Berlin Council Overrides Mayor’s Budget Veto; 5-0 Vote Ratifies Spending Plan, Including Raises

Berlin Council Overrides Mayor’s Budget Veto; 5-0 Vote Ratifies Spending Plan, Including Raises
For the first time since the pandemic, members of the Berlin Town Council are now seated together on the dais. Pictured, from left, are Councilmen Jack Orris, Jay Knerr and Dean Burrell, Mayor Zack Tyndall, Council members Troy Purnell and Shaneka Nichols and Town Administrator Jeff Fleetwood. Photo by Charlene Sharpe

BERLIN – The Berlin Town Council voted unanimously to overturn Mayor Zack Tyndall’s budget veto.

The council voted 5-0 Monday to overturn Tyndall’s May 28 veto of the amended budget the council adopted last month. The amended budget includes items Tyndall had cut, such as a 1.5% employee cost of living increase and funding for cell phone and vehicle allowances.

“I do believe the budget that the mayor presented will ultimately impact services to our citizens,” Councilman Dean Burrell said.

When Tyndall presented a budget for adoption last month, the council voted

unanimously to amend the mayor’s proposed spending plan to include a 1.5% raise for employees, to reinstate cell phone allowances and to work vehicle allowances currently provided to three employees into their salaries. Tyndall vetoed the amended budget May 28, advocating for items the council had eliminated to fund the employee-related changes. He also pointed out that the council’s changes would reduce expected contingency funds from $125,000 to about $49,000.

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Citizens had the chance to comment on the veto, and the possibility of a council override, on Monday. Resident Marie Velong said she supported the veto and questioned why the council had eliminated laptops for the mayor’s office.

“It just looks kind of vindictive,” she said.

Councilman Jay Knerr said the issue wasn’t providing laptops, it was providing the mayor with access to the town’s financial software.

“A link was provided to the mayor to do that,” he said. “He has even told me personally he has two laptops, he’d prefer not to have a third laptop.”

Tyndall said he logged in using a VPN, which had complications.

“The text can’t format properly,” he said. “If the council can’t bring themselves to provide a laptop, it is something I would still be able to do my duties as mayor. It’s going to be more of a headache, but it is doable.”

Velong also questioned the council’s elimination of a GIS device for the town’s utilities but Knerr said it could be purchased through grant funding.

Tyndall said the council was referring to the roughly $4 million the town is expected to get through the American Rescue Plan Act.

“We should be getting the $4 million,” he said. “How it will be broken out I don’t know. Everybody’s also advising that we should not be planning our budget based off what we think we’re going to receive.”

Knerr said he believed there were different ways to accomplish some of what the mayor had proposed, such as through pursuing grants.

“Zack has his way and I’m saying we can look at other options,” Knerr said. “We haven’t even begun to discuss these things as a council.”

Velong asked when that would occur.

“It hasn’t happened through this entire budget process,” Knerr said.

Velong also questioned the vehicle allowance funding that the council wanted to return to the budget. Councilwoman Shaneka Nichols was quick to defend the decision. She said the town’s employee handbook said town department heads were supposed to have vehicles and not all of them did.

“These three individuals don’t have the vehicle portion,” she said. “So this was part of their benefit package during time of hire or time of tenure. So to pull that back right now is like saying ‘I’m coming to your checkbook and I’m taking this money back.’ That’s what I don’t agree with.”

Tyndall pointed out that those employees could still access a town vehicle if needed.

Nichols replied that the mayor and town council could do the same.

“However that’s not what that line item says in the handbook,” she said. “If this were a new hire I’d say let’s question this. But these folks are not new hires. I don’t think that it is right to dig into someone’s purse and pull their monies out.”

Velong said she hoped Nichols cared that much about the taxpayers.

“I truly do because I ma’am am a taxpayer, as is my husband, my daughter, my grandparents,” Nichols replied.

Though Velong questioned the council’s concern with the budget development process, pointing out that she thought it was the same as it had been last year, Burrell said that was not the case.

“This budget process may have appeared to be the same as years past, but those discussions you are referring to, the council did not have those with the mayor,” Burrell said. “We were presented a budget and there was no negotiation, there was no discussion. We were presented a budget that said to us ‘this is what I want and this is what it’s got to be.’ Even coming down to vetoing our recommendations. There was no discussion in this budget.”

He said the prior mayor was receptive to council input.

“The current mayor is not that receptive,” Burrell said. “I talked to the current mayor by way of telephone for a half hour. I felt encouraged after that conversation, I felt encouraged that we were going to be on the right track. But I come to the meeting and find nothing had changed. No recommendation that the council has made has even been considered. I think that’s appalling.”

When he added that he thought what Tyndall had proposed would impact services, Nichols echoed his concern and said employees could leave.

“Many of these people do not feel appreciated right now as employees,” she said, adding that she’d received letters from some.

Burrell said the town’s workers hadn’t had any pay increase the past two years.

“They’re not the only ones,” Velong said.

Nichols said that didn’t make it right.

“I don’t want to pay extra but at the same time I do want to adequately compensate the workforce we have,” she said.

Burrell said he realized that the decisions he made as a councilman weren’t always popular.

“I was elected to do the best I can do for the citizens of Berlin…,” he said. My votes may not have all been looked upon as positive or in the right vein but when I cast a vote my motivation is what I think, what I understand, is best for the citizens of the Town of Berlin. I will continue to do that as long as I am allowed.”

Tyndall, going back to Burrell’s criticism of the budget process, said he’d shared more information with the council than previous administrations had. He said his budget also didn’t cut any service except single-stream recycling.

Tyndall added that following the council’s comments this spring about wanting more involvement in the budget process, he’d begun having monthly meetings with each elected official.

“My admin continues to reach out every month and you do not come, you don’t even set up a time,” he said to Burrell.

Burrell said that was because he didn’t want to have “side conversations” and have his words misrepresented.

“But you just said he wasn’t reaching out to you,” Velong said.

“What I said was we had meetings and we were not heard,” Burrell replied. “So why would I continue to have side conversations?”

Velong said all that she was getting out of the budget process was the fact that elected officials weren’t working well with each other.

“We are all in this together,” she said. “You are supposed to listen to me. You are supposed to listen to each other. Not having these infighting things and that’s what it seems like. That’s all I hear out of this—that you guys can’t work together.”

Knerr said the council was working together just fine.

“Yeah behind his back,” Velong said, adding that it appeared as if the council had been meeting without the mayor.

Members of the council said there had been no meetings.

“I don’t know what’s going on but it’s really frustrating to listen to and I’m sorry I voted for a lot of you,” Velong said. “I hope you stick with mayor’s budget but I know you won’t…it’s kind of pointless to express our opinions because unless they’re in line with yours it’s not worth anything.”

Three other residents, Carol Rose, Sara Hambury and Ernest Gerardi, each asked the council to support municipal employees in the budget.

“I’m here because our employees are the town’s largest asset and we are very fortunate to have every one of them,” Rose said. “I support the council. You’re doing your job that you were elected to do and I think the mayor needs to realize that the leadership begins when you all work together.”

Knerr’s motion to override Tyndall’s budget veto passed unanimously. Burrell thanked the residents for providing input.

“Having that behind us now, we will be able to address more of your concerns going forward,” he said.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.