The City Council, as expected Monday night, approved a $598 million budget that includes a reduction in the tax rate by 10.5 mils, money for 60 new cops and $2 million extra for schools, plus another $535,000 to upgrade its transportation system. Mayor Joe Ganim announced he will sign the spending plan without a veto for the fiscal year starting July 1.
The council dropped the tax rate from 54 to 43.45 mils.
The majority of homeowners in Black Rock, Brooklawn and the North End are expected to see a reduction or flattening of taxes, a reversal in fortune from five years ago, the last revaluation of taxable property required by state law.
Condo units and multi-family dwellings could be outliers in some neighborhoods based on the respective assessments.
Budget co-chair Ernie Newton, who represents the East End, emphasized increased property values among his constituency is a long time coming buoyed by renovations, purchase interest and renewed development along the Stratford Avenue corridor. If they pay more it’s because their investment is worth more, he said.
A positive sign for high-taxed Black Rock: both of its representatives Scott Burns (co-chair) and certified public accountant Matthew McCarthy, who sit on the budget committee, voted for the spending plan that will benefit homeowners. Phew! They have a loud constituency.
Upper East Side Councilwoman Maria Pereira asserted the tax rate could have been slashed by another three mils citing her concern for assessment increases impacting parts of her constituency.
Newton dropped in a no-so-subtle jab at Pereira maintaining some people here complain about high taxes when they don’t pay any.
The final vote was 14-6 with Pereira, Samia Suliman, Michelle Lyons, AmyMarie Vizzo-Paniccia, Alfredo Castillo and Michael DeFilippo voting no.
Why the no votes?
North Enders Lyons and Vizzo-Paniccia have a history of voting no on budget matters parsing small numbers. If you don’t include this job, or strike that one out, I’m out. It’s what they do. To them little things mean a lot to them.
DeFilippo has engaged in a unique embrace of Pereira’s establishment counterculture thinking it will help his political future, except he’s the Pereira no vote without the Pereira persona. She puts the work in to craft opposition arguments while he drops in verbal bombs, followed by (how will Maria vote?) me too.
Castillo has become something of a council pariah after members rejected his ploy to wire a public takeover of the private University of Bridgeport on behalf of a non-profit board he sits on, Bridgeport Labs.
Sulking is the descriptive word they cite of late, reflected in his recent no votes against colleagues he had voted with.
After business was completed, in a final parry Council President Aidee Nieves launched into a blistering condemnation of council members who she said contributed nothing to the budget process then turned the final vote into a “mockery,” remarks clearly directed at DeFilippo and Castillo.
“This meeting is disgusting,” she railed to close out the Zoom conference praising her hard-working colleagues while castigating verbal disruptions with Pereira on her mind, but not by name.
Ganim’s perfunctory about chairing the meetings, often apologizing for slippage on parliamentary procedure, citing the technological challenges of the Zoom platform. Somewhere in there twists a wry smile.
When Pereira speaks voluminously Ganim says mockingly, “Maria, can I run the meeting?” Then there’s the option to shut off her microphone. Pereira does not command City Council meetings as she did in the closed quarters of the nine-member Board of Education. Difficult among 19 other colleagues and when the mic can be silenced.
This is an election year for City Council members with opportunities for opponents to spin the no votes as a vote against a tax cut, depending on areas influenced by the revaluation. This could play well in the North End, for instance, where three of the four council representatives voted against reducing the tax rate by 10.5 mils. Now the flip side to that is we wanted to cut it more.
That argument won’t play as well against Pereira who will systematically scour constituent tax bills to craft arguments for and against the budget. For instance, Pereira did not vote against the revenue increases of the budget committee that had to be approved in a separate vote by the full council. She’s skilled at the nuances of campaigning and dedicates full time to the task while others don’t have that luxury.