Council approves budget changes after public hearing

Only one person, John “Chet” Watroba, spoke at the public hearing on the proposed 2017-2018 budget held on Tuesday. Council members officially approved over a dozen changes to Mayor Michael Villa’s proposed budget agreed on by consensus at budget committee meetings over the past few weeks. The changes lessened the increase in taxes and user fees slightly from the mayor’s original budget, coming in at approximately 2% more in taxes and 3.9% more in user fees over last year’s rates.

The council made one last-minute change to the official resolution, removing a $10,000 raise to the controller’s position that was originally in the mayor’s budget. That amount was transferred to contingency. Council members officially approved the changes 4-0. Alderman Jim Martuscello was absent.

During the public hearing, Watroba expressed frustration with elected officials over the increase in taxes and fees, citing concern for senior residents on fixed incomes.

“When are we going to have a candidate or an elected official say, ‘I’m against these user fee increases and I don’t want the taxes to go up’? Not one person said anything about that.”

At one point, Villa interrupted Watroba, saying, “Where would you like the money to come from? Did you see the increases in pensions, insurance, public safety…”

“And who’s fault is that mayor?” said Watroba. “That’s because previous [corporation] counsels kept on giving people more and more and more, because they’re afraid of the unions…”

“I don’t think they’re afraid of the unions,” said Villa. “I think as a city its our responsibility to provide services, and public safety is a critical component of that. And it’s probably about 60% of the budget. So where are you going to cut?”

Watroba said, “Just because you give a person a pay increase doesn’t mean they are going to do a better job. If they…want more money, let them go someplace else…”

Watroba then mentioned how he remembered former mayor Mario Villa suggesting to switch to an all-volunteer fire department. He concluded by again calling on elected officials to keep taxes and fees down.

After the meeting, Villa was non-committal as far as whether he would veto any of the proposed changes. Under the charter, the mayor has until June 15 to issue line-item vetoes on the council’s changes, which can only be overridden by a 4/5 majority vote.

“I’ll review it,” said Villa. “I’ll sit with the controller and see if there’s anything I want to adjust. We won’t make any decisions tonight,” said Villa.

In regards to the overall budget, Villa said, “I think we’ve been as fair as we possibly can while maintaining services. It’s easy to sit here and say we want a cut, but we have a commitment to the city – public safety-wise, transportation-wise, recreation-wise. Unfortunately there was unpredicted insurance costs that went up, pension costs went up, salaries…that money has to come from somewhere.”

“I think it’s a fair budget. It provides what the residents expect from us. We tried to do it as economically as possible. And I think we’ve been a much more efficient city, department head-wise, from DPW to police to fire. So we’re doing everything we possibly can.”

Asked whether he felt confident the $300,000 deal with KCG Development to purchase the former Chalmers property would happen within the fiscal year in order to balance the budget, Villa replied, “Yeah, I do. Look, unforeseen things can happen. But we make the best estimate we possibly can.”

Tim Becker

Tim Becker is the owner of Anthem Websites Inc. which publishes The Compass. He serves as both editor and a writer.