Petersburg’s borough assembly Tuesday night decided to wait on having a discussion on specific changes proposed for next year’s borough budget. A majority of the assembly wants more information on state funding before committing to additions or subtractions from the borough’s spending plan.
The assembly was scheduled for votes or a discussion on six budget changes for next year that came from the borough manager and staff. One was whether to fill a vacant police sergeant’s job, change that job or eliminate it. Another proposal was to add a new job in the fire department to help respond to ambulance calls. Also on the list – possible reductions to school funding and community services grants, adding merit increases for department heads, eliminating snow removal outside of the old city limits and investigating ways to improve the bottom line at the Mountain View Manor assisted living facility. Assembly member Jeff Meucci asked to have those topics on Tuesday’s agenda.
“Yeah if we don’t at least have a discussion, a public discussion on these sooner than later then I’m afraid we’re not going to have the discussion at all,” Meucci said.
Assembly member Bob Lynn proposed taking them off the agenda. He said he’d just be voting no on each item without more information.
“Right now we have no idea what our revenue stream is coming in, we won’t from the state,” Lynn said. “And as the budget director told us we have probably half a million dollars that is very high risk of losing. The budget discussion and that really frames in my mind what I’d willing to vote on in terms of cuts and/or reductions or additions.”
The assembly was meeting on the same night that Governor Mike Dunleavy was delivering his first state of the state address. Others on the assembly also wanted to wait until hearing more on what state spending would be cut as promised by the new governor.
The assembly in past years has held budgeting work sessions in April and May. A budget ordinance typically comes up for a final vote in June and the assembly can make suggested changes to that ordinance during that process.
Meucci made his case for having more of a discussion before that budget approval process. “I honestly think the community is looking for us for some direction,” Meucci said. “I mean if we’re going to sit up here and wait for the governor to tell us what we’re going to get without having our priorities straightened out, then there’s really no reason to talk about any of this stuff. We can just let it all go, if we get a balanced budget, that’ll be great and then we don’t have to worry about cuts or that kind of stuff. But I think the community expects us to kind of have a discussion when we’re all here.”
Meucci wants to avoid making those budget decisions when assembly members have left for fishing or other commitments. Some of the decisions have bigger ramifications as well. Eliminating the sergeant’s job in the police department, for instance, could mean an end to 24/7 police coverage. Still mayor Mark Jensen agreed with Lynn that the assembly didn’t have enough information.
“There’s talk about jail funding reductions and PERS (Public Employee Retirement System) liability increases to the municipalities and all of those are big money items for the borough and I feel I need a better sense of what kind of money we’re going to be getting before I could make a decision on any of these and then have to change them in April,” Jensen said.
Jeigh Stanton Gregor was the only assembly member joining Meucci to keep those topics on the agenda and they were removed by a 4-2 vote. Assembly member Taylor Norheim attended the meeting by phone but wasn’t on the line for that vote.