Mount Vernon — Since Mayor Richard W. Thomas released his preliminary budget proposal for the 2017 Fiscal Year for the City of Mount Vernon, Friday, September 16th, residents have been given a lot of conflicting information about the budget over the following month. While the Mayor as well as the City Council & the Comptroller have been utilizing several methods to get the word out including email blast, social media and budget town hall meetings it’s amazing how many still have no idea what’s going on. So BW attempts to post everything in one place for you the residents to check out so you can make an informed decision.
The City Council and Comptroller Walker held a press conference, Friday 10:30 A.M., accusing Mayor Thomas of proposing a spending plan that could hurt city taxpayers. The $114 million spending plan adds millions in funding for more police officers and firefighters, as well as upgrades to the city’s infrastructure.
The council says the most controversial part of the mayor’s 2017 budget plan is the tax rate increase of 0.7 percent. The mayor says this increase could make homeowners eligible for a state rebate of up to $500 (see video of full press conference below, sent courtesy of a concerned citizen who attended the press conference and wanted to share it with us since we were unable to attend the presser.)
Comptroller Maureen Walker and Council President Marcus Griffith spoke to the Fleetwood Citizen’s Society at The Riverside Memorial Chapel (21 Broad Street) to speak to the residents about the budget. The Comptroller explained the budget was full of incorrect calculations and was unrealistic. A lot of the information she explained at the FCS Meeting can be seen in her letter to the editor, Thursday, September 29th. Council President Griffith spoke afterwards and pretty much backed up the presentation of the comptroller.
Mayor Thomas lived streamed the Board of Estimate meeting, Tuesday morning for the public to see the discussion on the 2017 Budget. The Board of Estimates is made up of Mayor Richard Thomas, Comptroller Maureen Walker and Council President Marcus Griffith.
“From the beginning of this budget process, I have made it a priority to keep you informed because it’s important that we, as elected officials, maintain an open and transparent process and that we work together,” Mayor Thomas said via press statement Tuesday. “Earlier today, I resubmitted our budget proposal to the Mount Vernon Board of Estimate and Contract (“BOE”). The BOE is comprised of myself, Comptroller Maureen Walker, and City Council President Marcus Griffith. Its meetings are public and all are invited to attend.”
“The Charter of the City of Mount Vernon requires the budget to be submitted to the Board of Estimate on September 20, 2016,” Mayor Thomas continued. “We took this obligation seriously and we delivered a sound, honest, and workable budget on that date. This is the first time – in a very long time – that the budget was submitted in compliance with the statutory time-frame set by our City Charter.”
While the budget proposal was on-time for as he states first time in a long time, the Council and Comptroller feel the mayor is not being as transparent as he states and is not given them nor the public all the numbers or explaining how thee changes makes sense, when they request more information.
Mayor Thomas presented his preliminary budget proposal for the 2017 Fiscal Year for the City of Mount Vernon, titled The Thomas Budget, Friday, September 16, 2016.
“Every year, the City of Mount Vernon has overtaxed its people and increased the funds in its coffers, Mayor Thomas stated. “The city’s savings account has increased while taxpayers have been forced to cut costs and pinch pennies. In 2013, there was $9.6 million in the fund, that figured increased to $12 million in 2014; $17.4 million in 2015; and we estimate the 2016 reserve level will top $19 million. It’s shameful to tax the money right out of people’s pockets and stash it away, leaving our infrastructure and core services struggling.”
“It’s a new day in Mount Vernon, Mayor Thomas adds in statement closing. “We are presenting a budget that uses existing resources wisely and doesn’t spend foolishly. We are investing in infrastructure and we are investing in human capital. People are tired of potholes in the road; they are tired of broken streetlights, we know they want a stronger, more robust level of services from City Hall. Best of all, our budget comes in under the tax cap positioning homeowners to receive a tax rebate of $500 per household.”
The Comptroller says the rebate is not a reality and accuses the mayor of not having the residents best interest at heart but possibly the interest of campaign donors. The Council & Comptroller are working hard to get the truth.
“Mayor Thomas exhibits gross incompetence and a lack of leadership for publicly promising a rebate to homeowners as a result of the proposed 2017 city budget,” Comptroller Walker tells BW. “Misleading the general public on an issue such as this is heartless and cruel. Once again, Mayor Thomas exhibits a total lack of understanding of basic and simple accounting and financial policies and procedures.
As the City Comptroller, I am requesting that Mayor Thomas publicly withdraw the statement made in reference to the promised receipt of this rebate.
The Council is asking for clarifications what positions the Mayor wants to add and how much with they get paid.
“He added $300,000 to his administration salaries, is that three person’s receiving $100,000 each,” Council President Griffith asks, “Or is one person getting $300,000, we have no way of knowing.”
When the Thomas Budget was presented in late September, Council President Griffith expressed his feelings about the numbers not adding up. “He’s got a lot of work to do to prove the numbers he’s arrived at,” Griffith tells BW. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”
One of the other points of interests are raises for the MVPD and FDMV. The MVPD have been working without a contract since 2014 and are the least paid police in the 43 municipalities of Westchester County but work much harder since there is more crime in Mount Vernon. One thing is for sure, we have a way to go before the passing of the budget despite the fact that the mayor did deliver his proposed budget before the September 20th deadline per the charter which has not been done often in the last decade or so.
Both sides have told the public they have reached out to the other to request information and to attempt to work together but the Civil War in City Hall continues and we do not seem to be any closer to all parties working together to move forward for the betterment of the City of Mount Vernon.
BW shares all the information available in one article in an effort to inform the residents of Mount Vernon. While this may leave you with more questions than answers, afterwards it is our hope it will lead to the asking of the right questions to get the answers you require. Stay tuned to BW for more on this developing budget discussion.