Westminster Budget Might Include Taxpayers' Break

Mayor Hopes His Veto Is Heard And Heeded By Council Members

May 15, 1991|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — For the first time in his mayoral career, W. Benjamin Brown might see his veto stand.

The current City Council has approved the 1991-1992 budget that Brown opposed -- primarily because of $1.3 million included for City Hall expansion. However, the budget could be reworkedto include a tax cut since a new council was elected Monday night.

"I expect the citizens will get a tax cut," said Brown. "I would expect the new council to vote to lower the rate based on the election pledges they made."

The current council has overridden all of Brown's vetoes since he was elected two years ago. Monday night, new members Stephen R. Chapin Sr., Rebecca A. Orenstein and Kenneth A. Yowan replaced Councilmen Samuel V. Greenholtz and Mark S. Snyder.

Kenneth J. Hornberger, the current council president, did not run for re-election.

Since the mayor's powers are restricted to vetoing ordinances -- such as the one setting the tax rate -- Brown has no directpower over the budget itself, said John B. Walsh Jr., the city attorney.

The ordinance maintains the city tax rate at 91 cents per $100 of assessed value. A resident with a typical $134,000 home would pay $487.76 in city taxes.

"You can hardly enact a budget without a tax rate," said Brown, who formally vetoed the ordinance yesterday ina letter to the council.

Walsh said Brown had to register his veto with the council before its next meeting. The current council can overrule Brown's veto in a special session before new members are sworn in.

Hornberger said the current council will waive that right.

"The new council can deal with it," he said.

The newly formed council will meet for an organizational meeting Monday to form council committees, approve the mayor's appointments and elect a new president.

Members also expect to discuss the budget at that time.

"Monday's going to be a busy night," said Yowan. "I'm pretty certain we will discuss the budget."

Both Yowan and Orenstein said they plan to support Brown's veto and push for a tax cut.

"It's a good year to do it," Orenstein said. "A thank-you gift from the new council to the people."

Yowan said the exact amount of a cut is up for negotiation.

"I'm open to anyone else's opinion, but I could certainly justify a 12-cent decrease," he said. "I know the mayor is supporting a20- to 24-cent cut."

Chapin, however, said he needs to study the budget further to determine if a cut is feasible.

"I need to studythoroughly what the outcome of a cut would be," he said. "I haven't had the opportunity to do the research and prove it to myself."

The $5.3 million budget allocates $1.3 million for City Hall expansion,an item citizens and candidates spoke out against at the May 6 budget hearing.

Opponents said the council should wait for the results of a $35,000 space study by Cho, Wilks and Benn before setting aside money.

"Nobody has seen the feasibility study," said Chapin. "The new council is handicapped until we look at it, and I don't want to do anything until we thoroughly study it."

Current council members justified retaining the $1.3 million for City Hall expansion because they felt last week's telephone poll was not a mandate from the people, Councilman William F. Haifley said Monday night.

Only 70 citizens responded, he said, with 43 voting in favor of expansion and 27 against. Of those who approved expansion, 24 wished to pay for it out of available money and 19 preferred bonding the project.

"When looking at the answers as a whole, not only in favor but those against who chose to answer the question about financing, the results were almost dead even," Haifley said.

In total, 26 citizens chose pay-as-you-go financing, while 28 said they preferred bonding the project.

Newly elected members said they feel there is no reason to rush the project.

Although the tax rate ordinance must be approved by May 30, council members may rework the budget until it goes into effect July 1.

"We don't want to make errors with this," Yowan said. "We want to make sure we've reviewed everything carefully."

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