Revised spending plan for Berlin earns mayor’s veto
By Greg Ellison
(June 3, 2021) Responding to a FY22 budget amendment introduced last Monday by Berlin Councilman Jay Knerr, Mayor Zack Tyndall on Friday vetoed the budget change and issued a multi-point explanation for his decision.
Tyndall said one of his concerns was the 1.5 percent salary increases in Knerr’s amendment.
Tyndall claimed boosting pay rates during FY22 could jeopardize the town’s finances, noting the 1.5 percent increase would total more than $103,000.
Tyndall said of that sum, about $69,000 would be drawn from the town’s general fund contingency, depleting that account to about to three days of operating expenses.
Conversely, Tyndall said a number of capital projects, including roadwork, were delayed for the FY22 budget to assure a sufficient contingency fund balance was maintained.
Another problem Tyndall noted with increasing salaries related to the town’s Sewer Fund, which is not anticipated to sell sufficient equivalent-dwelling units (EDUs) to account for debt service.
Tyndall said the Sewer Fund had been projected to close FY22 with a roughly $66,000 negative balance, with the proposed salary adjustments potentially pushing that number to more than $79,000.
In contrast to the proposed salary boost, Tyndall recommended increasing funding for healthcare to keep employees costs consistent.
Tyndall also questioned removing $27,500 earmarked for a feasibility study for a new community center facility on Flower Street.
Tyndall noted the current multipurpose building located on Flower Street has been neglected, while talks about building a new facility have continued for the last two decades.
Tyndall took exception with the continued conclusion that the building initiative could be delayed another year.
An updated feasibility study would strengthen Berlin’s position to win future grants from state and other sources, Tyndall argued.
The allotted $27,500 would be offset by advancing funds from the community center reserve fund.
Tyndall said the expenditure would not affect Berlin’s financial footing, but would function to leverage potential funding sources.
Tyndall also questioned the removal of $16,500 to finance development of a long-term strategic plan.
For almost four years Berlin has lacked financial and capital strategic plans, with the town’s fund balance shrinking from roughly $8 million in 2012 to about $16,000 when Tyndall was elected last October.
“It has never been more vital for our town to have a strategic plan to serve as a guiding document as we rebuild our town’s fund balance and determine the priority of capital investment,” Tyndall wrote.
The strategic plan endeavor would enable town staff and elected officials to plot present and pending expenditures.
To address aging infrastructure, Tyndall included purchasing a GIS locator, or mapping tool, in the FY22 budget.
In addition to assisting Berlin’s trio of water resources utility funds, the GIS locator would also be used for the electric utility fund, Tyndall said.
“Our town lacks an accurate understanding of its existing infrastructure,” Tyndall wrote.
Knerr’s proposal to cut $5,000 from the $20,000 set aside in the electric utility fund to finance costs for tree trimming also troubled Tyndall.
The landscaping work seeks to trim back limbs that have grown precariously close to Berlin’s main power line.
“Understanding the vulnerabilities of our area with hurricanes, nor’easters, and high winds, I knew this project was in critical need of funding,” Tyndall wrote.
Other points of contention Tyndall raised with the budget amendment included cell phone reimbursements, technology needs for the mayors’ office, along with vehicle replacements and allowances.
Tyndall concluded the response letter by noting elected officials agree on the vast majority of the 700-odd line items in the FY22 budget.
“I am confident that over the next couple of weeks, we can continue to have constructive dialogue about ways we can pass a financially responsible FY22 budget together,” he wrote.
While professing to assess budget matters analytically, Tyndall took exception to not being given a preview of Knerr’s budget amendment before the council meeting on May 24.
“For a body that has been so vocal about the need for increased communication, I would have appreciated the same respect you are requesting from me,” Tyndall wrote.