Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Talking tough on the 2006 budget

City Council members are taking a tough stance on budget requests this year, demanding to know that administrators have tried everything to reduce costs.

The council has begun to hear division and department heads explain their requests for the fiscal year that began July 1. Members are meeting on Tuesdays and Thursdays to deliberate on Mayor Albert T. McWilliams’ proposed $61 million budget. Finance Director Ron West said the mayor’s budget is up 4.5 percent over last year and includes funding for 12 more police officers on the street . Taxpayers would see a 2.1 percent increase to $3.07 per $100 of assessed valuation, or $70 [updated figure] for the average homeowner, West said.

Even though the mayor’s New Democrats now dominate the council, they were not rubber-stamping his administration’s budget requests. Councilman Ray Blanco responded to a $23,000 capital request for office furniture with one word: "IKEA."

City Council President Linda Carter and Blanco repeatedly grilled city staffers on whether they had sought grants to offset municipal funding.

"Have we searched high and low for funding?" Blanco said in a discussion of capital costs for a new senior center.

West said the city sought Urban Enterprise Zone funding and asked Senators Jon Corzine and Frank Lautenberg for help.

Blanco asked whether West had sought state redevelopment funds, but West said he hadn’t seen a way to do so. He did look into whether banks could apply Community Reinvestment Act funding, he said.

Carter said the city’s new Community Development Director, Al Restaino, needed to look at "whatever funding we can get from whatever source."

The talks on July 12 and 14 revealed some new plans.

  • Public Works Supervisor John Louise said his division is seeking new equipment that will allow in-house street repairs to preserve roads that are in good to fair condition. Because of deferred maintenance in past years, the city faces having to pay $75 million over 15 years to fix roads in poor or very poor condition.

  • City Engineer Carl Turner said new state storm water regulations will mean extensive costs to amend ordinances to comply. The stiff new regulations may also mean residents will have to bag all leaves, because the city can’t guarantee that leaves raked into the street will be removed within seven days.

  • Computers in all city buildings will eventually be linked the city in a "technology infrastructure" upgrade, starting with City Hall, City Hall Annex and public safety buildings.

  • Five new cars will be needed for inspectors hired recently to enforce a safe housing program that will focus on overcrowding.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: city council, budget