BERLIN – Those vying for town council seats in next month’s election criticized last year’s 18% tax increase and have promised to scrutinize Berlin’s future budgets.
Candidates for the District 2, 3 and at-large council seats were united in their commitment to being fiscal watchdogs in the wake of last year’s tax and rate increases.
“I understand the current administration is working on a quarterly report for the council,” District 2 candidate Jack Orris said. “Not only would I hope to see a monthly report, I’d like to review those reports and then find a way to get that information out to the public and the residents.”
As each of the town’s mayoral candidates indicated there was in fact no need for a tax increase this coming year — in spite of the fact that one was proposed in 2020 before being dropped due to COVID-19 — council candidates offered similar comments during an online town hall hosted by this newspaper on Tuesday.
“Given the current climate we’re kind of stunned with the COVID thing,” District 3 candidate Daniel Packey said. “I don’t think this is the time to put additional burdens on either people or businesses. I think that what we need to do is review the current budget and look for efficiency gains or cost cutting measures and do it that way.”
He added that the town should launch reviews of its equipment and contracts in addition to aggressively pursuing grants.
Fellow District 3 candidate Shaneka Nichols agreed.
“I think that visiting the current spending, visiting what we have going on right now, is the way to look at how to move forward with this,” she said. “I wouldn’t say that going into the next term that I would ask or that I would agree wholeheartedly with a tax increase. I think that we need to look at alternate ways of moving forward without taxing the town or the community first.”
Orris advocated for finding a way to give the public more insight on the town’s financials.
“I’d like to develop a mechanism that gives a snapshot of the budget throughout the budget year and then maybe through a newsletter or electronic means,” he said, adding that he didn’t think a tax increase was necessary.
At-large candidate Tony Weeg said he would not support raising taxes willy-nilly.
“Any 12-year-old system — I look at this as a 12-year-old system — has things that could become more efficient,” he said. “No slight to anything that the mayor’s done, you know there are questionable things all over the place, and that have sort of sacked our budget at this point—and our reserve policy, but we’ll get to that later—but the reality is that I don’t want to be in the business of covering any bad mistakes by a town and the council and the mayor by taxes on the people. That doesn’t make sense.”
Jay Knerr, also an at-large candidate, called for careful planning to avoid substantial tax increases like the one experienced by residents last year.
“It was that tax increase that prompted me to run for the at-large seat,” Knerr said. “It upset me so much in the way it was handled, it just should have never happened that way. We can always look at cost cutting measures within the various departments and apply them as necessary but more importantly, we need to have a five-year plan. Budgeting year to year is fine but for a town the size of Berlin we need to plan ahead, we need to think ahead and look at where we’re going to be in five years and how our money’s going to flow.”
Citizens will have the opportunity to vote for their choice of mayor and council representative in the municipal election on Oct. 6. As a result of COVID-19, absentee voting is encouraged and social distancing measures will be in place at polling locations. Voters at the polls will also have to wear face coverings.
To view the complete candidate town hall Zoom sessions hosted by The Dispatch, visit the paper’s website or social media pages.