After a touch of yelling, a single public speaker and words of warning from anti-administration city councilmen, the City Council passed Mayor Anthony Russo's $53.4 million budget in a vote of 6-3 Wednesday. The 1999-2000 municipal budget, which establishes funding levels for municipal salaries, benefits, and other expenditures, promises taxpayers an 18 percent reduction in the municipal tax rate. "In all the years that I've been in public service, I can't remember when the last time there was such a big decrease in Hoboken's taxes," said Russo after the vote. "This is a continuation of what we have been doing since I was elected. We have been stabilizing and decreasing taxes, stabilizing and decreasing. This is just the biggest reduction to date." The majority of the City Council concurred with the mayor. Councilman Stephen Hudock credited Russo with putting the city's fiscal house in order. "Two years ago, everyone was cheering because there was no tax increase," Hudock said before the vote. "I think that the tax cut that we are getting now is thanks to the vision of this administration since it took over in 1993. I don't understand how there could be councilpeople who are unhappy with this when taxpayers are getting a tax cut." But Councilmen Tony Soares, David Roberts and Ruben Ramos Jr. faulted the mayor and his administration for presenting a budget that they believed could cause fiscal problems for the city in the long run. "My problem is with the lack of vision here," said Ramos, pointing out that a large percentage of the city's police budget depends on federal funding that will run out in the next few years. "What are we going to do then? We are flying by the seat of our pants every time the budget comes around." Soares echoed Ramos' sentiments. "We aren't putting anything away for a rainy day," said Soares after the meeting. "We spend every penny that comes through the door. We govern like kids who spend every last cent of their allowance without saving at all. We're doing this when other cities are putting money away during these good times. They have a surplus." But Russo said that there was no reason to hold onto a large surplus at this time. "We don't anticipate any future trouble," he said. Russo also noted that two years ago, as a private citizen, Soares had urged him to spend more of the city's surplus. "He has changed his tune on this in an effort to make me look bad," Russo said. "But if I had wanted to really play politics, I would have saved up a big surplus and given it to the citizens next year because it is an election year. But that's not right. We did it this year because I think that the citizens deserve every penny right now." Soares said that at the time, allies of his did want some of the city's surplus spent, but Soares didn't speak on it. "The problem is, at that time, we had less income," he said. "We didn't have the ratables we have now. We're spending more than two years ago." Hoping to take the wind out of the sails of critics who repeatedly say that spending has risen dramatically under his watch, the mayor came to the meeting with five minutes of prepared remarks designed to show that spending has actually gone down, once adjustments are made for inflation and municipal pay raises, since he took office in 1993. By using the Consumer Price Index, a common tool for calculating inflation adjustments, the mayor walked the Council through a series of computations which he claimed proved that the city was spending $1.4 million less today than it was seven years ago. In the caucus meeting that preceded the vote, Business Administrator George Crimmins assured the Council that next year's budget would not include a tax increase, although he did not go so far as to say that so-called "one shot" revenue items would not appear in future budgets. One shot revenue items have been targeted for elimination by administration critics who argue they are a gimmick that will leave recurring holes in the city budget that will be difficult to fill in future years. This year's budget included a one-time $3.75 million payment from the Parking Authority to the city, which officials say was owed to the city for some time. Other items that were not included in past year's budgets included a $600,000 reduction in the amount that the city expects to pay for health benefits and nearly $2 million in additional funds generated from an accelerated tax sale. Crimmins said that the reduction in benefits spending would not impact the quality of benefits that municipal employees receive and that the city would be able to benefit from an accelerated tax sale again next year. Long-time activist Phyllis Spinelli was the only city resident who took advantage of a public comment period to ask the council questions about the budget. Two weeks earlier, Spinelli had delivered five minutes of comments raising questions about the viability of the mayor's spending plan, but when she attempted to raise new questions at Wednesday night's meeting, she was told that this public comment period had a much narrower scope. Questions that she had about an auditing service provided by the state were not considered germane since they did not specifically relate to an amendment to the budget that the council was considering at the time. As Spinelli returned to her seat in the audience, City Councilman Tony Soares attempted to forward a motion asking the council to let the public comment on the entire budget - not just the amendment - but Council President Nellie Moyeno did not recognize his motion. City Clerk James Farina began to call the roll on the amendment to the budget while Soares began pushing his case by raising his voice and asking for "respect." Council President Nellie Moyeno yelled, "You will be treated with respect when you treat others with respect!" and indicated that Farina should continue with the vote. Later in the meeting, voices were raised once again after the mayor delivered his prepared remarks. Soares asked the council for an opportunity to respond to the mayor's statement before the council voted, but once again he was not recognized. "Public, notice this," he yelled out to the room as Moyeno tried to restore order.