The City Council approved mayor Andre Sayegh’s $285 million budget that contains a 2-percent property tax increase.
Council members adopted the budget in an 8-1 vote following a public hearing late Tuesday night. Members of the governing body spent less than 20 minutes discussing the budget.
“We raise taxes understanding it’s part of the [memorandum of understanding] MOU,” said council president Maritza Davila. The state government requires the city to raise taxes in order to receive financial assistance. In the fiscal 2019 budget, the state government is providing $33 million in transitional aid.
Sayegh administration officials grappled with a $45 million budget deficit. Municipal officials said the deficit was driven by a one-time surplus of more than $8 million that was used to plug last year’s budget.
There was also increase in government expenses.
At one point, Sayegh wanted to layoff hundreds of employees to balance the budget, but later backed off, announcing his staff found cuts to save jobs.
“I can see us becoming less dependent on transitional aid,” remarked Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward councilwoman, during the vote.
Sayegh’s administration has increased reliance on state aid. State aid went from $25 to $33 million.
“I’m hoping the state would give our fair share of transitional aid. Our surrounding towns are contributing to our deficit,” said William McKoy, 3rd Ward councilman, referring to the out-of-town drug addicts and vagrants that have taken over parts of Broadway. “We’re the social service agency for the county.”
Council members Michael Jackson, Cotton, Luis Velez, Al Abdelaziz, Flavio Rivera, McKoy, Lilisa Mimms, and Davila voted in favor of the budget while Shahin Khalique voted against.
Khalique complained homeowners are being forced to pay more taxes for less services.