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Aldermen balk at mayor's budget proposal

Aldermen refused Tuesday to send Mayor David J. Carucci's draft 2006-07 budget out of the City Operations Committee.

Last Wednesday, Carucci handed aldermen the $14.5 million preliminary budget and told them he intends to reduce the numbers. He invited them to attend a series of negotiation sessions with department heads today, Thursday and Friday.

The plan carries a 37.8 percent increase in the tax rate and it has brought opposition from taxpayers and aldermen.

"I don't think many of us want this particular budget," said Committee Chairman John Padlo, D-Ward 7, after Council President Ray Wangelin, R-Ward 3, insisted on taking the vote as a way to provide some direction to Carucci to rework the proposal.

Carucci refused to withdraw the legislation and it was declared defeated when none of the aldermen seconded Wangelin's motion or spoke up as a sponsor.

In another matter, the committee voted 4-1 to move forward with a proposal to hike sewer rates eight percent, from $2.62 per 100 cubic feet to $2.93 per 100 cubic feet. The increase will be the subject of a public hearing if the measure is adopted by the Common Council next Tuesday.

Several aldermen expressed strong misgivings. Alderman Glenn Van Dixon, R-Ward 1, said he understands why it is necessary but is reluctant to impose it at the same time the tax rate will increase.

Public Works Director Tom Windus explained that the hike should have taken effect in January and had been made a part of the 2005-06 budget, but when the time came to legislate the rate hike last September the Council refused to sponsor it.

"Now we're trying to recoup the monies that were taken from the general fund [to cover the sewer fund shortages over the past 15 months] -- I'm not making this up as I go," said Carucci.

Padlo pointed out that 36 percent of the property owners in the city are exempt from paying taxes into the general fund, while the remaining 64 percent carry the load. When the sewer and water funds run at a deficit, the general fund must meet those expenses and that cost is paid by only 64 percent of the population. None of the city's residents who are hooked up to the water and sewer taps are exempt from the fees, he added.

City Auditor Stephen J. Pachla told the aldermen that the water and sewer funds have a combined deficit totaling between $900,000 and $1 million, and the debt service has continued to increase as the city makes upgrades at the wastewater treatment plant and the water treatment plant.

"That is from years of not increasing the rates. It's just a cumulative effect for a number of years," he said.

Wangelin cast the only no vote on the rate hike.

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