Final budget vote Monday night

I hope you are enjoying this beautiful June weather. I’ve had to force myself to take breaks from budget analysis and have managed to take a few nice canoe and bike rides with my son. Unfortunately, I’ve fallen woefully behind on my emails, so I do apologize if you’ve noticed that delay. Definitely looking forward to us passing a budget this Monday night so I can get caught up on things and spend more time with family. Before I get into things I also wanted to highlight that on July 25th, from 6-8pm at the Eastport library, I will be holding my second town hall meeting.

Next Council Meeting (download agenda)


Public hearings

  • O-14-18 - Last year the previous Council attempted to improve the public notification and public meeting/hearing process associated with new development. The City was then sued by Alan Hyatt (local development attorney) and some local developers to overturn this law. O-14-18 is an attempt to address the concerns of the developers and add clarity to the proposed changes. I have not had an opportunity to fully digest the proposed changes, so I welcome any and all comments or suggestions you may have. I will be examining this proposal to see if there are any additional steps that could be taken to further improve the public engagement/process.

Final votes

  • R-21-18 - “Recognizing and remembering racial injustice - an apology” - Back in 1889, Alderman Wiley H. Bates offered a resolution condemning the lynching of Wright Smith, a black man accused of assaulting two white women. That resolution obtained only one other favorable vote and was eventually defeated by the City Council. Today’s City Council wishes to express our support for the Equal Justice Initiative, to move toward a more complete history of race relations, and to affirm the City’s commitment to truth, freedom, and equity. I am proud to be a sponsor of this Resolution and intend to vote in favor.
  • O-16-18 - FY19 budget - The Mayor’s original budget would have resulted in a 13.5 cent tax rate increase, from 64.9 cents to 77.9 cents (per $100 assessed value). I believe this equates to roughly a $400-$500 increase for the average resident. For those just tuning in, this proposed increase is largely due to the fact that the previous administration did not increase taxes at all, yet our personnel costs kept going up. Furthermore, he failed to adequately fund employee pensions, employee post-retirement health benefits, he used fund money inappropriately, incurred record levels of debt, paid for roads & sidewalks & vehicles using bond funding instead of pay-go (i.e. you pay as you go using your revenue, not debt), and more. I’ll break down these costs in a bit. Let me continue the progression of things. After this 13.5 cent increase was proposed, the Mayor’s budget went to the Council’s Finance Committee for review. After more than 18 meetings and 80 hours of effort, the Committee managed to reduce that 13.5 cent increase down to 9.9 cents (view their report), due in large part to additional revenue identified by the new City Manager. Unfortunately, the City Manager then later identified mistakes made by the former Finance Director (we are about to get a new one) that took that 9.9 cents back up to 13 cents (cuts identified by the Mayor also helped reduce this jump).

To illustrate the break-down of where that 13-cent increase is going, you can view this document. Here are some highlights of what it shows:

    • 3 cents of the increase going to mandatory payments of principal and interest on bonds
    • 1.3 cents to fund pensions and postretirement health benefits
    • 4.2 cents to pay recurring personnel and operating costs that previously were being paid out of savings
    • 2.3 cents to mandatory step increases and increased insurance costs
    • 2.5 cents of non-mandatory spending (using pay-go rather than debt to pay for roads & sidewalks)
    • 0.9 cents for new positions

Those are just some highlights to show you where the 13 cents came from.

However, it’s important to note that the Finance Committee met again and reduced that 13 cents to 10.5 cents by changing how we are paying for roads and sidewalks (not vehicles) by utilizing existing bond funding from idle projects (i.e. no new debt). Ultimately we want to move completely away from bond funding but we determined this can wait in in an effort to reduce the tax increase. 10.5 cents is the latest we are talking about.

However, a number of us were not happy with 10.5 and were not happy that there really wasn’t an attempt to assess the feasibility of across the board reductions in each and every Department. I alluded to my desire to see this in my last post, when I said that I’m not comfortable putting all of the burden of “righting our ship” (i.e. getting us on firm financial footing) on the shoulders of taxpayers. The tax increase, which is entirely unavoidable, must be balanced with cuts. We proceeded to ask each Department for reduction scenarios at a 1% through 5% level. Given the ongoing Union negotiations, layoffs and furloughs were not an option. We took what we gleaned from those reduction scenarios, analyzed all vacant positions, and utilized a freeze on a number of vacant positions to come up with an additional 2 cents of decrease. That will bring the tax rate increase down to 8.5 cents, if all goes well with the vote on these amendments Monday night. This final amount may end up increasing or decreasing based on how all of the budget amendments get voted on.

NOTE - there are many other items on the agenda. This is only a snapshot of things I think are of most interest to the public.

Previous Council Meeting (May 21, 2018)

At our previous Council Meeting we heard from a number of people coming to oppose the Mayor’s MX rezoning proposal. For those who don’t read The Capital, this is a proposal to change our downtown zoning around City Dock to the same MX zoning found on West Street. The push for this has to do with the hotel and re-envisioning that the Mayor sees for downtown. While this includes some admirable goals such as increasing greenspace and public amenities, it comes at the expense of having a large 5-story hotel and underground garage, which people don’t seem in favor of. None of us supported this proposal due to a number of reasons, for me personally I think it puts the cart (hotel & rezoning) before the horse (figuring out what we want to see done downtown), potentially opens up the door to development we don’t want to see downtown (convenient stores, fueling stations, fast food, etc), and was being introduced without the buy-in of the local Ward 1 Alderperson (Tierney). This measure failed after it didn’t get a second.

Other things we accomplished was to adopt the “Weather It Together: Cultural Resources Hazard Mitigation Plan”, which identifies vulnerable cultural and historic resources in the City and lists out steps we should take in the future to protect such resources. In the future, we will likely need to hire a dedicated Resilience Officer who will implement this report and help prepare us for sea level rise that is resulting from Climate Change. Note that this position was not funded or advocated for this year due to the proposed tax hike, but at some point we will need to revisit this.

I was proud to sponsor and vote in favor of R-18-18, “Equal Protection Task Force”, which has the purpose of establishing a temporary advisory task force that will study and prepare reports about the issues of foreign-born residents of the City.

Community happenings

Community Day Celebration - Frederick Douglass Bicentennial - July 1st 11-5 at 84 Franklin St.

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  • Rob Savidge