After months of haggling with the Municipal Accountability Review Board (MARB), the City Council bit the bullet, Monday night, and passed a five-year recovery plan that would include raising taxes over that time span. To make the pain even worse for the members, passage of the plan is still no guarantee the state review panel will not put the city in Tier IV status.
By an 11-1 vote with Councilman Aaron Charney (D-3) voting in the negative (Councilwoman Portia Bias, D-7, was absent), the council passed the plan at the behest of Mayor Nancy Rossi and Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes.
Over the course of the five-years, the city’s mill rate will increase to 39.99 mills from the current 36.26. A mill is equivalent to one dollar per thousand of assessed property value. A house assessed for $100,000 would pay $39.99 for each thousand dollars of assessment. State law caps taxable assessments at 70 percent of the total.
Allingtown residents, who six years ago voted to close the fire district in favor of going under city auspices will be hit especially hard. An immediate .96 mill increase will be imposed, and the total will go to 15.5 mills for fire taxes from the current 14. Those taxes are paid on top of city assessments. The car tax will remain 37.
The plan was particularly distasteful because passage does not guarantee the MARB will put the city’s fiscal operation under its control by going to Tier IV. Under the current Tier III status, the city maintains some control over expenditures and taxes, while the MARB has final approval over contract negotiations.
Going to Tier IV would allow the MARB to have much the same powers a similar review board had in the 1990s, when the city had to go into state receivership. Contracts may be opened, all expenditures approved, and mid-year assessments would be allowable. The MARB would also have final say over the budget and the mill rate.
A vote by the council Monday allowed Mayor Rossi, Council Chairman Ron Quagliani (D-at large) as voting members of an expanded MARB panel, while adding City Treasurer Mike Last as a non-voting member. The decision to go to Tier IV could come as early as today, when a MARB meeting is scheduled.
The carrot dangled in front of the council members was a $16 million guarantee from the state to close holes in the city’s budget. Without approval of the plan, the state would have withheld the plan, forcing Rossi and the council to make even further cuts in the city’s budget.
Rossi has been working with the MARB since the budget was passed in May, attempting to put together a five-year plan. After months of work, the vote Monday night put a lid on that process.