The Mount Vernon City Council overrode a veto on Thursday of the 2011 city budget.
The $86.8 million spending plan has a 4.49 percent tax increase, meaning that the average home’s municipal taxes will rise by $140.72 to $3,272.40.
Mayor Clinton Young vetoed the budget last week and in a press release on Tuesday he said the adopted budget — largely crafted without his input or support — circumvents the city’s charter and violates a court order.
City Council President Karen Watts issued a statement of her own on Wednesday indicating that Young is misreading the city’s charter.
The council overrode Young’s veto with four votes. Councilman Steven Horton, who voted against the budget in December, was not present at the Thursday council meeting.
Here are their press releases, Young’s first, then Watts’:
MAYOR YOUNG VETOS CITY COUNCIL’S FLAWED ALTERNATIVE CITY BUDGET
FLAWED ALTERNATIVE BUDGET CIRCUMVENTS CITY CHARTER, VIOLATES COURT ORDER AND INCLUDES UNNECESSARY OVERTAXING
Mount Vernon, NY – Mayor Clinton I. Young, Jr. has vetoed a flawed alternative budget which was pushed through the budget process by former City Council President Yuhanna Edwards and Comptroller Maureen Walker.
Among the reasons for Young’s veto are: a lack of transparency; circumvention of the City Charter; no public notice or comment; violation of a State Supreme Court order and reduction of personnel vital to the city operations. A more detailed explanation is listed below:
- The process leading to the adoption of the annual budget was flawed
It is the position of the administration that the actions of the City Council and its President were flawed and circumvented the letter and the spirit of the City Charter.
On December 14, 2010 the Board of Estimate held a public hearing on the budget that was prepared by the Mayor’s Office. The public was allowed to comment and the comments were fairly balanced between those in favor of those opposed to the budget with almost all of those opposed speaking out because of the cuts to the Mount Vernon Public Library. There were no reductions in municipal employees in that budget, only defunding of vacant positions.
On December 17, 2010, the Board of Estimate, on motion of the City Council President, voted to reject the proposed budget in its entirety. Then, again on a motion by the City Council President, they voted by a 2-1 margin to send an alternative budget to the City Council for hearing and adoption. This alternative budget was never presented to the public for comment. This alternative budget was grossly flawed in terms of improper staffing cuts and cuts to matching funds that are necessary to retain federal, state and county grants.
The City Council then voted to send the budget to a public hearing through a 3-0 vote. However, the City Charter requires that anything passed on a 3-0 vote must be voted on a second time. Inexplicably, the council failed to hold a second vote in violation of the City Charter.
The December 28th public hearing for this alternative budget featured a vast outcry with dozens of speakers against the budget and just one person in favor. At a December 30th Board of Estimate meeting not called or attended by the Chair (Mayor), the City Council President and the Comptroller adopted a revised version of their alternative budget. The revisions were apparently to correct omissions and mistakes from their original alternative budget.
Without a public hearing on the revised alternative budget, and in contradiction to the City Charter, the City Council adopted the revised alternative budget that same day.
- The alternative budget violates a Supreme Court order as to the Office of the Inspector General
Since the beginning of 2010, I have fought the City Council’s efforts to eliminate the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), an office that has been effective in deterring fraud waste and corruption and is quite necessary in light of the three high profile cases instances of fraud and corruption that occurred under the previous administration.
Eventually, the State Supreme Court sided with the Mayor’s Office and ordered that interference with the OIG circumvents the powers of the Office of the Mayor and any attempt to curtail these powers without a mandatory referendum was invalid.
In again attempting to reduce the salary of the Inspector General from $110,000 to $35,000 the City Council President and the Board of Estimate is yet again attempting to interfere with Mayoral authority and is in violation of the State Supreme Court order prohibiting such acts. Under their alternative budget, the Inspector General’s secretary will earn $20,000 per year more than the Inspector General himself.
The establishment of the OIG has restored the City’s image of financial integrity and has renewed the trust of state and federal agencies that provide valuable funds to Mount Vernon.
- The alternative budget reduces personnel and department funding vital to the function of government to protect the health and safety of its citizens
Although the alternative budget carries a tax increase of 4.49%, it cuts at the heart of essential city services. Last month, Comptroller Walker criticized the Mayor’s Office for using $3 million of the City’s reserve funds for its 2011 budget proposal. However, in the revised alternative budget, more than $5 million in reserve funds are being used to effectuate a tax increase of under 5%.
When I saw the use of these additional reserves, the Mayor’s Office revised its budget which would have also restored $350,000 in funding to the library and had no layoffs of reductions citywide. We would have accomplished this and had a tax increase of just 1.82%. However, when I attempted to present my revised budget to the Board of Estimate, it was flatly rejected by the City Council President and the Comptroller.
