Public gets look at plan
West Haven’s version of the Rites of Spring came last Thursday with the unveiling of Mayor Nancy Rossi’s second budget before a special session of the City Council. The public gets its only opportunity to opine on the package April 2 at Harry M. Bailey Middle School, with a 6:30 public hearing. Readers can peruse a summary of the budget in today’s edition.
The package had some surprises in it, to be sure. The $163.3 million package includes $73.6 million for the so-called “city side” of the budget, while $89.6 million is earmarked for education. One of the surprises was the Board of Education, which expected a flat-line allocation this year, received $400,000 more in the proposal than requested. It asked for $1.2 million, and was given $1.6 million by Rossi.
The second surprise in the budget was the fact the mayor was able to hold the city’s mill rate to the current 36.26. It was expected the city would have to uptick the mill rate in accordance with the five-year plan approved last year. It calls for incremental increases in the city’s tax rates up to 40 mills, to improve revenue. A caveat, of course, is the mill rate does not reflect the fire department levies. Allingtown’s has been set by the city council, but West Shore and the First Taxation District (Center) have not yet had their annual meetings to set the tax rate.
Other news in the budget comes in the form of reiterating the $3 million surplus announced in February by the Rossi administration, and the fact the city will receive at $6 million grant from the Municipal Accountability Review Board (MARB) for this year, with subsequent grants of $4 million and $2 million in the next two fiscal years. This will wean the city off grants and attempt to put it back on its own solid footing.
The public hearing April 2 is more than exercise in government scheduling and pro forma governance. It is a way for the residents of the city to make known their priorities and their concerns as to how the city is progressing in its finances. We hope many people show up and ask good, constructive questions on what is included in the budget.
This public hearing is necessary because of what follows: the six-week review by the City Council. Once the April 2 meeting is completed, the council meets under the chairmanship of the Finance Committee chairman as a Committee of the Whole. The public hearing gives the council guidance and some feedback as to where the public hopes the talks with go.
During the next six weeks it will give a look at the budget, department by department, looking doing its due diligence and oversight. Under the current charter, the council may make alterations in the budget by means of a supermajority vote in the affirmative. That means in order to alter the package nine of 13 votes are needed.
This has been a high hurdle for the council over the last two decades. In the past four budgets, for example, few changes were made, and several passed as is. Twice in recent history, the budget has been enacted by default as a lack of an affirmative ordinance puts into effect the proposed budget as presented.
The budget process, then, is one that has the public as a major cog in the machinery. Valid concerns and pertinent questions prod the council members to review the plan with those concerns in mind.
We hope taxpayers take the opportunity to attend next week’s session, and in the meantime look over Mayor Rossi’s spending outline. It is the taxpayer, after all, that will foot the bill when all is said and done.