Mayor Shayne Gallo is going, but he’s not going quietly. With just three weeks left in his term, the outgoing mayor has vetoed the 2016 budget approved by the Common Council and replaced it with his own spending plan — one his successor, Mayor-elect Steve Noble, says will make it nearly impossible carry out some basic functions of city government.
The veto comes one week after lawmakers voted 7-2 to approve a $40,808,282 2016 budget with a 3.8 percent property tax levy hike. Following their receipt of Gallo’s proposed budget in October, the council’s Finance Committee discussed and made changes to it in November.
The budget offered by the committee for the full council’s vote restored a series of cuts Gallo made in his original proposal. The cuts put back included major reductions in funding for the city’s Economic Development and Corporation Counsel offices and smaller pay cuts for some city officials, including the city clerk and director of the Parks & Recreation Department.
Critics had called the cuts vindictive and politically motivated, an effort to punish city employees Gallo deemed insufficiently loyal in his Democratic Party primary campaign against Steve Noble. Gallo defended the cuts as a means to give the Common Council some sway over Noble’s efforts to restructure city government. By raising fees for the Building & Safety Department and adjusting other revenue lines, the council reversed most of Gallo’s cuts, while trimming the overall tax levy by about $13,000.
In a memo announcing his Monday, Dec. 7 veto, Gallo called the council’s restoring og the cuts “inappropriate and misplaced.”
“For the council to restore funding to specific departmental and legislative branch personnel without considering the respective value of the positions’ functions, in the context of the overall city budget and impact on our city’s tax base, is not only unjustifiable but wreaks [sic] of putting politics before the public interest,” Gallo wrote. Without offering specifics, Gallo went on to claim that a “former mayor,” elected officials and Noble supporters had engaged in a “pattern of intimidation” against council members to influence their votes and offered positions to their family and friends.
Noble said this week Gallo’s proposed budget would slash important city services and make it more difficult for his administration to function. Cuts to the Corporation Counsel’s Office were especially galling, said Noble, since the city was in the midst of a series of legal actions initiated under the Gallo administration. Noble added that if Gallo’s veto stood, he would have to “redo” the entire budget in January by asking the council to move money between budget lines.
“I anticipated tweaking a few things would be necessary in January,” said Noble. “But not having to redo the entire city budget just to have a functioning government.”
Six votes needed to override
The mayor’s veto can be overridden with a six-vote supermajority of the nine-member council, which is set to meet Tuesday, Dec. 15 on the matter. But it’s unclear this week whether the override has sufficient votes on a council split between Gallo and Noble supporters. Two aldermen, Brian Seche (D-Ward 2) and Nina Dawson (D-Ward 4) already voted against the council’s amended budget and will likely do so again on Tuesday. Two others, Deborah Brown (R-Ward 9) and Maryann Mills voted for the council’s budget but have been reliable pro-Gallo votes in the past.
Common Council President James Noble (Steve Noble’s uncle) noted that the budget passed by the council was the result of a month-long effort that involved detailed examination of the spending plan and compromise on some key issues by the Finance Committee, chaired by Mills.
“I don’t see how she could vote against it,” said James Noble of the council’s budget. “It belongs to her as much as anyone.”
Pike Plan $cheme also vetoed
In a separate veto this week, Gallo rejected a move by the council to add maintenance charges for the Pike Plan canopy to the tax bills of property owners with buildings abutting the portico. The system of covered sidewalks has been plagued by leaks and other issues following a major restoration project which ended in 2011.
Gallo has called for legal action against the designers and buildings of the project but any lawsuit, however, is likely to be complicated by the fact that the city — under Gallo’s leadership — signed off on the finished work in 2012, legally affirming that all defects had been addressed and the project was complete.
Last month, Gallo said he planned to file the lawsuit before leaving office. In a memo explaining his veto of the tax bill, Gallo said that it’s unfair for the Pike Plan property owners to foot the bill for maintenance and repair of a poorly designed and constructed project. If the charges are not added to Pike Plan Property owners’ tax bills, the money will come from the city’s general fund.