St. Marys Journal Argus
Nearly 48 hours after they first began deliberating the final approval of the town’s proposed 2014 budget, it took a 4-2 vote by members of St. Marys Town Council to pass what eventually translated into a 2.67 per cent increase in the amount to be paid by the average homeowner for the municipal portion of their taxes.
The proposed tax increase presented at a public meeting on March 20 was 1.85 per cent. But when the budget came around at a regularly-scheduled Council meeting on Tuesday, March 25 — at the conclusion of an agenda that was already heavy with other weighty issues — Mayor Steve Grose kicked off discussion by telling councillors he would like to see a five per cent increase. An hour later, following a number of unsuccessful attempts in open session to broker a compromise between the position of the mayor and those wishing to stick with the 1.85 per cent figure, Grose conceded to the suggestion of Councillor Don Van Galen — the man leading the charge against Grose’s pressure — that everyone should go home for the night and a new budget meeting scheduled.
That meeting came on Thursday, March 27 and, although it bore some similarities to the logjammed session two nights earlier — including a couple of attempted motions that went nowhere — there were also some significant differences.
The most significant difference, of course, was that a compromise was eventually reached. Indeed, it was a suggestion from Van Galen — one that, when it came down to a vote, he didn’t support — to take $100,000 from the Town’s 2012 surplus of $242,000 and devote it to reserves instead of using it all to bring down the tax rate — that won the day. In a recorded vote, with Councillor Stephen McCotter unable to attend the Thursday session due to a prior commitment, Grose was joined by Councillors Lynn Hainer, Carey Pope and Bill Osborne in approving the motion.
Van Galen and Tony Winter, both having firmly stated earlier in the Thursday meeting that they would not budge from the 1.85 per cent tax increase presented at the March 20 public meeting, voted against.
The other major difference between the Tuesday and Thursday meetings was that, on Thursday evening, councillors agreed to go “in camera” to address what could only be assumed to be a line-by-line examination of the proposed 2014 budget. This was something Van Galen hinted at during the Tuesday meeting, but he never brought forward a motion to that effect.
In open session on Tuesday, Van Galen did try to engage fellow councillors in a proposal to decrease the amount in the Public Library’s budget by $10,000. He tried the same thing in open session on Thursday, but again there was no support.
Councillors did, however, retreat behind closed doors for the early portion of Thursday’s budget deliberations. When they emerged, it was revealed that a majority had agreed to pare down the Town’s entire 2014 payroll by $60,000, in keeping with Van Galen’s repeated assertion on both Tuesday and Thursday that “there are departments in this town that still could operate more efficiently.”