MERIDEN — The City Council adopted a $198.1 million spending plan for the upcoming 2018-19 fiscal year late Monday night with Mayor Kevin Scarpati casting a tie-breaking vote after the Council initially voted to reject the budget.
The spending plan will necessitate a 41.78 mill rate. One mill is equal to $1 in tax for every $1,000 of assessed property value.
“No one should be proud of themselves however this budget falls tonight,” Scarpati said at one point in the night, visibly upset. “Not because of the numbers, but because of the process.”
The Council engaged in several lengthy debates over how to cut the budget, with Councilor Bruce Fontanella suggesting the budget be tabled to allow staff to cut an additional $500,000. That amendment failed and as midnight approached several councilors, including Larue Graham, voiced displeasure at the proposed the tax increase.
An initial vote on the amended $198.1 million budget failed to pass 9-3. Corporation Counsel Michael Quinn instructed the Council that more amendments could brought forward, but “at some point you need to pass a budget.”
Councilor Brian Daniels chastised the Council for voting against the budget without offering specific amendments to reduce line items. Daniels made a motion to bring the previously rejected budget back on the table, where it received a 6-6 tie vote with Councilors Sonya Jelks, Joseph Carabetta III, Dan Brunet, Bob Williams, Walter Shamock and Larue Graham once again voting against the budget.
Scarpati then cast the tie breaking vote, “for the sake of passing a budget,” noting that “there are many things in this budget that I do not agree with and things I will be exploring my option to veto.”
Although the adopted budget is a spending increase over the $197.3 million budget approved by the Finance Committee last month, it contains a lower mill rate than the 42.28 tax rate previously proposed due to additional state funds, taking the burden off the tax rolls for the expenditure increase.
While acting City Manager Ken Morgan’s original budget flat funded the Board of Education at $99.8 million, the Council approved an amendment Monday to increase the Board of Education’s budget to to $100.7 million after receiviing a $901,000 increase in state Education Cost Sharing funding. A separate amendment added $250,000 to the school system’s operating budget while reducing health insurance costs by $250,000, a “budget neutral” change, according to Daniels, who chairs the Finance Committee.
An amendment from Daniels reduced the city budget by $1 million, which was set aside as a contingency for potential cuts in state funding.
In an unexpected move, the council voted down the creation of a new Information Technology position and library custodian previously approved by the Personnel Committee, which together would have added $110,000 to the budget.
Minority Leader Dan Brunet proposed several cuts, including an $80,000 cut to the Health Department, which was approved by the Council, and an amendment to eliminate a $70,000 legal clerk position, which did not pass.
Residents crowded into the Council Chambers for the meeting, with several voicing their frustration over a tax increase.
Resident Michael Carabetta said he intends to start a petition to bring the budget to referendum. He took issue with an earlier remark by acting City Manager Ken Morgan, who said residents are not seeing the “big picture.”
“We are the big picture,” Carabetta said. “It’s not fair to push this onto the tax payers of the city.”