The final budget hearing took place Monday night, with the council approving Mayor Scott Avedisian’s $279.7 million budget on a 6-3 vote. The approval means the property residential tax rate will increase 45 cents to 18.14 per $1,000 of valuation.
However, the budget also offers relief to the motor vehicle taxes. As first proposed, the mayor’s budget increased the motor vehicle exemption from $500 to $1,500 per $1,000 of valuation. He was able to increase it to $2,000 when he came up with $346,467 in savings.
The excess funds came to light at Thursday’s budget hearing when Avedisian realized the amount budgeted on police holiday pay was twice what was needed. That was an instant $220,500.
The remaining money came from cuts in postage and funds budgeted for arbitration with unions representing fire, police and municipal employees.
At Monday’s hearing, Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon, Ward 7 Councilman Charles “C.J.” Donovan and Ward 9 Councilman Steven Merolla voted against adopting the amended budget.
Solomon moved to lower line items involving funds budgeted for arbitration with unions representing municipal employees, with a reduction of $15,000, as well as unions representing police and fire, with reductions of $22,000 each, for a total reduction of $59,000. He suggested transferring it to the general legislative services to be used for labor costs as well as a full-time internal auditor to monitor departments.
“An internal auditor is much needed,” he said.
Solomon’s suggestions were shot down 6-3, as Merolla and Donovan voted along with him in favor.
Also, Solomon then proposed giving the additional funds to the school department instead of increasing the car tax exemption by another $500, noting that the school department has been level funded for at least three years.
“Their costs have grown and if we can spare that money, I think we should send it over to the school department,” Solomon said.
This time, the vote was 5-4, with Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson joining Solomon, Merolla and Donovan.
In his original draft, Avedisian intended to increase the vehicle exemption from $500 to $1,500. Last year, he and the council reduced the exemption from $6,000 to $500 in order to raise about $8 million in revenue.
While the previous three hearings were well attended, only 30 people were in attendance Monday evening.