WALLINGFORD — The Town Council passed a budget for the upcoming 2021-22 fiscal year Tuesday evening, but not by enough votes to withstand an anticipated mayoral veto.
The vote was 6-3, with Chairman Vincent Cervoni and council members Craig Fishbein and Tom Laffin voting against the budget.
The budget sets the property tax rate at 28.52 mills — a decrease of .67 mills, or 2.3 percent. Despite the mill rate decrease, residents may see their property taxes go up due to the recent town-wide revaluation, which has increased many residents’ property values.
After a series of public budget workshops during the last month, the council made three amendments last week to Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr.’s $177 million proposed budget — none of which increases the budget total, but moves money around within it.
Councilor Jason Zandri proposed adding $60,000 to the Parks and Recreation department’s budget for pickleball courts at Harrison Park, to be paid for out of the town Electric Division’s payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT).
Councilor Christina Tatta proposed reducing the mill rate by 0.3 mills by appropriating an additional $1.5 million from the reserves in the general fund balance, which would be added to the mayor's proposed dip into reserves of $6.4 million.
Councilor Vincent Testa proposed creating a capital account of $1 million as a down payment on Community Pool renovations and transfer the money from the Electric Division’s PILOT.
Dickinson said last week, after the council amended his budget, that he was “very concerned” about the proposals.
He said that dipping too far into reserves may affect the town’s credit rating and ability to bond projects at a low interest rate, and that using money earmarked for road and infrastructure projects — referring to the Electric Division’s PILOT, which is usually spent on those items — would mean fewer of those projects could be done.
If Dickinson decides to veto the budget, he has 10 days, starting Wednesday, to let the council know through a statement of disapproval. The council can override a mayoral veto with seven affirmative votes within 10 days of the veto.
Councilor Chris Shortell began the discussion Tuesday by speaking bluntly, calling a mayoral veto “utterly predictable” based on the assumption that the council-amended budget wouldn’t pass by the seven votes needed to make it veto-proof.
“This budget is dead on arrival,” he said. “You all know it's dead. And if you don't, you're living on another planet, with the rover flying around Mars. This budget is dead on arrival with those three amendments.”
He proposed amending the budget again to include only the pickleball court funding and eliminate the partial tax relief and new capital fund for Community Pool.
Shortell said he wasn’t arguing the merits of the amendments — he supported all three at last week’s meeting when they were voted into the budget — but rather asking the council to reconsider based on the improbability of a veto-proof vote.
Zandri said that he thought the council should let the process play out, and that while likely, a mayoral veto was not inevitable.
“That way, we never come back to an idea of, ‘well, you never know how it might have gone,’ because we kind of interrupted the process and stopped it before it could have unfolded that way … We're only looking for one vote for the potential override of a veto,” he said.
Councilor Joe Marrone said while he supports all the amendment efforts, he doesn’t feel like the council has influence in the budget creation process, which lies solely on the mayor.
“We leave everything to the eleventh hour now to have this final discussion,” he said. “… I've heard some decent ideas from council people...I'm not sure where to influence the budget, because we spent so little time talking about the budget over the course of the of the entire fiscal year.”
The council rejected Shortell’s proposal by a 5-4 vote.