WESTMINSTER — Two peculiar images emerged at the City Council's budget work session Thursday.
Amid a landscape of economic blight that has shackled government spending, here was a council discussing a major capital project, not massive budget slashing.
And if that weren't enough, the deliberation was taking place with the council and Mayor W. Benjamin Brown seated at the same table --a rare occurrence these days.
During the 2 1/2-hour meeting, the mayor and five-member council began hammering out a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1.
The 91-cent property tax rate should stay the same, though a "moderate increase" in water and sewer rates appears unavoidable, said Councilman William F. Haifley, Finance Committee chairman.
"It goes to show the city has been fiscally responsible in the past to put us in the position we're in," hesaid. "We didn't cut anything we definitely had to have."
The deliberations should produce about a $5.3 million package, up from the current year's $5.05 million plan, Haifley said.
The highlight of the draft budget is $1.3 million to begin work on a new city office building, which was a point of debate between the mayor and council. That money -- about half the cost of the project's first phase -- wouldpay for design and preliminary construction. The structure most likely would be built on land the city owns adjacent to City Hall.
Another feature of the proposed plan is a 4 percent cost-of-living pay increase for city employees, above their regular raises.
That's notto say the council didn't do some trimming. They axed $220,000 that would have gone to starting implementation of a computer mapping system.
"It's an excellent system, but it's also the Taj Mahal," Councilman Samuel Greenholtz said of the project, estimated to cost $2 million over 11 years.
Among other suggested cuts were $46,500 for three water pumps, $25,000 for Green Street bridge repairs, and some $16,000 in phone and computer equipment for the Police Department.
The council will present a formal draft budget at its regular meeting tomorrow night. A public hearing is scheduled for May 6. The council is expected to act on the plan May 13, which would leave the owner ofthe average $134,000 home paying $488 in city and $1,260 in county taxes.
Number-crunching aside, the meeting was noteworthy because Brown sat with the council. A quarrel with the council prompted Brown to storm out of last year's budget hearing. The mayor has taken a seat in the audience at council meetings since. True, the mayor has sat at the council table during sessions other than regular semi-monthly meetings. But Brown's sitting with the group made for an unusual image.
The meeting began cordially, but bickering broke out between Brown and the council over the best way to pay for new city offices.
Much of the project would be paid for with money the city has collected from impact fees on new development. Brown argued the city should borrow the money and spread the burden out over more than one generation of citizens.
"What we're asking is for today's taxpayers . .. to take the whole hit," the mayor said.
Greenholtz, Haifley andCouncil President Kenneth Hornberger countered that the city should pay for the building while it can, saying that interest payments of abond issue for the project could double the final cost.