.99 latest magic number in Vernon
By Ben Rubin
VERNON - After voters narrowly rejected the town's 2006-07 proposed budget for a third time on Tuesday, the Town Council and mayor were left exasperated and deliberated the fiscal future of the town well into the night.
In the end, a little past 11 p.m. at the Vernon Senior Center, the council voted 7-5 to approve a 0.99 mill rate increase, or a $70.83 million budget, to allow the town to send out tax bills.
The voters turned down the $70.84 million budget, an increase of 1.04 mills or 2.91 percent, to 36.83 mills.
Voters rejected the budget by 108 votes, with 1,685 voting against and 1,577 voting for. Turnout for the budget referendum was 21 percent of the voting population, or 3,362, which was higher than the past two referendums.
The next referendum is Thursday, July 13.
Without the council vote to set the tax rate, the town would have had to dip further into its reserves to keep the town running. Town Finance Officer James M. Luddecke told the council that the town had enough money to float the town on reserves - totaling roughly $4.7 million - for about five weeks.
Mayor Ellen L. Marmer said, "We're in very serious trouble and I feel what the council did ... was very appropriate for the welfare and health and safety of our community."
She said a special emergency meeting will be held Monday, June 26, at 7 p.m. at the senior center to approve a temporary 90-day budget and again reopen the budget for further cuts.
Luddecke said the tax rate can't be changed after being set by the council. So unless the voters pass a budget that is exact to the approved mill rate, Town Hall will have to escrow the extra taxes and use the money towards the 2007-08 budget.
Because the town is already late in sending out tax bills because the budget hasn't been passed yet, Luddecke said the town stands to lose about $110,000 in interest income, and would've lost more if the mill rate wasn't approved Tuesday.
Before the vote, Marmer, continually raising her voice nearly to yelling, pressed the council to pass the mill rate for the good of the town.
"We all have to accept our responsibilities of leadership," she said. "Leadership is an action, not a position on this council."
One council member suggested the tax rate be reduced far more to ensure the budget passes. Marmer rebutted the council must consider what's fiscally prudent for the town, instead of only what voters will pass.
Still, there was enough reluctance over the vote to have five council members go against the measure, as the council weighed and debated the decision for nearly two hours.
Republican Councilman Brain R. Motola said before the vote, "So really, we're just rolling the dice here, to see what happens."
Democratic Councilman Bill Fox called the current budget scenario "dangerous" and "uncharted" territory.
James Hoover, president of the Vernon Taxpayers Association, said after the polls closed that he wanted to see a budget increase of only $1.2 million.
With the newest mill rate, he'll get very close to that figure.
"It's still too much. I have people calling me, instead of me calling people to get out and vote," Hoover said.
Still, Luddecke said that more cuts will be difficult to find since the town can't really cut into fixed costs for bond payments and utilities cost increases.
The previous referendum votes rejected a $71.94 million budget, and a $71.51 million budget.
©Journal Inquirer 2006