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Letter: Mount Vernon Resident Voices Concern On Budget

MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. – The Daily Voice accepts signed, original letters to the editor. Letters may be emailed to mountvernon@dailyvoice.com.

To the Editor,

MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. – I am writing to express my overall disdain with this year’s budget process. More particularly, I am disappointed with the city’s government in its decision to produce a budget with a tax increase proposed at 6.7 percent. Although not perfect, I have greater concern with the potential of the city’s failure to pass a budget before the fiscal deadline of Dec. 31; as it enters an area of New York State General Municipal law that could result in complete government shutdown.

In an effort to reach out to the average citizen reading this letter, I shall explain clearly how the budget process works. Each year, by Nov. 19, the mayor shall present an “annual estimate” of next year’s revenues and expenditures to the Board of Estimate and Contract (composed of the mayor, the city’s comptroller, and the council president) for consideration. This estimate is produced by the city’s 18 departments along with representatives from the comptroller’s office for general considerations such as funding for the library, aid from the state and expenses related to union contracts, retirement and pension funds. Once the budget is presented to the Board of Estimate and Contract, the board has the opportunity to change it in almost any way it deems necessary and proper. Once the board approves the budget, it goes to the City Council to approve it overall and adopt it for the next fiscal cycle. Unlike the Board of Estimate, the City Council has no authority to increase line items in the budget or alter salaries, but it may cut expenses and positions within departments that are classified as “non-essential” under the city’s charter and NYS Civil Service Law.

Once the projected annual expenses are determined for the incoming fiscal cycle, local governments generally have a two-step income system to meet these expenses. The first is income received from fees, sales tax, grants and aid from outside sources, sales of real property and other sources of income due to general operations. Any shortfall in the budget is extracted from the public in the form of the property tax levy.

The budget process in and of itself appears to be fairly simple and straight forward. However, in my experience of watching closely the process during these last 5 years, unfortunately “budget time” seems to be a season-long political maneuver at the expense of the general public. No politician wants to go before the public during election time and admit that they “raised taxes” by way of a vote (or any other measure as prescribed by law), so they shirk the responsibility to their colleagues instead of working together to achieve the best outcome. I could list myriad examples of this political maneuvering, but I will refrain from doing so to preserve the main points of this letter.

Despite the challenges from composing this budget, it now falls to the council to amend and pass the budget before them.

Unfortunately, the city charter and NYS General Municipal Law provide a framework for budget negotiations to end; that is – Dec. 31, or namely the end of this year’s fiscal cycle. Whereas in other municipalities there is “contingency legislation” to provide details on how to continue with operations without having a budget in place, Mount Vernon’s Charter does not possess such language. NYS General Municipal Law requires that no expenditures can occur without a legally approved annual estimate in place. Strict interpretation of the law will suggest that if the City Council can not approve a budget by the end of the year, the government must shut down.

Consider the immediate impact of a government shutdown: no police patrolling the streets, no firemen on call, no public works employees to remove our sanitation and clean our streets. In this nation of capitalism, no one is forced to work for free, and this city needs services.

Additionally, having no budget in place questions the financial stability of the city, and perhaps could lower our bond rating, decreasing our capability to acquire bonds or increase the amount of debt service in the future. Both the immediate and future impact of failing to pass a budget is unconscionable and incomprehensible.

In conclusion, we can all agree that the budget isn’t perfect. There are many ways to make it better and produce a more reasonable tax increase for the general public. But these are discussions that should have been made before four days to the end of the year. I urge this City Council to make the best of a bad situation, amend and pass the budget. I maintain that any other course at this juncture would be irresponsible.

Regards,

John L. Boykin II

Mount Vernon resident

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