A series of temporary budgets that have been utilized to fund city government since the start of this fiscal year in July may push municipal spending over last year’s entire budget, according to city officials.
From July through January the city spent $150.95 million through temporary measures. Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ administration is seeking another $22.53 million temporary budget to fund government through February which will push the total spending to $173.48 million, according to municipal records.
“We’re heading to $260 million on average if we continue at this pace,” said Julio Tavarez, 5th Ward councilman, on Tuesday evening. The city’s fiscal year 2015 budget year was $252.61 million, according to city records.
The Torres administration introduced a $283.22 million budget for fiscal year 2016 promising to drastically reduce it before presenting a finalized budget to the council for a vote. Business administrator Nellie Pou said the administration is hoping to present the council with a final budget at the end of February after it receives a transitional aid number from the state.
Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, chairman of the finance committee, on Wednesday concurred the city is likely to far exceed its last year’s budget. He also said the city will have to increase taxes by seven-percent.
In fact, a measure is pending before the council to send out estimated tax bills to property owners, which will seek to raise the $5 million Morris took out of the introduced budget, according to officials.
Administration officials have and continue to argue taxpayers will see a decrease in their taxes this year. “Their argument taxpayers are paying less compared to the previous bill is so disingenuous that it’s just criminal,” said Morris.
Morris said the property revaluation is providing taxpayers perceived relief due to the shock experienced late last year leading to many protests. Taxpayers saw large increases – thousands of dollars in some cases – in their tax bills after the administration calculated taxes retroactively on the new assessments.
Tavarez wanted to know what the final budget number for this fiscal year.
“What is your forecast for the actual budget?” he asked.
“I can’t give you a number,” said Pou
The business administrator said that depends on many factors and she did not have an actual figure at this time. She said the city late last month took in $2.4 million in revenue from tax lien sales.
The municipality is hoping to raise more funds with a special tax sales this week, she said. She said once those numbers are in she will be able to provide a final spending number for this fiscal year.
The council will take up the temporary budget measure in its regular meeting on Tuesday evening.
Last time the Torres administration sought a temporary budget was in November. Council members were unwilling to approve a temporary spending measure arguing the administration has not cut spending.
However, the council later voted to approve the measure when two members defected after striking behind the scene deals with Torres.