In what is the hottest exchange of the mayoral campaign, Republican candidate Sue Stenhouse charged this week that Mayor Joseph Solomon and the City Council are responsible for the highest tax increase in 26 years, with Solomon countering in a statement submitted by his campaign that he finds it interesting that, as a member of the council, Stenhouse voted for tax increases.
“Last year, then Council President Solomon led the effort to level fund the FY18 budget based on the assumption there would be a 99 percent collection rate, which is nearly impossible to achieve. The fiscal woes facing our city today fall directly on his shoulders. He had no foresight, even though there were many communications and activities (such as the bargaining agreements and school committee testimony at the budget hearings) over his 18 years serving on the council, to foreshadow the funding deficit. He offered no plan, no remedies and now is accepting no accountability for his actions. He can not blame the Avedisian administration for his poor decisions,” Stenhouse said in a release.
In an interview yesterday, Solomon said he knew of Stenhouse’s comments although it wasn’t clear if he had read the release. Asked about her comments about city reserves – Stenhouse questions Solomon’s claim that they have dipped to between $13 million and $14 million – he said, “I think she’s misinformed.”
Stenhouse said, “I am also concerned about monies reported by the city’s auditing firm, Blum Shapiro, in March 2018, stating that we had a surplus of $22,566, 957 in the unrestricted fund balance. In our recent debate, Joe stated that the balance is now “dangerously low,” around $13 to $14 million. What happened to those funds? If this is the new total in that account, then Solomon and the City Council adopted a budget with a deficit of $4 to $5 million dollars or they have spent that money without public notice. We need answers!”
In his statement, Solomon said, “Just before leaving for a state job, the Avedisian administration gave false and inaccurate information regarding the fund balance, stating it was between $22 and $25 million, when, in fact, it was actually much lower. The audit that shows the discrepancy was an audit of the past fiscal year – when Ms. Stenhouse’s colleague was at the helm of the city. I would ask Ms. Stenhouse’s Republican colleague instead where that money went.”
In the interview he expanded, saying that because the audit for the prior fiscal year had not been completed, the budget was a “guesstimate,” including what was in reserves at that point.
He also put the blame on the Avedisian budget.
In the statement issued by his campaign, Solomon said, “The budget presented by the Avedisian administration, which she supported for years, for this Fiscal year level funded schools, did not address the additional $4 million in expenses related to collective bargaining agreements negotiated by the prior administration that she supports, set the city up for a structural deficit, and did not address the significant sick time expenses resulting from his side deal with the firefighters.”
In his statement, Solomon opens saying, “Clearly, Ms. Stenhouse is again showing her lack of understanding of City government. A perfect example of this is the side sick time agreement that the Avedisian administration, who she supports, reached with the firefighters outside of the scope of the ratified collective bargaining agreement. Records show that Ms. Stenhouse voted against my legislation that required contract ratification, and she voted in an attempt to uphold the veto of it.”
Stenhouse writes, “The minute Joe Solomon assumed the Mayoral seat we have utter chaos in all fiscal matters including proper school funding; the Annex redevelopment; the selling of surplus city properties; proper management of our emergency rescue service fleet; a monthly loss of income totaling nearly a quarter of a million dollars in the street lighting line item as of November – and none of these items were addressed despite the 4 percent maximum tax increase imposed on our taxpayers – the highest amount allowed by State Law.”