After the city council rejected mayor Jose “Joey” Torres administration’s $50 million temporary budget to cover operations for the next two months, municipal officials are scrambling to prevent an imminent government shutdown.
Business administrator Nellie Pou said the city will not be able to make its December 4th, 2015 payroll without temporary budget appropriations. “We do not have sufficient funds in our approved appropriations,” she said.
Pou said the council needs to host an emergency meeting on Monday to approve temporary appropriations for the next two months without which she will not be able to pay almost 2,000 city employees next week.
Council president William McKoy added the temporary appropriation item to Tuesday evening’s special meeting agenda for consideration. He said the holiday this week and the legal advertising requirement for a public meeting prevents an emergency Monday meeting.
Council members early Wednesday morning – in a meeting that went beyond midnight – rejected a $50 million temporary budget.
Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, said temporary appropriations are rapidly creeping up towards the $283 million preliminary budget figure. Council members reluctantly approved the preliminary introduced budget so the administration could make an application to the state for financial assistance after urging the Torres administration to reduce spending.
“There was no cuts in spending,” said Morris, chairman of the council’s finance committee. He said he will have to see “significant” reductions before voting aye on any future temporary budgets.
Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman, and Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman, 2nd Ward councilman, both said the administration has to come up with a way to reduce its spending. “I can’t in good conscious support a bloated budget,” said Sayegh. “It’s really time to tighten the belt.”
Pou indicated cuts may not be practical at this point in time. “I can’t have what they are looking for by November 30. They know that. They’re playing politics,” she said.
“When do you make the cuts?” asked Morris. He said council members have been clamoring for spending cuts since the start of the fiscal year. He said the administration should have planned better: it knew insurance would increase, it knew it had to set aside funds for collective bargaining agreements, and it knew it had to make debt service payments.
“I’m not up for re-election,” said Morris. Six of his colleagues are up for re-election six months from now whose decisions to vote against the measure may have included political calculations.
Morris has repeatedly called on the administration to reduce its spending.
Akhtaruzzaman said maybe the mayor should consider laying off some of his former campaign workers he hired for government jobs.
“He’s made a whole host of hires,” added Sayegh. Torres hired a number of individuals who worked on his campaign.
When asked if he’d like to see government shutdown, Sayegh said: “If that’s what it takes to send a message to the mayor to tighten his belt and present a more responsible budget then drastic times calls for drastic measures.”
Torres needs at least six votes on the council to obtain approval for his temporary budget. He has been attempting to gather them, but it’s not clear how successful he has been in procuring votes. He has four votes for his temporary budget measure and needs two more which he has been having a difficult time to gather.
Morris did not find Pou’s warning of state takeover convincing calling it “alarmist.” He said a state takeover requires approval from both the senate and the assembly. He said the state is likely uninterested in taking over the city because it will have to assume all of the municipal debt.
McKoy, who voted in favor of the temporary budget along with Ruby Cotton, Maritza Davila, Michael Jackson, said it is not prudent to for the city to have its electricity cut and gas turned off comparing it to the management of a household.
Morris in the past brokered compromise agreements that allowed the administration to receive its temporary budgets; however, that does not appear likely this time around. “Historically, I came up with the compromises,” he said.
Morris, Sayegh, Aktaruzzaman, and Julio Tavarez voted against the temporary budget. The city has been operating on temporary budgets since the start of the fiscal year on July 1st, 2015.
It will have spent $151 million from July through January, according to city records.