As many of you may know by now, the Mayor has proposed the city’s operating budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018. As usual, he has also created propaganda to go along with it. The Mayor continues to try to use the public to support what is not true.
The Mayors Usual Shenanigans.
Last week, the Mayor’s administration unveiled a proposal of appropriations he claims will “prioritize public safety”. However, the Mayor has refused hired a new police commissioner for our city. The first step to prioritizing public safety would be to select a new police commissioner with the education, skills, and experience to formulate public safety initiatives and to lead the department. This responsibility cannot be assigned to a novice/garbage man, neither can the Mayor micromanage the department. His repeated statements accusing the Comptroller and City Council of refusing to fund the position of police commissioner are fictitious and greatly miscued. Over the past year, I have written several letters and made over a dozen statements requesting that the Mayor executes his duties as the chief executive officer of the city and fill the position. The Mayor, Comptroller, and City Council agreed to fund the position at an annual salary of up to $175,000. The REAL question to ask is why hasn’t the Mayor selected a police commissioner? If “public safety is essential to enhancing our quality of life and raising property values”, the process to select a police commissioner should have been expedited. Although I agree with the Mayor that we should replace the police officers who have retired or who have transferred to other communities, I do not believe it is prudent to add dozens of new police officers without competent and experienced leadership. Taking that approach will not solve our problem; furthermore, it is a poor executive decision.
The Mayor stated, “No other community in Westchester County would be foolish enough to remove a Police Commissioner from their Police Department”. However, 3 qualified police commissioners were either fired or resigned within the first 12 months of the Mayor’s administration. The public should know that neither the City Council nor the Comptroller can hire or fire commissioners. The public should ask the Mayor why he would make statements accusing the City Council of selfishness when he makes the appointment.
The Mayor also states his 2018 budget is “one that continues his commitment to transparency and public access television”. This statement is not true. What is true is that the Mayor did forward the cable franchise renewal agreement to the City Council, but only after trying to execute it without City Council approval or proper vetting. It is also true that Councilman Griffith was the Council President at the time but he did not delay the contract or cause seniors to pay hundreds of dollars extra on their monthly bills. In fact, Councilman Griffith agreed along with me that we should not vote on the legislation before the Cable Advisory Committee had time to vet the contract to be absolutely certain that the city would get the best deal.
Moreover, the blame should not be focused on Councilman Griffith when I was the one who would not bring it to vote. It was a good deal for the Mayor, but it was a bad deal for the City of Mount Vernon’s residents. The City of Mount Vernon is still owed hundreds of thousands of dollars from cable companies and it is taking time for our Cable Advisory Committee to review the franchise agreement in order to negotiate the best deal. The City Council is confident with the work the committee is doing and we look forward to a very successful franchise renewal agreement that truly benefits the people of Mount Vernon, not just the cable companies.
My Position on the Budget Proposal.
I’ve been called a bad politician because I tell the truth and speak out about issues most politicians refuse to address. That is why I will be honest to say that I will not be voting on the Mayor’s budget in its current form. There are some people who believe I am just against the Mayor. That is false. A great idea is great no matter who thought of it and whenever those great ideas benefit the people, I vote on them. I would love to agree with the Mayor on his 2018 budget, but we would both be wrong. I may not be a great politician but I am a pretty good businessman who has been working with major budgets for more than 25 years. I know when numbers don’t make sense. Let’s break this budget down using a simple fan and hammer to clear the smoke and break the mirrors.
The Mayor states his “net budget request is virtually the same as last year”. While his statement is accurate, the budget proposal he submitted last year was incorrect and it’s incorrect again this year. Last year the Council worked diligently with the Comptroller to save the taxpayers by creating a balanced budget with real expenditures, practical revenue projections, and reasonable salary increases. Mount Vernon taxpayers, know that we are prepared to do it again. The City Council and the Comptroller are eager to work on the budget and we will encourage the Mayor to work with us. The adopted budget for 2017 was $106 million, $11.7 million less than the Mayor’s 2018 budget of $118 million. The Mayor stated that “taxes will be raised only 4.87%” and he’s right, however, he’s not explaining how the taxpayer will be charged an additional 11.83% on the back end of his failing budget. Add those two figures and taxpayers will have 16.70% property tax increase.
In order to present the public with a proposed property tax increase of 4.87%, the Mayor is projecting an unreal $7 million-dollar revenue increase. If you may recall, when the Mayor projected an additional $5.5 million in revenue for 2017, I questioned him at his town hall meeting and explained that it is impossible for the city to generate an additional $5.5 million in sales tax bringing our total revenue up from $18.5 million dollars to $24 Million dollars without adding additional retail outlets and superstores. The City of Mount Vernon has generated about $18.5 million dollars in 2015, 2016 and looks like we may fall a little short in 2017. If the 2017 budget had been adopted with those revenue projections by the Mayor, the tax increase would be more than 16.7% this year to cover the shortfall. Mr. Mayor, if you couldn’t come close to generating $5.5 million dollars in sales tax and other additional revenue in 2017, how are you going to generate $7 million dollars in 2018?
The Mayor also states that there is $19 million dollars in the city reserves. First, the exact amount is not known because the 2016 audit has not been completed. The Mayor has ignored letters from the city’s auditors requesting that the books in the Urban Renewal Agency and the Industrial Development Agency are closed in order to complete the financial audit for the city. Instead, the Mayor has tried to fire the auditors for constantly requesting documentation to complete our 2016 books. The city’s fiscal year ends on December 31, to be without an audit nine (9) months later is unacceptable. Further, most of the money in the city’s reserves have already been earmarked for State mandates like pension, healthcare, and workers compensation. The Mayor always fails to disclose those details. Moreover, how can one spend money without knowing how much there is to spend? I am in favor of salary increases and new positions but I am not in favor of those increases and new positions being placed on the backs of the taxpayers and homeowners. Raises should be based on performance. The administration has not performed satisfactorily, neither have they generated monies to justify the proposed salary increases.
There are those that don’t believe the city can be operated like a business but I disagree. While serving on the City Council, I’ve had many conversations and meetings with Comptroller Walker and what I have learned from her is, whether it’s government or private industry, the financial and fiscal responsibilities of that industry are both the same. As a corporation can become bankrupt, so can our city. This is a lesson I learned from a professor. Many of us can benefit if we sat in her class.
The City Council and Comptroller will be holding a town hall meeting (Date TBD) to address and answers all your questions regarding the Mayor’s 2018 budget.
Councilman André Wallace