City officials still unwilling to pass a new budget

By Charles Sercombe

Perhaps, as the saying goes, third time’s the charm.

(Editor’s note: It wasn’t. The city council scheduled another special meeting for Monday, June 18 to discuss the issues below.)

In the case of city councilmembers, they have so far twice refused to vote on the city’s new budget for the year 2012-13, as well as set the tax and water service rates.

The city’s new budget year starts July 1. At Tuesday’s council meeting they declined to vote on the issue.

At the time we went to press, the council scheduled a special meeting on Thursday to take up the budget one more time.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Councilmember Robert Zwolak suggested holding off on the vote once more because the city administration was still negotiating contract concessions with the police officers’ union.

He reasoned that without knowing what the expected savings will be, it was pointless to adopt a new budget.
Councilmember Abdul Algazali agreed, saying: “We don’t know where we’re heading.”

Plus, Algazali said, the budget packet included a tax increase. He did not elaborate on that claim.

Mayor Karen Majewski sharply denied that there is a tax increase included in the budget, but she did not pursue the matter.

The subject of finances weaved its way through Tuesday’s council meeting in a number of subjects.

Acting City Manager Erik Tungate said the city will be carrying over a $700,000 budget deficit in the new fiscal year. If finances don’t turn around, Tungate said the budget deficit will balloon to $3.5 million by June in 2013 – a year from now.

The city is seeking an emergency $3 million loan to stave off payless paydays, which could occur in the next few weeks if the loan doesn’t come through.

The subject of asking for a preliminary state review of the city’s finances – the first step toward getting a consent agreement from the state – was even touchier.

Tungate asked the council to not seek a review because he was close to getting contract concessions from the police officers’ union. He said that there is a good chance the city won’t have to turn to the state for intervention.

He stressed that asking for a state financial review at this point could spoil negotiations because police officers might think the city is working on another deal behind their backs that could result in the loss of jobs.
Tungate said it comes down to the issue of “bargaining in good faith.”

Councilmember Tom Jankowski pointed out that asking for a review doesn’t mean immediate state intervention.

He said the request will take at least two to three weeks to wind its way through the state administration.

“Postponing is doing nothing,” Jankowski said. ‘Every day we go deeper and deeper into the hole.”

Tungate, however, dug his heels in, and said that the city is on the metaphorical “10-yard line.” He said he is close to making a deal with the police officers’ union.

The issue ended up in a split vote, with Councilmembers Cathie Gordon, Anam Miah and Zwolak voting in favor of postponing a state financial review. Mayor Karen Majewski was the tie-breaker, voting to also hold off on the state review.

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