Just one week earlier, Council approved amendments to Stoffa's budget that would cut his proposed 9.3% tax hike in half, primarily by removing $1 million in open space funding for environmentally sensitive land, as well as some cuts that Stoffa had proposed himself. But then Council, by a 5-4 vote, failed to approve the budget as amended.
When Council tried again on December 8, Controller Steve Barron recommended that they just dip into its fund balance, deriding Stoffa's financial plan as "the Chicken Little theory of budgeting," claiming that the fund balance comes in at 60 million no matter how gloomy a forecast is provided. "If you're going to raise taxes and do that, I wouldn't swallow it very well as a taxpayer," he advised.
Under questioning from Council member Bruce Gilbert, Barron conceded that the County's "net" fund balance is really only $20 million, but claimed that was more than enough to cover expenses. Gilbert disagreed, stating money has to be set aside "to protect the taxpayer." Council member Ron Angle was a little more blunt. "You can either believe a political nincompoop, or believe a professional," referring to Acting Fiscal Affairs Director Doran Hamann.
At the time that John Stoffa's budget was initially presented, Hamann had predicted a $10 million deficit without a 9.3% tax hike.
After hearing from Barron, Council reconsidered its amended budget. It adopted a Tom Dietrich amendment restoring $400,000 of the $1 million previously cut from open space funding, over the objections of Angle, Council President John Cusick and Barb Thierry. It also agreed to an amendment giving DA John Morganelli $25,000 to purchase a vehicle, over the objections of Thierry and Gilbert.
Amendments out of the way, Council then voted to approve the amended budget by a 6-3 vote, with Angle, Thierry and Gilbert opposed.
Under the County's Home Rule Charter, Council has no authority to increase the authorized expenditures to an amount greater than the total of estimated funds available. Although this budget would require a 4.6% tax hike, Council adopted a millage rate ordinance that keeps taxes the same as this year, which will force Stoffa to find the money needed in the fund balance.
Only Council VP Peg Ferraro voted against the proposed tax hike.
"If we believe Mr. Barron, we don't have to do anything," explained Angle, sarcastically. But Cusick stated Barron's comments swayed his vote.
Stoffa derided Council for "spending $3.6 million more without a source of income," warning that the County will face double digit tax increases for the next two years. Fiscal Affairs Director Hamann predicted "[i]t's going to be an interesting year, especially when we write out a check for $24.5 million," referring to a swaption payment due in October 2012. "I think that's when the reality will set in."
If Stoffa vetoes the millage rate ordinance, six members of Council can override it. "What good would it do?" Stoffa initially asked. But a few minutes later, he began considering the possibility. He has seven days in which to make a decision. If he vetoes, and Council fails to override by December 16, the Executive's original budget will be deemed adopted.