A $63.12 million temporary budget was narrowly approved by the city council on Wednesday afternoon which covers three-month of municipal expenses from July to September.
The temporary budget was approved in a 5-4 vote after it was nearly disapproved by council members.
Only Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman, 2nd Ward councilman, and Maritza Davila, councilwoman at-large, voted in favor of the budget at first. Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman; Julio Tavarez, 5th Ward councilman, and James Staton, 1st Ward councilman cast their votes against.
“I have serious reservations about some of the salaries,” said Sayegh. Morris had asked for a salary ordinance, but was disappointed at not seeing one on the re-organization meeting agenda. Business administrator Nellie Pou said that ordinance will be presented during the next workshop session.
Morris also raised questions about $2.2 million that largely covers debt payments. “We’re over the cap by $2.2 million?” asked Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large.
The city’s budget director Russell Forenza responded that’s how much the city is under. After mandatory expenses of debt services — $2.17 million – and capital improvement fund — $50,000 – is taken out from the $63.12 million the actual appropriation is $60.89 million for the next three months.
If annualized the $63.12 million represents $252 million, total appropriations in last year’s budget.
Much of the temporary budget covers salaries and insurance expenses, said city officials. Morris pointed out the $14 million allotted for insurance.
“We’re roughly running three to four million per month,” said Forenza. “Close to four million dollars.”
If $4 million per month is the approximate cost for insurance that may make $12 million sufficient for three months. Morris said there’s at least one million in “wiggle” money in the insurance line item.
Forenza said any money that is not spent during that three-month period will be carried over and remain in the city’s coffers.
Alex Mendez, councilman at-large, abstained from the vote. He said he did not see the temporary budget prior to the public meeting and needed more time. Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward councilwoman, who would later vote in favor, briefly left the chambers prior to the vote.
William McKoy, 3rd Ward councilman, was willing to vote in favor — even with that there was only four votes in favor.
McKoy urged council members to reconsider the vote due to the consequences it will have on the city if a temporary budget is not approved.
“We have to ensure government can function, without a temp budget the city grinds to a halt,” said McKoy. With a new fiscal year beginning on July 1st, 2015 the city needed appropriations to pay its employees.
“Keep in mind tomorrow is payroll. So we’ll not be issuing payroll for the entire city,” said Pou, during Wednesday’s deliberations.
Mendez agreed to change his abstention to an affirmative vote. “This is a very uncomfortable vote,” he said. Cotton returned to the chamber and McKoy voted in favor of the temp budget allowing for it to pass.
The city usually runs on a series of temporary budgets until a final budget is adopted sometimes late into the calendar year or at the beginning of the next.
“I’m voting yes because our employees need to be paid to support their families,” said Mendez.