The levy, set for a little more than $37 million, met opposition from Mayor Rudy Garcia, who pointed out that the levy was set at the same tax rate as last quarter. Last quarter represented a large tax increase."Your last quarter bill will be the same for the next quarters," said Garcia, urging the commissioners not to vote for the levy. "That is not what we want. It is what Union City can not afford."
"Let's present a budget before we set a tax rate," added Garcia, receiving applause from the residents who filled the court chambers on the second floor of City Hall.
However, Fraguela explained that this levy is a prerequisite to getting state aid, one of the commissioners' five steps toward reducing the tax burden.
"I cannot unfortunately undo what was done," said Fraguela. "We are trying to introduce the budget on time. We are looking for state aid as a solution. We want to eliminate one-shot revenues."
The fiscal budget, which was introduced by the mayor 11 months late last year, relied on two one-shot revenue deals. One was the sale of Roosevelt Stadium to the Board of Education, and it did not pass. The other was the sale of the 27th Street depot station, but only $3.5 million of the amount was allowed to be included in the budget. Both deals had been expected to bring in $7 million.
Although Garcia was now in a position to blame the board majority for the tax increase, both Garcia and his commissioners agreed to stop placing blame.
"I do not want to continue pointing fingers," said Fraguela who said that this year's budget can be expected before December. "Now I want to try to resolve the problem."
The tax levy is the amount of money the city needs to collect from taxpayers to pay for the budget. The rate is the amount of money each taxpayer must pay per $1,000 of property he owns.
Against the levy
Garcia voted against the levy along with Commissioner Ray Lopez. Garcia said he thought the rate could have been set much lower.
Fraguela disagreed, saying, "We cannot predetermine certain things. If the tax rate was not set for that amount, there wouldn't be any funds to pay our bills. We have to make sure we have enough money to pay our debts."
Despite the objections to the levy, the motion carried with a vote of 3 to 2.
However, in the public portion, the residents also showed their objections to the new levy.
Griselle Martinez, a city resident, told the commissioners that the residents were not tolerating any more tax increases and asked if there were any plans of decreasing taxes.
Fraguela said that the taxes can still be reduced this year and spoke about his plans for reducing taxes. These include keeping the hiring and salary freezes, looking into new health care options with lower premiums, adding more revenue through increasing development, getting state aid and not having to pay late fees for an overdue budget.
However, after another resident suggested cutting each department's budget by five or ten percent, Garcia agreed, saying, "Why don't we pass a resolution right now saying every department will cut their budget by five percent instead of [the tax levy] we just passed."
Fraguela explained that without this tax levy, the city would not be able to get state aid.
While the taxes seem to be continually rising, the city did show an effort to cut spending. The board appointed Lisa Tuscano to take Joseph Suliga's place as the interim certified financial officer. Tuscano's contract was written for an annual salary of $5,000, a great decrease, according to Fraguela, from the $60,000 salary paid to Suliga.
Public Safety Commissioner Michael Leggiero also made a motion to decrease the salary range for the community relations aide in his department. The salary range was changed to a minimum of $25,000 and a maximum of $50,000, dropping $25,000 from the original range of $50,000 to $75,000.
In other news
The board opened their meeting by issuing a proclamation to Pedro Gomez for his hard work and dedication to the city. Gomez began his career in public service with Union City 26 years ago. Gomez worked as a building inspector, a welfare investigator and a fire inspector. When the city was in financial trouble, Gomez also supervised the inspection program without an additional salary increase.
The next Board of Commissioners meeting will be held Sept. 19.