Al­len­town Coun­cil faces loom­ing bud­get dead­line

Mayor’s pro­posed 2019 plan could be­come law by de­fault next week.

The Morning Call - - LOCAL NEWS - By Emily Opilo

Al­len­town City Coun­cil will take one fi­nal crack at amend­ing the pro­posed 2019 bud­get next week — but the board may al­ready be too late to pass a re­vised spend­ing plan into law.

City Coun­cil has sched­uled a meet­ing for 6 p.m. Mon­day to dis­cuss the bud­get af­ter vot­ing down the mayor’s pro­posal Wed­nes­day. Dur­ing a con­tentious five-hour meet­ing ear­lier in the week, coun­cil mem­bers sparred over the pro­posed 1.5 mil tax in­crease in­cluded in Mayor Ray O’Con­nell’s spend­ing plan, but failed to pass any amend­ments low­er­ing that rate.

Al­len­town’s char­ter re­quires City Coun­cil to adopt a bud­get by Dec. 15. Oth­er­wise, the mayor’s pro­posed spend­ing plan be­comes law by de­fault.

But ac­cord­ing to a le­gal opin­ion is­sued Thurs­day by Al­len­town’s le­gal depart­ment, coun­cil may al­ready be too late if O’Con­nell chooses to dig in his heels.

If City Coun­cil does adopt an amended bud­get on Mon­day, O’Con­nell would have five cal­en­dar days to sign it, veto it or do noth­ing. Him do­ing noth­ing would al­low coun­cil’s amended bud­get to be­come law.

If the mayor chooses a veto, his tim­ing is im­por­tant. If coun­cil passes an amended bud­get Mon­day and the mayor ve­toes it Tues­day, coun­cil would have time to set a meet­ing for an override at­tempt. But O’Con­nell also could veto the plan a stroke be­fore mid­night on Dec. 15, thwart­ing any override at­tempt. In that case, O’Con­nell’s spend­ing plan would be­come law, ac­cord­ing to the so­lic­i­tor’s of­fice.

O’Con­nell said Thurs­day his de­ci­sion will be con­tin­gent upon how coun­cil’s amend­ments im­pact his over­all spend­ing plan.

“If they would re­ally cut into the ser­vices to the res­i­dents of the city of Al­len­town, I would have strong ob­jec­tions to that,” he said. “And if the amend­ments they would give me would in any way cause some­one to lose their po­si­tion or be laid off, I would have very strong ob­jec­tions to that.”

O’Con­nell’s $116 mil­lion spend­ing plan re­lies on $7.6 mil­lion in rev­enue from the tax in­crease. For a prop­erty with a build­ing as­sessed at $150,000 and with $20,000 in land value, the tax bill would in­crease from $903 to $1,139 — a 27 per­cent in­crease.

His pro­posal also calls for a 3-per­cent wage in­crease for all nonunion city em­ploy­ees and a one-year de­fer­ment on a loan pay­ment to the city’s solid waste fund. O’Con­nell’s plan would add two fire­fight­ers and four staffers to the in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy depart­ment.

An om­nibus amend­ment, backed by Coun­cil­men Julio Guridy, Daryl Hen­dricks and Ed Zu­cal, gained trac­tion Mon­day, but failed to muster a nec­es­sary fourth vote. That amend­ment called for a 10 per­cent cut to city over­time spend­ing, a 10 per­cent cut to con­tracted ser­vices, and the near elim­i­na­tion of fund­ing for a $300,000 af­ford­able hous­ing ini­tia­tive. The trio pro­posed giv­ing that money back to tax­pay­ers by re­duc­ing the pro­posed prop­erty tax in­crease to 1.25 mils.

When coun­cil voted on the bud­get Wed­nes­day, only three mem­bers cast af­fir­ma­tive bal­lots. The bud­get needed five votes to pass be­cause it pro­poses an in­crease in the prop­erty tax.

Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Roger MacLean, who voted against the bud­get but also against the om­nibus amend­ment, said he thinks coun­cil will be able to agree on some­thing Mon­day, but said he couldn’t speak to what the mayor might choose to do.

“Hope­fully we can come to some com­pro­mise,” he said. “We’ve got to try some­thing. I’m not a fan of the char­ter with the de­fault bud­get.”

Al­len­town last passed a de­fault bud­get for the year 2010 af­ter coun­cil and the con­troller ques­tioned whether then-Mayor Ed Pawlowski’s rev­enue pro­jec­tions were in­flated. The board voted down the bud­get 4-3, but sched­uled no spe­cial meet­ing to re­con­sider the plan.

[email protected] Twit­ter @emi­ly­opilo 610-820-6522

APRIL GAMIZ/ MORN­ING CALL FILE PHOTO

Al­len­town Mayor Ray O’Con­nell’s pro­posed $116 mil­lion bud­get re­lies on $7.6 mil­lion in rev­enue from a tax in­crease.

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