The 2011 alternative budget cuts staff and services in Recreation, the Police Department, the Mayor’s Office, senior programs, the Office of the Aging, Public Works and Human Resources. Some cuts are in direct violation of union contracts and exposes the city to expensive litigation. Our youth will be negatively affected as will seniors, snow removal, and road and other infrastructure repairs. In addition, with us being well underway and entering the final phase of our Comprehensive Plan to guide development and growth in our city, funding to complete this important project was cut in the alternative budget.
“The alternative budget presented by the City Council President places our safety and quality of life and reputation at risk and provides for a much higher than necessary tax increase,” said Young. “It’s for the above-mentioned reasons that I have vetoed their alternative budget and look forward to being able to present my own budget that provides for greater city services and a much lower tax rate.”
Karen Watts, President
Mount Vernon City Council
I will be voting to override the Mayor’s veto of the 2011 budget adopted by the City Council. I believe everyone involved in the budget process is trying to act in the best interests of the City.
Mayor Young’s veto message contains a reading of the City Charter which is not only inconsistent with the Charter but is inconsistent with the Mayor and Corporation Counsel’s previous reading and application of Charter provisions. Unfortunately, I believe the Mayor is not receiving accurate advice.
As early as November 22, 2010 the City’s Comptroller advised the Mayor that his budget estimate, which had been delivered in November rather than September, as called for in the City Charter, significantly underestimated expenses and significantly overestimated revenue. Further, that flawed estimate carried with it an increase in the tax rate of 5.54%.
The City’s Board of Estimate and Contract held a public hearing on the Mayor’s estimate and made modifications to correct those errors and reduce the amount of the tax increase. Due to the fact that the Mayor’s estimate had been delivered two months late, there was little time to thoroughly review the Board of Estimate and Contract’s changes, which later revealed some clerical errors.
After receiving the budget estimate from the Board of Estimate and Contract, the City Council held a public hearing on that budget estimate. During the course of this public hearing, it was brought to our attention that certain items, including several positions, had been left out of the budget estimate. As a result of this input from the public and our further review of the estimate it was clear that, in fact, certain positions had been inadvertently left out of the estimate as a result of additional clerical errors.
As has always been the practice of the City, and based upon previous advice of the Corporation Counsel’s office, it was our understanding that the City Council could not add positions back into the estimate without action of the Board of Estimate and Contract. As a result, the Board of Estimate and Contract met and made these corrections.
The City Council, then adopted the corrected estimate which reflected both the original intention of the Board of Estimate and Contract in its revision of the Mayor’s estimate, the comments made by the public at our hearing, and the correction of the clerical errors.
Therefore, the statements that the budget approved by the City Council was not the result of a public hearing process is erroneous and ignores the fact that the final changes made were a result of the direct input of both the public and the Mayor.
I believe the budget we are adopting with this override of the Mayor’s veto is consistent with both the letter and the spirit of the budget process as outlined by the City Charter. It is also consistent with past practice followed by this Council, the current and past Mayors and past advice provided by the current and past members of the Corporation Counsel’s Office.
This budget adds back positions that the Mayor himself requested be added and which we all acknowledge were inadvertently left out through a clerical error. We have been able to accomplish this without modifying the tax rate fixed by the Board of Estimate and Contract in the estimate it originally issued after public hearing. This further demonstrates that this budget reflects the original intent of the Board of Estimate and Contract and that the changes subsequently made to add back the positions inadvertently excluded, were in fact to correct clerical errors. The annual estimate is 4.49%
Further, I believe that the vote to reduce the Inspector General’s salary does not violate any prior directive of the courts. The Charter, section 69, specifically provides that the Board of Estimate and Contract shall fix the Inspector General’s annual salary. As part of the budget process it is wholly appropriate for the Board of Estimate and Contract to fix the Inspector General’s annual salary in accordance with the specific authority granted by the City Charter. I understand that there is significant evidence that the current Inspector General neither works full time nor has produced any substantive reports in the last year. While I agree it is important to root out corruption and malfeasance in government, I also believe that public employees should receive salaries that are consistent with the level of work they perform. To pay someone in excess of $100,000 per year for what is essentially a part time job does as much to undermine the public’s faith in government as at least some of the other activities the Inspector General is supposed to be combating.
In all other respects the budget that will be adopted through this override of the Mayor’s veto provides for levels of service consistent with the level of funding available to the City and without cutting essential services or overburdening our taxpayers in these difficult times. The estimate I am voting for, unlike the Mayor’s estimate, has been prepared with input from the City Comptroller who, as the City’s chief financial officer, is in the best position to fully evaluate the appropriate levels of revenues and expenses in developing the final budget estimate for the City.
There have been statements made that refer to a tax increase of 1.82%. Nothing outlining this estimate was ever presented to the City Council or the public for a mandated hearing.
I am hopeful that with this vote we can put our differences aside and continue to work together to make Mount Vernon a better place for us all to live and work.