About 20 members of the Republican Town Committee unanimously voted Tuesday to recommend opposing for the 2013 fiscal year as well as the tax rate at .
The Sept. 18 ballot will determine whether to uphold the $42,323,256 budget approved by the City Council on June 19 or return it to the council to craft a new budget proposal. The referendum also challenges the mill rate approved under the budget, which increases the tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value 7.5 percent from 25.31 to 27.22.
Bill Vogel, chairman of the RTC, said he thought the budget figures were “shaky” and that acceptance of the tax increase this year could lead to another increase in the 2014 fiscal year.
“Anything more than five percent, it's just out of bounds to ask people to go for that,” he said.
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Councilor Adam Sprecace was among the councilors in favor of the budget, but said Tuesday that he favored rejecting the budget at referendum due to subsequent concerns on the budget information. Sprecace said he had not received sufficient information on the budget items such as longevity funds and pension contributions for each municipal employee. He said he does not consider that the information available to councilors provides an adequate baseline for managing the budget at this point.
“There’s no way to verify that the money that’s being requested in the budget that’s on the website is required,” said Sprecace.
Avner Gregory, who owns rental properties in the city, said he and other landlords have had to reduce rents in order to attract tenants. He said he did not think landlords will be able to absorb the tax increase without driving people away through higher rents or reducing the money spent on property upkeep.
“There’s not room to do it. The landlords have to eat it,” he said.
Vogel suggested that the city can look at overspending in overtime payments, saying agreements with the and should help to reduce those expenditures. He also said he considered some municipal salaries to be exorbitant.
In a separate motion, the RTC unanimously agreed to call for a forensic audit of city finances for the past five years. Dr. George Sprecace said several questions have been raised regarding budget management in this period and that an audit would give a better understanding in this area.
Rob Pero, a former city councilor and the Republican mayoral candidate in last year’s election, criticized Finance Director Jeff Smith. Pero said he considers the finance director responsible for oversight of each department’s spending and accused Smith of having a “carefree attitude.”
“You had five employees that were added to a budget that, when it was developed, those jobs weren’t there,” he said.
The and have each voted in favor of supporting the budget and tax rate.