May 14, 2014 12:56PM
By Dan Brechlin
MERIDEN — Mayor Manny Santos’ budget vetoes likely will not put much money back into the pockets of taxpayers, but it could have a significant impact on events and services, according to some city officials.
Santos used his veto authority Monday to reduce spending on numerous items in the budget. The City Council adopted the $185.11 million budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year by an 11-1 vote last week. It included a 2.23 percent tax increase, which means $88.92 for the owner of a median-value, single-family home. The same family would typically pay about $4,040 in property taxes annually, City Manager Lawrence J. Kendzior said.
If the vetoed items are not overridden by a two-thirds majority vote of the City Council, the budget expenditures would be reduced by about $256,000. If the certificate of compliance program is eliminated and two other revenue items remain decreased after Santos vetoed and adjusted them, the owner of a median-value, single-family home would see a reduction in their tax bills of $4.56, Kendzior said. The decrease would result in the tax rate being reduced by 0.04 mills, from 35.77 to 35.73 mills. One mill equals $1 of tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value.
“All of the things the mayor proposed could have been brought up and discussed over the last five months while the budget was under consideration,” Kendzior said. “City staff would have been able to provide information to the council in greater detail on these matters ... I simply do not understand why the mayor proceeded as he did and it seems to be he is budgeting by ambush.”
Beyond opposing $170,000 in funding for linear trail design work, Santos was reserved during the budget process, not mentioning changes he wanted to see. He did say, however, that he would like to avoid a tax increase.
Kendzior said Santos did not ask to meet about any of the items he was considering vetoing during the seven days between the budget passage and the vetoes. Had he done so, Kendzior said, the mayor might have seen things differently.
Santos, a Republican, slashed overtime for nine city departments, including reducing the Parks and Recreation Department’s overtime contingency from $95,000 to $50,000.
“As I indicated on all (overtime) items, overtime can be avoided or reduced,” Santos said. “That’s why it’s overtime. If it’s a recurring task, then it should be scheduled to accommodate work during the regular business hours ... Some of this was standing overtime and the figures were pretty large. The only departments I spared scrutiny were fire and police because those are reactionary services and used for emergencies.”
In response, Kendzior said much of the Parks and Recreation overtime is used for setup and cleanup of municipal events and festivals held on weekends or at night. The overtime is also used to clear trees that fall in roads after “business hours.” Other overtime budgets that were slashed are used for city staff members to attend evening municipal meetings, for emergency responses by the highway department, and to keep the transfer station open two Saturdays a month.
“I don’t think the mayor has a good understanding of overtime in our budget,” Kendzior said. “It’s generally not for completing things that have not been completed in the course of the day.”
Council Minority Leader Dan Brunet, a Republican, said he was glad the mayor reassessed the budget and used his veto authority. Speaking about overtime, Brunet said many of the events and festivals should be self-sustaining. Santos expressed a similar desire in his veto of the Cultural Diversity Fund, which supports the Puerto Rican Festival and Black Expo.
“Some of these functions have to pick up the tab in some of these areas,” Brunet said.
But Kendzior said the Cultural Diversity Fund veto and others “appear retaliatory.” Former Democratic Mayor Michael S. Rohde, who lost to Santos last November, is among the biggest supporters of the Puerto Rican Festival, sitting on the festival committee, and the Black Expo.
Kendzior also mentioned the Meriden Linear Trails Advisory Committee’s budget of $2,500 being cut. Members have been outspoken against Santos’ plan to eliminate design work for the linear trail. Kendzior said the $2,500 is used to replace damaged signs or to print brochures.
Council Deputy Majority Leader Brian Daniels was critical of Santos’ veto, questioning if the mayor “even understands the impact of what he’s doing.” Daniels also questioned councilors who would consider supporting the vetoes after none of them brought up ideas to reduce the budget in recent months.
“All three parties voted in favor of this and it was 11-1,” he said. “All but the linear trail is the last minute ... We went through how many months of budget hearings? Anybody could have brought this up. Other than the linear trail, I don’t recall any other proposals being raised.”
Brunet said he supports the budget that was voted on last week, but still agrees with the cuts Santos made and looks favorably on the vetoes.
“We were voting on the budget that came out that night,” he said. “This is a different budget with different items ... I think people are pleased the mayor is making a valiant effort to look at each item in the budget.”
The council is expected to meet to consider the mayor’s vetoes at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in City Hall.