With the annual public hearing now complete, the City Council begins a six-week, twice-weekly review of Mayor Nancy Rossi’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2019. The charter-mandated review ends May 3 when the council will be required to pass a budget ordinance.
The council got little guidance from the hearing, according to Chairman Ronald Quagliani (D-at-large). The session, conducted on March 27 was sparsely attended and had few speakers giving ideas to the panel. Quagliani was disappointed by the turnout.
“The Public hearing attracted few attendees with only six speakers,” he said.
He indicated some discussion concerning education funding was something the council will have to review.
“Public comment from the superintendent (Neil Cavallaro) and other education officials indicated the potential for program and service reductions if the Board of Education funding level is not increased,” he said.
There were other city departments that made comment, and these as well will be subject to review.
“The Library Director also commented on their recommended budget appropriation and the potential for service reductions. The council members will be meeting with department heads over the next several weeks to discuss the details of each departmental operation to determine if funding levels are appropriate as recommended,” he said.
Quagliani believes the council will have to look at adjusting some funding levels, but realizes making those adjustments are problematic because of the necessary supermajority needed to pass revisions.
“ I believe that Council members will have areas that they feel need funding adjustments. Each member will look to approve a budget that balances cost and services to our community. The challenge is the same as past years: any change to the Mayor’s Recommended Budget requires a super-majority (nine votes in the affirmative out of the 13 total members).
Quagliani indicated that no major proposals have been discussed by council members before going into the review session, but he is hopeful some ideas will come out of the discussions.
“These will develop once budget hearings get underway. Our first budget hearing is (tonight) at 6:30 pm. I have attached the schedule of budget hearings. The public is welcome to attend,” he said.
The biggest hurdle the council may have to deal with is the Municipal Accountability Review Board. Whatever the council determines is still subject to review and/or ratification by the state panel. Though they have looked over the proposal before it was presented, the chairman said any “official review” is still pending.
“The unknown is the MARB. To my knowledge, they have not officially reviewed the Mayor’s Recommended Budget yet. They can request changes to the budget. The city must submit a five-year financial plan to the MARB as part of the approval of restructuring funds for the city. The recommended budget includes $9 million of general fund revenues in restructuring funds from the MARB,” he said.
In discussing education funding, Quagliani was asked if there were any proposals on the table to shift funds around for the Board of Education, he said there was nothing official.
When asked about funding sources outside state grants or aid, Quagliani sounded a familiar refrain.
“Economic development is the best long term strategy to grow the grand list and our economic base,” he said.0 “In the meantime, I believe that you will see lean budgets going forward that balance costs to, and services for, our community.”
He said he is hopeful the various component departments and officials will work with the council during the review process so the city can get a budget plan it can live within.
“Recommending and approving a responsible budget is only one aspect of sound fiscal management,” he said. “The mayor, department heads, and the City Council will work collaboratively to monitor budgetary compliance for a balanced budget.”