Despite calling the 2009 budget unachievable and irresponsible, the mayor signed it Monday and said he would make it work.
“The [City Council] exercised their role. Now I have to exercise my role and do whatever I can to live within that budget,” Mayor Brian U. Stratton said. “I think it’s going to be tough.”
He said he signed the $75.7 million budget because it was clear the council would override him if he vetoed it.
“It wouldn’t serve any purpose. The vote was 6 to 1,” Stratton said, referring to the council’s budget adoption a week ago.
The spending plan they sent to his desk was $1 million below the budget he proposed a month ago, and includes no tax increase. Stratton’s budget had a 2.9 percent tax increase.
Among the cuts approved by the council to eliminate the tax increase were many items that have gone unspent each year, but department heads argued those budget lines would be critical if they needed extra cash next year.
Stratton agreed, saying Monday that the council had eliminated the city’s safety net.
“They were generally valid [cuts] but we built in flexibility in our budget to have the room to maneuver,” Stratton said. “Maybe we’ve performed so well the council, in its wisdom, has said we’ve proven we don’t need it.”
He took particular exception to two changes in the budget — a reduction in spending at the assessor’s office and an increase over his projected revenue in building permits.
Stratton said the assessment office cut will hurt the city’s ability to finish the property revaluation “efficiently and effectively.”
The cut would allow a consultant to work until July 1, as the assessor had planned, rather than funding the position for an entire year in case more work is needed.
Finance Committee Chairman Mark Blanchfield said the position never should have been proposed for full-year funding.
“On its best day, it was only supposed to be for a half-year,” he said. “If July first comes and goes and the work of the consultant hasn’t finished, I’d be more than willing to look at another unfilled position and look at where the need is.”
He stressed that he proposed the cut after discussing it with Assessor Patrick Mastro. “It was not done in haste,” he said.
As for the building permit revenue, Blanchfield argued that he’d reduced the projected revenue by $40,000, as compared to the earnings in 2008.
But the revenue projection is $25,000 higher than Stratton had proposed.
“That represents $25 million in building value,” Stratton said. “I think next year is going to be a soft year.”
Blanchfield countered by saying that Building Inspector Keith Lamp had approved the new projection.
Work on the budget may not be over yet. On Nov. 18, the state Legislature will meet to cut $2 billion from its 2008 budget in response to the growing deficit. Among the cuts may be aid to municipalities.
Stratton has joined a group of mayors fighting that prospect, but he said he doesn’t expect to win.
“My guess is we’ll be back at the chopping block soon,” he said.
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