The special called meeting that was scheduled for Thursday to address the vetoes has been cancelled due to a section in the charter that states vetoes must be taken up by the City Council at the next regularly scheduled meeting, which will take place on Tuesday, May 3, at 6 p.m. in the Holt-Bishop Justice Center on Main Street. It would take four votes to override the mayor’s vetoes, which will be addressed on the agenda as separate items.
As opposed to past years, when the mayor vetoed specific line items in the budget he didn’t feel were necessary expenditures, Collins chose this year to veto $525,000 in approved revenues and leave it in the hands of the city manager, council and department managers to decide what expenditures need to be cut to balance the budget — if the veto isn’t overridden.
“I’ve reached out to some of the council members and I don’t feel very confident that the veto will stand, but I would encourage the constituents to call the council members if they agree with what I’ve done,” the mayor said. “Regardless of whether the veto stands or if it’s overridden, I feel like I did what’s best for the financial security of the city of Villa Rica.”
Councilman Rusty Dean believes the mayor’s actions are undercutting the effort made by not only the City Council, but the city manager and department heads as well.
“It appears it’s more about the headlines than doing what’s right for the city of Villa Rica,” he said. “The council, who spent a good bit of time working on and studying the budget, voted unanimously to approve it.”
Due to past experience and comments made by the mayor after the budget was approved last Tuesday, Councilman Woody Holland wasn’t surprised the budget was vetoed.
“I fully expected the veto of all or part of the budget by the mayor,” he said. “This has become an annual event to fine-tune our budget to where it makes sense to the majority of the council. I fully expect we’ll have a vote on the issue and then if the vote turns out 5-0 like it did last time the veto will be overridden on both the budget and the sewer rate.”
Though not surprised by the veto itself, Councilman Verland Best joined City Manager Larry Wood and others on the council in voicing his disappointment the mayor chose to veto the revenue projections in the budget without specific direction on cuts to make up for the lost revenues.
“The biggest concern I have about the veto is the fact that there is no specific details on what to do and how,” Best said. “If he doesn’t like something we ought to talk about it. I don’t think there’s anybody on the council who wants to spend money in a foolish way. Due to the economy, everybody wants what’s right for the city and I think that’s what we’re all doing.”
Based on his comments for the past two months, Collins said there is no reason anyone should be shocked by his veto.
“The revenue projection was off last year by about $500,000 and given the state of the local economy, the national economy and the global economy, I don’t think things in Villa Rica are going to improve anytime soon,” he said.
Even though there were specific items in the budget he would have like to have seen cut, Collins said he chose to veto the overall revenues and leave the individual cuts up to the city manager and department heads, due to past criticisms he’s received on his veto tactics.
“I have been criticized in the past by some of our council members for a term that bureaucrats have coined called ‘micromanaging,’” he said. “I call it managing; I call it doing a job. But, to appease those individuals, I chose to veto the revenues and step back and allow people to do their jobs. I don’t ever want to be guilty of interfering with employees doing their jobs.”
Until a vote is taken on the vetoed budget, the city is operating on last fiscal year’s general fund budget. In case the veto stands, Wood has given the department heads reduction targets to shoot for when making their cuts to equal the mayor’s reduced revenues.
“I’ve told the department heads that until the vote on the veto I want them to operate on last year’s budget, but I want them to minimize their expenditures and not spend money on anything they don’t need right now,” Wood said.
In regards to the mayor’s veto of the increased sewer rates, both Dean and Holland pointed out that the mayor was part of the unanimous vote of the Public Facilities Authority to fund the bond payments through increased sewer rates if new construction failed to do so.
“The Public Facilities Authority, of which the mayor is a member, voted to agree to certain terms of the bond issue and one of the terms was if we did not have growth to support the payment back we would raise rates a certain amount,” Holland said. “We all voted for that, so to me it is a legal, binding document that we have no choice but to go by. To change our minds at this point, if not suspect, it could be illegal.”
Collins acknowledges he voted to borrow the funds to build the new plant, but believes the finance companies that hold the city’s bonds don’t care how they’re paid back as long as they get their money. Rather than continue to annually increase sewer rates, his proposal is to pay back the borrowed funds by setting up a specific line item in the general fund budget that is funded through a combination of reserve transfers from the utility fund subsidized by annual revenues of the general fund.
“I would absolutely say no to just raising the sewer rate,” he said. “Yes, I was one of the members of the Public Facilities Authority who decided to move forward with financing that project and I voted that we would pay back that bond payment, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if we raise rates or if we use general fund money or reserves or however we want to pay that money back, that finance company will accept that payment. All I’m saying is with the general fund and the utility fund combined we have about $13 million annually and if we can’t pay our debts and provide our citizens services for that amount, then we need to burn the charter and lock the doors at City Hall.”
Dean believes it’s fundamentally wrong to put the burden of the new sewer plant on the backs of taxpayers instead of just on those who are using the sewer.
“If the mayor is wanting us to go to paying for the water treatment plant out of the general fund that means that burden will be put on the taxpayers’ back, whether they have sewer going to their home or not, whether they’re big users or not, which is not fair and equitable,” he said.
Collins countered by stating that there are many residents in the city who pay taxes who never use the offerings of the Recreation Department or who have never had to call for police assistance, yet their tax dollars are going to pay for those services used by others.
When contacted Friday about the mayor’s vetoes, Councilman Patrick Henrickson elected not to comment. Councilwoman Shirley Marchman was out of town and could not be reached.