Following a month of discussion and review, the City Council acted last night to adopt a municipal budget for 2012. The final package eliminates a total of 27 positions, continuing a multi-year pattern of spending reductions and bringing the City’s workforce to its smallest size in our modern history. The tax rate within the adopted budget will fall within the new State cap, while the annual residential refuse fee will increase by about $160 per household.

My prior posts on this subject examined the City Manager’s initial budget proposal and the Council’s decision to restore a number of services that had been slated for elimination. (An additional series of posts from late 2010 describes the City’s fiscal challenges in much greater depth.)

Although the final budget averted some of the cuts that had stirred the greatest public concern, there is little in the document about which to cheer. For the most part, it illustrates the difficult circumstances that face cities all across America after years of anemic economic growth. Nonetheless, there are some highlights worth noting:

  • Core public safety and public works functions will be preserved at current service levels;
  • New Rochelle will maintain the lowest municipal tax rate among the urban centers of Westchester;
  • Vehicle purchases, while far short of demonstrated need, will help improve snow removal and leaf collection operations, beginning in the fall of 2012; and
  • The City’s outreach for grants and its economic development efforts will be bolstered by new resources, with the goal of maximizing prospects for local economic momentum.

Two Council Members voted against the budget, claiming concerns about the residential refuse fee as their basis for opposition, but offering absolutely no credible alternatives. That’s very disappointing, because voting “no” without presenting better ideas is an abdication of one’s responsibility to govern. We do best when every leader takes their duties seriously and doesn’t simply leave the tough choices to others, so I hope that the divided budget vote marks the last act of an unpleasantly partisan Council term, and that the term ahead will have a different and better spirit of common purpose.

That spirit will be put to the test as we undertake a fresh look at the community’s service and investment priorities, and as we explore creative new means of providing efficient and effective government. The City intends to convene a citizens’ panel to work with our staff and explore these questions in great depth, with an eye toward better positioning New Rochelle for a long-term era of limits. I look forward to engaging fully in this exercise, and, notwithstanding the challenges of the moment, I am excited about the range of opportunities that will unfold in 2012.