On Saturday the Democratic Council majority released a budget proposal ammendment cutting various City Hall positions and programs amounting to about $1.7 million.
Democratic Alderman Carlo Carlozzi presented the cuts saying that cutting the budget sets a precedent.
Several cuts such as the senior center director, human rights officer and director of community services has brought concern from Aldermen, City Hall staff, Mayor Erin Stewart and others.
Republican Town Chairman Tony Cane said some of the cuts appear to be politically motivated as the human rights officer is a former Republican Alderman in Jerrell Hargraves and the director of community services, Zeena Tawfik is a close friend of the Mayor.
“Why eliminate this position? The current occupant is a close friend of the mayor who was promoted into the position from the mayor’s office. She also holds a Doctorate in Child Counseling and used to run a clinic, where she made significantly more money,” said Cane. “Yes, she took a pay cut to serve our city. The Democrats have expressed a desire to get rid of her, so I’m sure that this was their motivation.”
According to Cane, the position pays $87,000 and the City is mandated by a state grant. This grant pays the City to have counselors available for children who are in danger of going through the court system and helps to guide them in the straight and narrow. Because this grant mandates this position, most of its salary is paid through it.
“Without this position, we lose a $300,000 grant to pay for these workers,” added Cane.
“I am analyzing the costs of the cuts. Each cut has a cost to it,” said Mayor Stewart. “When you elminate a job there is an unemployment cost, there are payouts for sick time and vacation time and there is a cost if we know we would be in court for violation of contracts.”
Stewart said there is also a cost to City services.
“We will lose money in senior services, community services and public works by eliminating the jobs that are responsible for maintaining the grant money,” Stewart said. “This is extremely troubling. The biggest disservice to the taxpayers was this wasn’t an open process. The board of finance started the process back in January and none of the Democratic Councilmen took part in those meetings.”
Stewart said in the 60 days the Council had the budget, not a single question was asked by the Council to her or department heads.
Complaints about potholes are often made by Council members, but the person who maintains those complaints was eliminated in the Democratic proposal, she said.
“You can’t have your cake and eat it to. If you want to see results you have to ensure you are properly staffing departments to get the services we expect,” said Stewart. “There is such a lack of understanding on how City Hall works by the Democratic members of the Common Council. I hope they will take seriously their obligation to learn and understand what our departments do and how they do it and why functions are necessary.”
In the Democratic proposal, the City website is eliminated as well as half of the IT department. Mayor Stewart hired IT staff to save the City money rather than paying hundreds of thousands of dollars more for outside services.
“I don’t know if they know what they are doing. That is very dangerous and not becoming of people who are our elected officials,” Stewart added. “They also eliminated positions that do not exist.”
On Facebook many residents were dismayed by the loss of positions.
“We care about the City and its elderly. Load of bull****,” said Scott Markiewicz. “Its like they threw darts at a dart board. Whichever positions the darts hit were the ones cut seeing that the position cuts seem random & don’t help us at all.”
Another cut includes the end of Main Street USA. While fireworks were not cut, the events surrounding it like music and entertainment were eliminated.
“Of course they cut Main St. USA,” said resident Robin Washburn. “It brings in people to the city and I guess that is not what they want.”
Some residents said cuts were necessary.
“Unfortunately after over a decade or more of mismanagement, money isn’t there so things need to be cut,” said Margaret Dabrowski. “Or the alternative is to raise taxes higher than they already are going.”
The ammendment also adds $429,000 to the board of education. Last week, board of education advocates requested another $2.5 million as no additional City funds were given to the school board.
Carlozzi said that although the mill rate did not go up, taxes did due to revaluation. At least one resident claimed, at a Council meeting, her taxes went up over $2,000. The proposed cuts could lower most residents taxes by $10-$20 compared to the Mayor’s proposal. Overall, property taxes will still go up compared to last year.
Stewart’s budget proposal was for a $237.7 million budget for the next fiscal year. It was a 1.5 percent reduction from the city’s current operating budget of $241.5 million. Her proposal kept the mill rate at 50.50 on real estate and personal properties. The Democratic proposal put the mill rate at 49.977.
“I don’t know what they were thinking. I appreciate Council members who truly want to lower taxes. I want to lower taxes, but I have to be realistic. You have to look at the cost of doing business,” added Stewart. “This process has been nothing but an egotistical spree and that is not what we need leading our City.”
The Mayor now has to decide if she wants to veto some or all of the Democratic cuts. She has until June 19 to make a decision to veto certain items or the entire proposal.