The proposed budget is now in the hands of the Board of Aldermen, which will take a detailed look at the 2015-16 spending plan during the next four weeks.
The Board of Apportionment and Taxation (A&T) presented its version of the budget to the aldermen late last week.
The Board of A&T increased the city side of the budget by $200,000, but took no formal action on the Board of Education allocation because of a 3-3 deadlock among Republican and Democratic members.
“Agreement could not be reached on the amount to be allocated to the BOE,” Charlotte Madar, A&T chairman and a Republican, told aldermen. “Therefore, the Board of A&T was unable to agree on a balanced budget for the year 2015-16,” Madar said.
This in essence means the school budget remains at the amount recommended by Republican Mayor Mark Lauretti, representing a $1.5 million increase from the current year.
The Democrats on A&T wanted to add another $1.75 million for the BOE, giving it $3.25 million in new money.
Where to find the money
Madar said the Democrats would have used money from the city’s accumulated surplus funds to pay for the added education money. She claimed that could negatively impact the city’s credit rating.
She said Republicans noted the proposed budget already includes $4.9 million from the surplus.
Lou Dagostine, A&T member and a Democrat, later countered that the city surplus is more than $12 million, so enough money is there to increase the BOE amount without any effect on the city’s credit rating.
Dagostine said all the unused money left in city department budgets year after year also is a potential source to find more BOE funds.
A resolution in the works?
Madar also said she expected the aldermen, Lauretti and school officials to meet to try to find a resolution on education spending.
John Anglace, aldermanic president, said aldermen would begin to go through the budget, including the changes made by A&T. He wasn’t disturbed by the lack of action on the BOE budget.
“It’s up to them,” said Anglace, a Republican. “I take what they give me and work from it.”
Alderman Jack Finn, a Democrat, said A&T had not done its job by failing to come to an agreement on school spending. “They didn’t submit a budget,” Finn said.
Some of the recommendations by A&T, Madar said, are that department heads should be “strongly urged” to attend the A&T budget workshop involving their departments, the city’s conservation agent should be made a full-time position, and not having a full-time IT director for the city presented “a potential risk.”
The Board of Aldermen is expected to hold a public hearing on the new budget on Tuesday, May 12.
Lauretti: It’s ‘very political’
Lauretti said the disagreement among A&T members wasn’t surprising. “This stuff is very political. It’s always about education,” he said.
He said it might be time to re-look at A&T’s role in the budget process, including whether a finance board should be evenly split between the two political parties. The 3-3 split is required by the city charter.
Lauretti also said it’s not necessary for all department heads to show up at A&T workshops. He said A&T members get all the needed paperwork to “pass judgment on it. There’s enough information there.”
“They never ask questions of the BOE that they do on the city side of the budget,” Lauretti added. “They just believe everything the BOE says.”
He expects to meet again soon with school Superintendent Freeman Burr on the budget but isn’t optimistic a compromise can be reached. “Probably not,” he said of reaching an agreement. “To me, they haven’t made a case.”
“They always need more money,” Lauretti said of the BOE. “This is typical of what they do. This is budget No. 24 for me, and they never get what they ask for.”