Before voting against the 2019-2020 city budget at the common council meeting on June 4, Alderman Dave Dybas read a prepared statement to explain his reasons.
In his statement, he cited the city’s long and short term borrowing liabilities, including bonds, bond anticipation notices (BAN’s) and other loans, comparing the totals in the 2016-2017 fiscal year to the 2017-2018 fiscal year.
The numbers he quoted verbally from the city’s audit reports were:
Fiscal year 2016-2017
BAN’s: $7.4 million
Bonds due in 1 year: $1.8 million
Bonds due over 1 year: $10.1 million
Total: $19.4 million
Fiscal year 2017-2018
BAN’s: $8.9 million
Bonds due in 1 year: $1.8 million
Bonds due over 1year: $9.9 million
Tax anticipation note: $2 million
Environmental Facilities Corporation grid loan: $1.2 million
Total: $25.9 million
He said his concern is that the total borrowing had risen by $6.4 million in one year.
He ended his statement by saying, “The actions being taken in the budget process for 2019-2020 are just the beginning to demonstrate the knowledge of the city’s financial challenges and more importantly work to fix its problems. As the city’s current fiscal year 2018-2019 is about to end on June 30, 2019, it also becomes very interesting to see how much these debt challenges either increased or decreased. No.”
You can view him read the entire statement, and the heated response from Mayor Michael Villa and Alderman Jim Martuscello afterward here (starts at about 1:11:00).
So the first question I’ll ask and answer is – are his numbers correct?
The answer is – sort of, but he is off a little on the 2017-2018 figures. Going to the page Dybas specified on the audit report for that year, it’s plain to see he got the wrong amount for the Environmental Facilities Corporation grid loan. He read another figure further down the page. The correct amount should be $2.3 million.
Even when substituting the correct higher number, we get $24.9 million, not $25.9 million for the total.
But, the figure isn’t too far off. I’m not going to split hairs, but I do think it’s worth pointing out the error, especially given Dybas’ continuous insistence on getting accurate facts and numbers in regard to the city’s financial situation.
So the second and more important question is – does this explanation justify his no vote on the budget?
In my opinion, if a council member is going to vote against the budget, he or she must have at least presented an alternative plan during the budget discussions leading up to the vote.
During the budget sessions, the only solid action that Dybas supported that the majority of the council didn’t go along with was Alderwoman Irene Collins’ proposal to suspend the golf course for a year. While I personally don’t agree with that idea, it is at least a reasonable measure that would have reduced the tax burden slightly, and may have prevented the golf course fund from going further into the negative if the city’s plans to sell alcohol on the course don’t turn out to be as profitable as predicted.
But that’s not what Dybas mentioned in his explanation.
I suppose it’s always possible I might have zoned out for a few minutes during the many hours of budget sessions held over the weeks before the final vote, but I don’t recall Dybas proposing anything that the rest of the council didn’t go along with that would have lowered the city’s BAN or bond debt.
The increase in sewer fees was one way the council members all agreed on which will help address the problem. The increase boosted the fund’s contingency line such that the city should be able to pay cash for certain repairs that will be needed in the coming year rather than having to borrow more money.
But where was a serious proposal from Dybas that would have addressed the problem that the rest of the council didn’t go along with?
Immediately after his vote, Mayor Michael Villa and Alderman Jim Martuscello let Dybas have it.
“How would you like us to fund sewer repairs?” questioned Villa. “Would you like sewage to go into the river, is that what you’re telling everyone?”
He continued, “We borrowed $11 million on infrastructure repair because none of you people did it in the previous 8 years. The water tanks are in such disrepair on Truax – how are you funding it Dave? You sound like the people that we just heard tonight.”
That comment elicited some grumbling from the members of the public in the audience, several of which had spoken earlier during the public hearing. Although I sympathize with Villa’s sentiments, I think he let himself get too carried away at that point and added insult to injury to the already dissatisfied audience.
He continued, “You like to sit up here and grandstand about bonds and debt and you don’t have an answer. What’s the solution?”
Dybas replied, “I have an answer, raise your taxes.”
“There you go people, raise your taxes, there’s your answer,” said Villa.
After that, before casting his yes vote, Martuscello echoed the same sentiments, saying that he had been looking forward to Dybas’ vote “more than Christmas Eve” because he had expected him to vote no all along.
So emotions aside, it appears that Dybas thinks the tax rate should have been increased even more than the 8% that was already agreed on the rest of the council.
Although I personally think the 8% increase is enough, I would have at least respected a proposal for a further increase given the city’s financial situation. However Dybas never stepped up and proposed it during the budget sessions so that each council member could weigh in on it. Had he done that and had the majority of the council opposed it, I would have respected his no vote. But that’s not the way it happened and so I tend to agree with the sentiments of Villa and Martuscello.
The way I see it, Dybas’ statement and vote was just another attention getting show, consistent with the manner he’s conducted himself with in the past. It was also a slap in the face to the efforts of Martuscello, the finance committee chairperson, who was diligent in trying to build consensus among the council members through the many hours of budget sessions.