MERIDEN — City Councilors got their first chance on Tuesday night to ask questions and give feedback on City Manager Tim Coon’s proposed budget.
Coon’s $197.1 million plan raises spending by $1.7 million, or .88 percent over the current year, and would raise the tax rate by .19 percent, from 41.04 to 41.12 mills. It was released Monday.
Following Coon’s presentation, councilors asked questions about specific budget items.
While some characterized Coon’s proposed tax increase as small, Democratic Councilor Bruce Fontanella said he doesn’t plan to vote in favor of any budget that raises taxes. About $300,000 would need to be cut from Coon’s proposal to keep taxes flat.
Mayor Kevin Scarpati said councilors should not “put constraints” on themselves by focusing on a zero tax increase.
“I think we should...make the best decisions that we can without impacting essential city services,” Scarpati said. “And if that means not getting to zero, that means not getting to zero. If that means hitting zero, great, but why stop there if we can actually reduce the mill rate further?”
Fontanella questioned the budget process under the City Charter, which requires the city manager to release a budget proposal in March and then allows the City Council to amend it. Fontanella said councilors should give the city manager direction on the total amount of the budget and then let the manager produce a spending plan.
“You can’t expect a City Council person to go through these (budget) books and these line items with the care that (Coon) and the finance director have done in order to build a budget,” Fontanella said.
Finance Committee Chairman and fellow Democrat Brian Daniels disagreed with Fontanella.
“I think it is the City Council’s job to be familiar with the numbers, and anything you’re not familiar with...just ask,” he said.
In January, Fontanella introduced a “non-binding” resolution advising Coon to produce a budget with a zero tax increase. The council’s Finance Committee did not support the resolution because while they thought it was well-intended, they didn’t feel it was necessary or could be enforced.
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