The city’s business administrator in a cabinet meeting on Wednesday morning told department directors to make “extreme cuts.” This as the city faces an undisclosed budget shortfall for the 2018 fiscal year.
“I have a very big job ahead of me. We have to make some very big cuts,” finance director Marge Cherone told council members on Tuesday night. On Wednesday night, at the departmental budget hearings for public works and fire department, Cherone said business administrator Nellie Pou directed department directors to make “extreme cuts” to their budgets.
The details of the possible shortfall have yet to be revealed.
Both the business administrator and the finance director are expected to introduce the city’s fiscal year 2018 budget next week.
“We’ve had consistent structural deficit in the budget over multiple administrations,” said Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, chairman of the finance committee. He has called for an across the board 20-percent cut in spending. On Wednesday night, Morris told both fire chief Michael Postorino and public works director Manny Ojeda to reduce their budgets by 20-percent.
Former mayor Jose “Joey” Torres over the past three years plugged holes by selling tax liens and properties. For example, Torres produced an $11.4 million surplus last year through four tax lien sales.
“There was a lot of one-offs, those one-offs are not here anymore,” said Morris.
Torres also benefited from a better than expected tax collection rate last year. He also received a steady $25 million every year from the state government. He faced intense pressure from council members to cut spending to keep taxes down.
Tax increases over the years, combined with a property revaluation, angered residents and led to repeated protests at City Hall. For the first time in years, the city did not increase its tax levy in the 2017 fiscal year.
“The way the numbers are shaping up right now there will be a levy increase,” said Morris. He said even including the state aid at the current level the city is very likely to increase taxes.
The city’s overall budget last year was $278.86 million. $151 million of that was the municipal portion.