OCEAN CITY – The fiscal year 2009 budget was approved on first reading last week in a 6-1 vote amongst the City Council, and as the second reading and ultimate passing of the budget approaches next week, Council member Margaret Pillas intends to remain opposed to the budget until some constraints are put in place.
Pillas announced last week at a regular session of the Mayor and City Council, and reinforced through statements this week, that she would like to see constraints put on the budget, encouraging the council to take a closer look at areas that could withstand cutbacks.
After voicing support for a two-cent decrease in the tax rate last week, Mayor Rick Meehan challenged Pillas to review the budget and find a viable way to do so. The proposed budget reduces the property tax rate to 39.5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. That’s down from 41 cents last year, but considerably higher than the constant yield rate of 35 cents, which would bring in the same amount of money as the revenue as the year before.
“We have got to start looking at the economy differently,” said Pillas this week, referring to an increasingly difficult economic time.
Pillas suggested the town tighten their belts, the way most people have been forced to recently in light of the economic downturn. Pillas outlined areas where the budget could take cuts this week, suggesting reductions in areas from take-home vehicles to the St. Louis Ave. design work.
Pillas suggested rescheduling projects such as the design of the St. Louis Ave. corridor and the Caroline Street Comfort Station in an effort to give taxpayers a break.
“I felt that rescheduling and programming them like the county does is a better way to go right now. When the taxpayers are asking you to pull back, you need to program,” said Pillas.
Pillas said that while she is a major supporter of the new comfort station, she could not back the funding of it during an economic downturn.
“I have really focused on the comfort stations and even though I have been promoting that, I am willing to say let’s reschedule that,” she said. “People are asking us to put constraints on spending so even though that’s something I want, I’ll put constraints.”
Projects such as the renovation of the old Coast Guard watchtower are projects that Pillas feels are not paramount and could be put on hold indefinitely as a way to save money.
“It’s not like it’s a destination. To spend that much money, I just can’t understand,” she said of the proposed project. “I would like to find the fat somewhere, I consider that tower fat.”
Pillas also suggested cutting back on take-home vehicles and traveling expenses. Pillas questioned the need to send numerous town employees to the hurricane conference, rather than sending a few who in turn come back and train others, ultimately saving on travel expenses.
The contract for vehicle washing services is another item Pillas would like to see removed from the budget this year.
‘That’s a quarter of a million dollar contract right there,” she said, suggesting that the town pull back, and wash their own cars for now.
The town approved the one-year trial run of the contract in January after learning that the town-constructed “bus wash” system was structurally failing.
“There are minor things and then there are major projects,” Pillas said of areas that could be examined more closely.
Pillas noted that while she understands that it is difficult to cut the budget drastically, there are still areas that could potentially take cuts.
“The front of the house is different than the back of the house,” she said, maintaining her support for tourism-related projects that aim to ultimately bring more visitors to town efficiently. “I have got to make sure tourism is as high as it can be.”
Pillas said that while she doesn’t anticipate her opposition to the budget to sway the minds of the rest of the council, she would continue to vote against an unconstrained budget.
“That’s my concern and the only way to help it is to raise my voice,” she said. “I’ve decided to vote to save money. I will vote against the budget again on Monday night and I’ll vote against it again next year and the year after that.”