MACEDONIA: Two days away from the state-mandated deadline for submitting its annual budget, Macedonia City Council and the administration cannot agree on what that budget should be.
After reaching a stalemate at the council’s Thursday meeting, an emergency council session was scheduled for today.
A Sunday meeting may also be necessary, and even that may not get the job done as Mayor Don Kuchta is threatening a veto that he said could “shut the city down.”
“I use this word [veto] with hesitancy,” Kuchta said, “because it could turn into a catastrophic thing. I don’t want to veto. That’s not government working together.”
He said he asked his department heads to call council members and urge them to approve the administration’s budget to “avoid putting the city at risk.”
Biggest sticking point
There are a few issues under debate, but the biggest sticking point is whether the city should keep its out-of-house law director on retainer.
The city stopped having its own law department several years ago, and has since used the services of Cleveland law firm Joseph Diemert & Associates.
Kuchta is in favor of keeping the current arrangement, which pays Diemert a base retainer of $75,000, along with other costs. Two council members have supported that proposal.
However, three council members, including Finance Committee Chair Sylvia Hanneken, want to forgo the retainer and pay actual billable hours for any services provided.
Hanneken said Macedonia paid $265,000 for law services with Diermert & Associates last year, compared to about $150,000 spent by neighboring — and larger — Twinsburg.
“It’s like a black box,” she said of the retainer. “What are we buying? We want to increase accountability of what we’re paying for.”
Hanneken said there also seems to be some redundancy of legal fees. For example, she noted one lawsuit involving the city is being defended by the city’s insurance company, but Diemert has also been paid for work on that case.
The debate came to a head on Thursday when the council had the option to give a third and final reading to a budget that contained some compromises. Hanneken said even though the budget was going through the reading process, discussions were still ongoing and minor changes were being made.
But those minor changes turned into major proposals before Thursday’s vote. The proposals were so significant, the council was legally required to start the reading process over again.
By a 3-2 vote, the council agreed to give the new budget proposal — which eliminated the legal retainer — one reading on Thursday.
Second reading today
Today, the budget will get a second reading and the council will have the option of voting on whether to give it a final reading and immediate approval. It would take four votes to speed up the reading process.
If the council remains divided, a third reading will be scheduled for Sunday, Hanneken said. If council members retain their current positions, the council’s version of the budget would pass.
However, Kuchta would have the opportunity to veto the vote. If he does, the council would need four of its members voting to override his veto.
In the meantime, Macedonia would not have a legally approved budget in place when City Hall opens on Monday. It was unclear what that means for the city, but Kuchta suggested it would be hard to pay employees without a budget.
Kuchta said in an email to council members that he called Hannekin on Friday morning “in an attempt to keep the city from shutting down. My hopes are that a compromise can be reached.”
He said he also suggested the council pass the administration’s budget so that the city can continue to operate, then “adjustments can be made in the future, if necessary.”
Another philosophical difference between Kuchta and the majority of the council is how much of a carryover the city should keep.
The city ended 2013 with a $3.2 million carryover, but a temporary quarter-percent income tax increase expired on Jan. 1. The city will lose about $1.3 million in income, along with expected cuts in state funding.
Hanneken has proposed the city keep at least a $2.5 million buffer. Kuchta suggests $2 million would be enough.
Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/paulaschleis.