By Benjamin Joe
Mayor Arthur Pappas of the City of North Tonawanda, delivered the 2020 budget to the City Council, two weeks after the official deadline of Oct. 1, and after being the recipient of a lawsuit for a 24-hour period of time, he said, because of that lateness.
Alderman-at-Large Austin Tylec released a document to the press in which he stated that the actions of the mayor “weakened and harmed the financial position of NT and its residents.” The release also referenced the 2019 budget, which, too, was released late.
“This is the first time I’m looking at the budget and I still have to go over it quite a bit,” Tylec said after a recent City Council meeting. “I do see some numbers that seem questionable in it. Next week, I think a lot of us will have a better understanding of it. … Because our (the council’s) budget is due on Nov. 15, any extra time we get to go over it, to actually see it, to discuss it with residents (is valuable). In theory, if we won’t be able to hear public comment for two weeks, we’ll have a shorter time to review it and then pass the budget. Like last year we only had 48 hours for the council to change it without public comment. That was unreasonable.”
Pappas addressed concerns raised in the release by asking residents not to blindly believe everything they see on social media. He said rather than believe something that seems unreasonable, to take advantage of his open-door policy.
“I’d like to thank everyone attending tonight and the council for the support and I look forward to you reviewing the budget and making suggestions or changes,” Pappas said. “I also want to point out that a lot of you sitting here are on social media, and some of you are not. … I would really ask you, when you are using Facebook or any of these social media networks, that you really scrutinize what you’re reading and what you’re seeing; and if you have questions, if something looks like, ‘Can this really be?’ or, ‘This sounds preposterous!’ or it might just leave a question in your mind, I would really appreciate it if you would take advantage of another way of communication and that is using the open door policy that I have had since I took this office.”
“My door’s always open, and if something does not seem right to you or it seems like it’s just utterly ridiculous, or if it’s just a sincere question, I really would appreciate it if you would come to City Hall, take advantage of the open-door policy. If I’m there, you’ll be seen,” he added.
One of the “preposterous” items Pappas was talking about was the rumor, also in the press release, that the taxes of the city may rise by 6%.
“It’s very easy to read something on social media and say, ‘Oh my god, the taxes are going up 6%! I don’t know how verifiable this is, but I’m scared.’ Call the mayor’s office,” said Eric Zadzilka, Common Council president and Third Ward Alderman. “Call the clerk’s office, call any of us if there is a question about a glaring possibility that there’s an issue that will hit us hard. … We will look at it; we’ll act on it; we will call in the department heads, as we did. This was very cooperative. We rolled up our sleeves. We just have to do what’s responsible to you the taxpayers, and do the best job possible.”
According to the press release, if the city had to bridge a budget gap of $1 million, something it did last year, there would not be enough money in the reserves to cover it. The city would be forced to raise taxes by 6%. However, the budget situation described in the “2020 Budget Message” was much brighter. Taxes are increasing, but by 1.59%, impacting a home assessed at $100,000 by about an additional $18 a year.
The budget also, according to the message, did not use any funds from the reserves.
“Just as costs have risen in each home, home budgets don’t stay the same. The city budget is no different. It is our job as elected officials to provide basic services in the most cost-efficient and cost-effective manner within our means,” Pappas read. “The money should be spent wisely for public safety and quality of life. Home values in North Tonawanda have grown, because we have kept the taxes in line and homes are selling very well. I believe this budget accomplishes our mission, even at the inflation rate of 2.87%”
“I thought it was ridiculous,” Pappas said after the meeting in regard to the litigation. “They didn’t even serve any papers. They dropped the lawsuit within 24 hours. It was dropped because it had no basis. What do you say? You’re looking for a better budget; you’re looking for something that’s passable. So, maybe waiting a week or two is worth it.
“Is it a good habit to get into? No; it’s never good to be late. But we were and, hopefully in the long run, it will be good.”