There’s been a lot of talk about ambiguity in the Meriden City Charter regarding the powers of the mayor. But the mayor’s authority to veto the city budget has never been in dispute, and Republican Manny Santos certainly used that power to its full extent last week. He vetoed about 30 different line items in the budget as well as the Capital Improvement Plan and the allocation of federal Community Development Block Grant funding, angering City Manager Lawrence Kendzior, who accused Santos of budgeting by “ambush.”
I don’t think that criticism is fair.
Santos issued a detailed veto message consistent with the position he’s expressed since last fall’s campaign that the city can do a better job controlling spending in some areas and should adopt more business-friendly policies.
I don’t agree with every veto he issued and, not surprisingly, neither did the City Council. Some vetoes were overridden, though more were sustained, in a number of cases unanimously. In the end, the mayor managed to cut only about $100,000 from the budget, less than half of what he had hoped for. Either way it’s a small amount in the context of overall city spending. But the debate spurred by the mayor’s legitimate use of veto power under the City Charter was a worthwhile exercise, nonetheless.
City neighborhoods and tenants have benefited from a biannual inspection program for rental properties, and I don’t agree with the push to eliminate it. But the vetoes aimed at defunding the program – which the mayor believes punishes good landlords and discourages private investment – brought landlords’ complaints to the fore and ultimately resulted in a worthy compromise: a task force to study the program and recommend changes.
If it’s true that too often inspectors focus on cosmetic issues rather than actual code violations, or that the rules are applied inconsistently, then changes may be in order. Perhaps inspectors could work from a basic checklist, if they’re not already, while targeting the worst offenders. It’s possible the task force may determine the program is simply redundant, though I’d be surprised if that were the case. At any rate, the mayor’s scrutiny of the budget forced a necessary discussion that apparently otherwise wouldn’t have occurred. I hope Santos recognizes this as a qualified victory.
One of the vetoes overridden involved funding for an expansion of the city’s linear trail. Republican Councilor Kevin Scarpati crossed party lines to give Democrats the two-thirds majority needed to preserve the money in the capital budget. I can certainly see the value of continuing what has been a successful project to date. And I hope the mayor’s separate veto cutting the linear trail committee’s budget wasn’t retaliation for committee members’ defense of the project, as some have speculated.
But the mayor’s position – that in difficult economic times the city can’t afford optional spending on a linear trail expansion – was by no means unreasonable. The truth is high taxes do pose a challenge to most Meriden residents and every little bit of savings councilors can find in the budget helps.
Santos’ use of veto power may have injected a certain amount of stress and uncertainty into last week’s proceedings resulting only in a symbolic reduction, but city residents should welcome the additional scrutiny over spending.
Reach Managing Editor Eric Cotton at (203) 317-2344 or firstname.lastname@example.org.