Knerr adds, cuts and moves money with full support of Town Council
By Greg Ellison
(May 27, 2021) Despite a pledge from Mayor Zack Tyndall to veto the measure, the Berlin Town Council on Monday unanimously approved a host of budget adjustments proposed by Councilman Jay Knerr.
Following a public hearing for the FY22 budget, Knerr offered an amendment package to alter numerous line items, and financed his proposed changes with the town’s contingency fund.
“I have a couple of questions if you don’t mind,” Tyndall said. “This is the first time I’m seeing this.”
Tyndall said the revisions would cut money allocated for a feasibility study to build a community center on Flower Street.
“You’re saying do away with the $27,500 for the community center feasibility study and community planning,” he said.
Knerr countered that although he supports building a center, he believed that investing in a feasibility study is premature at this point.
“We need to put that on hold for this year,” he said.
Tyndall also questioned the inclusion of a small raise for staff.
“In an effort to restore that, and making sure we don’t put any of our employees’ jobs at risk during a time of economic uncertainty, I suggest that we do not do raises in FY22,” Tyndall objected.
Knerr said the pay increase is a meager 1.5 percent.
“They haven’t had a raise in two years,” he said. “It doesn’t even cover the cost-of-living adjustments.”
Besides being warranted after pay rates were left untouched for the past few years, Knerr argued the move would also help with employee retention.
“Jobs are readily available and we need to do to anything we can to retain our employees,” he said.
Tyndall said his position is to avoid cutting or furloughing positions should some unforeseen financial problem occur.
Knerr also proposed reinstating a vehicle allowance for staff, which had been cut from earlier budget drafts.
“That amount should be rolled into the salaries of people that have been receiving it for years now,” he said.
Other alterations Knerr suggested included dropping funding for strategic planning, deeming the cost unnecessary this year.
Other budget trims Knerr recommended included cutting $30,000 earmarked to purchase a GIS locator, or Trimble unit.
Tyndall said the cost was evenly spread across four enterprise funds.
“It’s designed to understand the infrastructure the town has and to better understand the improvements that need to be made,” he said. “We have a lot of aging infrastructure [and] sewer lines that haven’t been replaced and are far past their lifespan.”
Tyndall said the GIS equipment is crucial to perform underground mapping for infrastructure needs.
Knerr countered that the department heads involved never requested the GIS tool.
Tyndall also called out a reduction of $3,750 to buy computers for the mayor’s office. In addition to updating an administrator unit, the funds were also intended to procure a laptop for Tyndall.
“There’s also a need for a … laptop … in order to execute the duties of the mayor,” he said
Tyndall said the requested laptop would permit use of proprietary software to gain a stronger understanding of Berlin’s day-to-day finances.
“In order to access that software, I do need a computer,” he said. “This is going to severely prohibit the ability for the mayor to do their job.”
Kneer challenged that assertion.
“It’s my understanding you can remote in from home to acquire software,” he said.
Tyndall also noted the budget amendment reduces Berlin’s contingency fund from $125,00 to $49,000.
“Based off of my math, that’s three days of operational expenditures,” he said.
Knerr said all the adjustments would be covered out of the contingency fund, which would still maintain a healthy balance.
Prior to council voting on the budget amendment, Tyndall stressed the importance to consider not only what members wanted but also what is feasible financially.
“We would love to be able to give more raises, but you have to ask yourself what’s financially responsible?” he said.
He then added, “If this does pass, and the amendments are made to the budget, I will have no choice but to veto,” he said.
Following the council’s unanimous vote to approve the changes, Finance Director Natalie Saleh said the adjustments would require recalculating overhead and customer service allocations.
“There will be more slight changes,” she said. “The numbers for the fund balances will not remain exactly as it is, but it will be a small change.”
In light of Tyndall’s pledge to veto, Councilman Dean Burrell asked Planning Director Dave Engelhart to outline related procedural steps.
Engelhart said the mayor has six days to sign the bill, issue a veto or exercise a pocket veto that would allow passage after the allotted timeframes.
“Assuming that the mayor vetoes the bill, the council will then have the ability to override that veto at its next meeting,” he said.
Engelhart said council has 35 days to vote to override the veto, which would require approval by four members.
Speaking on Tuesday, Knerr said the lines of communication need improvement.
“We are definitely at odds,” he said. “We all ran on more transparency and open communication. We just need to get in sync and work harder at it.”
Overall, Knerr said Berlin is on solid financial footing.
“Businesses are thriving and home sales in our area are through the roof,” he said. “Our tax rate is the lowest when compared to our surrounding towns. It’s a good time to live in Berlin.”