Wednesday, February 01, 2006

City Council Approves 2005-06 Budget

Despite a capacity crowd at the public hearing on the 2005-06 budget, not one citizen had a thing to say.

The City Council held the hearing Monday (Jan. 30, 2006) in City Hall Library, where the crowd spilled out into the rotunda. But no one responded to City Council President Ray Blanco’s call for public comment. The council then passed the budget unanimously.

After working on the budget since July, the council neared a vote in December but decided to hold off to allow new Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs a say on the spending plan. Robinson-Briggs was sworn in Jan. 1 and her administration is now in charge for the last six months of the 2005-06 fiscal year. The 2006-07 budget, starting July 1, will be the new mayor’s first full budget.

The $64.7 million budget includes a municipal tax levy of $39.7 million, a reduction from the $41.4 million before amendments were adopted in a special meeting on Jan. 18. While the budget process went on for months, more grants and state aid came in, resulting in a revenue increase from $17.7 million to $20.5 million.

The 2.9 percent municipal tax increase will result in a $90 increase on the average home assessed at $112,653, Chief Financial Officer Peter Sepelya said.

A finance committee that included Councilmen Cory Storch, Rayland Van Blake and Rashid Burney made a line-by-line study of the budget and brought findings and recommendations to the full council in budget deliberations. The largest part of the budget - more than one-third - is for the Public Affairs and Safety Department , which includes the police and fire divisions. Administration & Finance, which also includes health and social services, takes up about 23 percent of city costs and Public Works & Urban Development is around 11 percent.

On Monday, the council will vote on establishing two new positions in the mayor’s office, a confidential assistant and a secretary. Because the budget year is more than half over, the impact will be for just a few months.

Starting July 1, the salaries will be paid for the entire fiscal year. The mayor’s salary is $35,000 and will remain so for her full four-year term, as the City Charter prohibits a raise for a sitting mayor. But the salaries of the new staff will increase each year, according to salary guide that the council will also vote on Monday. The meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Avenue.

Correction: City Council President Ray Blanco was on the Finance Committee last year, with Chairman Cory Storch and Rayland Van Blake. Blanco appointed Rashid Burney as chairman of the committee this year and will serve again with Van Blake.

--Bernice Paglia