The Mount Vernon City Council passed an ordinance Wednesday morning, adopting the lowest budget the City has seen in over 20 years.
Last month, the City’s Board of Estimate and Contract-comprised of the Mayor, the Comptroller and the City Council President-unanimously adopted an Annual Estimate for the year 2017 which called for a 1.82% property tax increase over the current fiscal year. This estimate was then forwarded to the City Council for further action and review.
After holding a public hearing on December 14, 2016, the City Council deliberated over the public’s comments and held deep discussions amongst themselves and with the City Comptroller. The Council then held a duly noticed special meeting on Wednesday, December 21, 2016 where it adopted a budget that yielded a property tax increase of 1.07%. City Comptroller Maureen Walker issued a public statement at the special meeting and reported that the budget’s tax levy falls below the New York State tax cap.
City Council President Marcus A. Griffith remarked, “This is the lowest tax increase we’ve seen in over 20 years. The revenues we’ve projected are realistic, the increase is reasonable and this budget is sustainable. We will continue to work with the Department Heads of our City to find ways to do more for our constituents while spending less.”
Councilwoman Roberta L. Apuzzo, Chair of the Finance and Planning Committee, commented, “At the public hearing, we listened hard and we listened carefully. This budget means that the average homeowner will only pay about $20 more per year per $10,000 of assessed property value.”
Councilwoman Lisa A. Copeland indicated that her concerns were allayed to see that no services in the Recreation Department were disrupted or dismantled. Councilman J. Yuhanna Edwards noted that he was gratified that the budget process began early enough to give the public and the Council time to discuss and debate issues before the end of the year. Councilman André Wallace expressed appreciation to the public for coming out in such large numbers to voice their concerns.
Despite the adoption of the budget with the lowest tax increase in 20 years, all of Mount Vernon elected officials are not pleased. Mayor Richard Thomas has vowed to veto what he is calling the broken Waller/Griffith Budget when it hits his desk.
“The Walker/Griffith budget is a holiday lump of coal from the City Council,” Mayor Thomas tells BW. “I have repeatedly urged my colleagues to stop playing elaborate shell games with taxpayer money and to be transparent in their actions. The City Council’s decision to vote on a budget without providing any details for the public is shameful. The Walker/Griffith budget is a work of fiction that fails the people of Mount Vernon. I reiterate my commitment to veto this broken budget the minute it hits my desk.”
While it is within the mayor’s power to veto the budget that has been adopted as with any ordinance, it would only be delaying the inevitable because it would then go back to the council to vote again and the council has informed BW they will override his veto.
The 2017 budget will be in on-time for the first time in over a decade. The fact that the elected officials were not all on the same page, actually benefits the residents of Mount Vernon in this situation. Both side had to make sure to give all information to the public allowing them to ask more questions and be more informed and involved in the 2017 unlike years prior. While some of the information sent out was misleading, and neither side got everything they wanted, the process still allowed the public to be more involved.
The City Council thanked the Comptroller and the Comptroller’s Office staff for their hard work and for years of continuously providing the City with balanced budgets.