The Common Council passed a budget for the next fiscal year which makes significant changes to the budget proposed by Mayor Drew last month. The Council added $1.8M to the School's budget, and yet reduced the overall budget, so that the mill rate will increase by 0.8 from the current year, instead of the 1.0 that was proposed by Drew.
The Council was able to do this by projecting lower employee health costs (reduced by $450k) and workers comp (reduced by $326k), lower property insurance (reduced by $125k), by increasing the contribution from the general fund ($670k), and by projecting higher revenues from taxes, licenses and permits ($200k), and from parking ($140k).
In addition, the Council eliminated an administrative aide in the mayor's office (saving $28k), decided to outsource a grant writer (saving $20k), and projected lower electricity costs (saving $150k).
The Council decided to pay for the costs of revaluing property in the city with a bond. This revaluation must take place in the next fiscal year, and is estimated by the tax assessor to cost $700k. $180k of this was set aside in this year's budget. The rationale for bonding the revaluation is that the data collected might be useful for more than 10 years. Council members agreed that if the bonding was not approved by the city's bond counsel, the money for the revaluation would come from the general fund.
There was considerable discussion over an issue that all council members agreed with the mayor on, namely the reduction in the contribution to the city pension fund. During the public comment section, former Mayor Giuliano argued against this. He said budgets were always difficult, "We never had a Common Council face a budget and say it wasn't a trying time... Once you open a door, it will be very difficult to close it, so I would suggest you don't go down that road."
The pension fund contributions are set entirely by the Pension Board, which voted 6-2 in favor of Mayor Drew's request for a lower city contribution. Several Councilmen noted the extensive experience on the Pension board, and said that their wisdom ensured that the lowering of the pension fund contribution would not jeopardize city pensions. Councilman Tom Serra said that he supported the reduction for one year only.
All of the changes ultimately enacted in the budget were proposed by the Democratic caucus, which enjoys an 8 to 4 majority on the Council. The Republican caucus also proposed budget changes. The most significant difference between the parties was in funding for education--the Republicans agreed with Mayor Drew's proposal of flat funding for the schools. This was important enough of an issue for Councilwomen Deb Kleckowski and Linda Salafia to vote against the Democratic caucus' budget. Kleckowski called the Board of Education, "too risky of a venture.... I will not be supporting the budget."
Republican councilmen Joe Bibisi and Phil Pessina joined the 8 democrats, and the budget passed by a vote of 10-2. This is the second year in a row that the final budget has received bipartisan support.