The city managed to close its budget deficit of $5.7 million using generous State aid and creative employment of the city’s court system, according to documents presented before the City Council on Tuesday night.
The gap was plugged using $1.7 million additional aid provided by the state, $750,000 collected through the court system by mostly fining homeowners with illegal dwellings, and $1.1 million FEMA reimbursement for the two storms that struck the city in 2011.
The budget is set at $245 million for fiscal year 2014 which begin in July 2013. Tax increase in the adopted budget was $255 that has been lowered to $223 for a home valued at $350,000. That rate is set to go up after county and school taxes plus lost ratables are calculated.
“What we are demonstrating tonight is the municipal portion of the budget,” said Charles Thomas, the city’s business administrator, stating that this budget does not include taxes for school and county. Once the county and school taxes are calculated the burden on property owners are likely to increase.
The city reduced spending in public safety, fire and police, by $1.2 million, according to the business administrator. Inside the amendment that was voted on Tuesday night showed a reduction of $929,000 and not the aforementioned amount. Thomas was contacted, a message was left, and he has yet to return the call to clarify.
Office of the mayor saw a cut of $110,000; council 108,647; law $45,000; community development $256,000; statutory agencies, like the city’s parking authority, $232,000. Smaller cuts appeared in other areas of government.
Much of the reduction in these departments came from unfilled positions, a trick used by the administration to pull out money whenever it has a shortfall. “The budget seems to be stuffed or inflated with these unfilled positions,” remarked Kenneth Morris, who said those ghost positions should have been removed early in the process. “All these positions need to come out at the beginning,” said Morris.
Morris stated by keeping these vacant positions in the budget the tax payers are being charged for positions that are empty. Rigo Rodriguez, councilman at-large, said including these positions in the budget is “unfair” to the public. “I don’t want to over bill constituents to create surplus,” said Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman, showing his disapproval for the administration’s practice.
“We’ve lost over three million worth of ratables,” said Anthony Zambrano, city’s finance director. “That will be taken into account for the February and May bills that will be outlined next week.”
Minutes before midnight council members voted to amend the 2014 budget with three members voting against it: Sayegh, Rodriguez, and Morris. William McKoy, 3rd Ward councilman, who voted for the budget amendments, said the budget has to be reduced further. “We still have a little bit of shaving we’ve got to do,” said McKoy.