Council approves city budget, but not without rancor

By Josh Resnek

The city council Monday evening approved the 2019 city budget – a budget that provides for $196.4 million in expenses.

The budget was not approved without considerable debate and some guffawing by the mayor, who was disappointed anyone would try to cut his office budget.

Bottom line, taxes will increase 11.5% for homeowners and commercial property holders.

Not discussed for a moment at this crucial budget hearing are the advantages of the city’s real estate values rising higher and higher – which takes some of the bite out of the expected tax rate increase.

Higher real estate values, in the end, don’t hurt property owners although paying higher taxes for their properties cuts into their pocketbooks.

If the obverse was true – that is – if property values were in a steep decline and taxes were reduced, property owners would be outraged that their properties have a lesser value.

The tax adjustment 11.5% upward is one of those complicated situations which does not allow the mayor or the council to win with voters.

For the middle class, the working class and the working poor, the vast majority of Everett’s population, higher taxes means higher rental costs.

Rising property values also acts as an inhibitor to home ownership for the middle-class and working class residents of the city.

Councilor Mike McLaughlin caused an uproar when he asked whether or not the city could survive without the $12.5 million payment from Wynn Resorts.

Such a question is inconsistent with the mayor’s public statements and that of his CFO Eric Demas that the city is flush with money and the bond rating represents the city’s financial stability.

“Would the budget be short if we did not get this $12.5 million?” asked McLaughlin.
“It would not be short without this money,” Demas answered in so many words.

It would not be short because the city would then have raised taxes 25% to make up for the $12.5 million that didn’t come in – if such a scenario had occurred.

Councilor Fred Capone caused an uproar from the mayor when he suggested that the mayor’s new department headed by Dr. Omar Easy be cut from the budget.

Easy is the department head overseeing all others department heads, or at least that is the purpose of his position.

Commenting on that suggestion, the mayor reiterated to the council that there was a gentlemen’s agreement between the council and the mayor that his budget would not be cut.

“You won’t touch the school budget, but you’re going to cut my budget?” The mayor said with disdain.

He described Dr. Easy as “giving back so much to the city.”

Easy is paid $120,000 a year in his new mayor’s office position. He also has a secretary with a special title and extra money. His secretary worked with Easy in the schools and was brought over to the mayor’s office. Her salary is estimated at $50,000.

Capone was looking for about $200,000 in savings. The mayor said he was “appalled.”

Last year, the school department received millions of dollars in supplemental appropriations from the city council – but not because the school department overspent its budget, rather, because its budget was chronically underfunded requiring emergency measures.

There has been no outcry from the voting public about Superintendent Fred Foresteire’s leadership of the school department; only the belief widely held, that if the mayor did as good a job of running the city as Foresteire, Everett would be a far different place than it is today.

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