The mayor's counter budget of $128.5 million was based on a 1 mil tax increase.
The Democratic council members contended that the city is healthy financially, with new revenue streams, one-time revenue sources and a more-than-solvent general fund. The mayor, and Republican council members noted that none of the revenue sources is guaranteed, and that counting on money not in hand is risky.
Part of the budget is the return of a fireworks celebration, something that was cut out of the mayor's version of the budget, but there were plenty of fireworks during the official meeting with some louder explosions once the meeting was finished (more on that in a separate post).
The debate began when Council member Gerry Daley questioned the basis for the Mayor's veto of the budget. He questioned the Mayor's contention that a nearly $2.6 request to settle retro salary increases based on the police union contract was an "unexpected" expense. He also wondered why the mayor was projecting revenue problems, like the loss of the Aetna facility from the tax rolls, which would not hit the budget until the following fiscal year.
The mayor explained that the $2.6 million would have a draining effect on the general fund, and that his job was to consider not only the current tax year, but the tax burden in successive year as negative impacts hit the budget.
Daly was the first of several Democratic Council members to emphasize that the budget they were proposing was one which avoided a tax increase, and a cut in services.
"These are not ordinary times," Daly said. "And that's why I think taxpayers need a break.'
Umbrage began to be taken in large proportions when Council member David Bauer asked a series of questions, which were required by Roberts Rules of Orders to be "rhetorical." He wanted to know why a compromise budget, offered by the mayor, which would have had no tax increase, and an additional $800,000 in savings was rejected. He also asked if the Council's rejection of a negotiated "no layoff" clause with unions meant that the Council was expecting layoffs to be part of the budget solution.
In a short diversion where the rules of order were discussed heatedly, charges were traded.
"This is not a dictatorship," Daley said of one of Giuliano's rulings as chairman of the meeting. "This is a democracy."
Answering Bauer, Majority leader Tom Serra charged that Bauer was using scare tactics.
"You did the same thing last year," Serra scolded. "Layoffs, layoffs, layoffs. This budget is going to work and there will be no layoffs."
All the Democratic members painted a rosy picture of the the City of Middletown's financial health. They pointed to revenue from the sale of Cucia Park, and to expected tax revenue on the opening of the Kleen Energy plant. Both Serra and Daley mentioned that they expected no problems with bond ratings. Daley indicated that even after expenditures the general fund would be at a level higher than five years ago.
"There are a lot of things going on in town on the positive side," Daley said. "We owe it to the taxpayers of Middletown to give them a break this year. What is Middetown if we don't have the quality of life. We the Democrats stand united for no tax increases."
Council member Vinnie Loffredo chastised the mayor for the first budget sent their way. He noted that union concessions were tied to specific cuts.
"That was totally unacceptable," Loffredo said. "How were we going to go through that (budget) process under those pressures. Those threats. Everyone of the concessions was linked together. It was a house of cards."
Loffredo conceded that the mayor and the unions later unlinked the concessions to specific budget cuts.
Bauer wouldn't let a vote be called without a final warning.
"This budget raises the specter of layoffs," he said. "The numbers don't lie. Last year this Council cut by one third what the mayor had proposed as projected spending. Then the council ended up spending every cent of the third they had cut, and beyond."
After a final rebuttal by Gerry Daley, a vote was called, the veto was rejected, and the Council voted to adjorn.