After rejecting mayor Andre Sayegh’s $283.6 million introduced budget three weeks ago, the City Council reversed course on Tuesday night.
Council members approved the budget in an 8-1 vote. Four council members — William McKoy, Michael Jackson, Maritza Davila, and Flavio Rivera — changed their votes to allow passage of the unchanged budget.
Shahin Khalique, 2nd Ward councilman, was the sole vote against the mayor’s budget.
Some council members cited the mayor’s “contingency plan” to switch their votes. Sayegh held one-on-one meetings with council members to run them through a slide show that showed what his administration would do if governor Phil Murphy’s administration failed to come through with the requested $40 million in financial assistance.
“We were not given a contingency plan before that’s the difference,” said Rivera after the vote. Neither Sayegh nor his business administrator Vaughn McKoy had their so-called contingency plan available for reporters on Tuesday night.
Sayegh’s administration is grappling with an almost $45 million budget shortfall. He is seeking $13 million more in state aid than last fiscal year. He is holding two tax lien sales to raise $1.5 million. And he is raising property taxes by $3 million or 2-percent.
“I’ve seen the plan. I don’t want to see one of the plans that was introduced because it may cause many of us some heartache,” said council president Davila.
Sayegh’s administration described in detail the impact of limited or no state aid award in its transitional aid application:
- The city would furlough 877 non-public safety employees beginning Jan. 1, 2019.
- General layoff. 1,214 employees would be eligible for layoff. 803 employees in police and fire are exempt from layoffs due to grant award restriction placed on both departments, according to documents the city submitted to the state. Police and fire make up 71-percent of the city’s payroll, according to city records.
Sayegh’s administration appears to have presented the same information in slides to council members earlier in the week.
Davila voted against the introduced budget three weeks ago citing the 2-percent tax hike.
“I promised my taxpayers and to all that I will no longer support any increases – none,” said an impassioned Davila three weeks ago.
On Tuesday, Davila said the contingency plan changed her vote. “What if we don’t receive the additional $13 million? You know what that means? Ten percent increase,” she said.
Three weeks ago, some of her colleagues had pointed out the tax hike would be much steeper without the extra state aid.
“This hasn’t changed at all. It’s the same thing. This could have been done at the last meeting,” said Luis Velez, 5th Ward councilman, referring to the budget document.
Council members Jackson and McKoy saw it as a necessity to approve the introduced budget to allow the city to complete its transitional aid application.
“I don’t want to be the road block. I’m going to give the mayor and administration the opportunity to be successful,” said Jackson, 1st Ward councilman.
“I don’t shirk away from difficult tasks,” said McKoy, 3rd Ward councilman. “It’s a necessity for where we are in this community.” He had voted against the measure three weeks ago by citing Sayegh’s savage attacks against him over his affirmative votes on budgets with tax increases during the mayoral campaign.
The 3rd Ward councilman reflected on his negative vote and had a change of heart.
The mayor expressed his gratitude to the council for approving his introduced budget. He still has to present a final budget for adoption.
Municipal officials expect to receive a state aid figure early next year after which a final budget will be presented to the council.