By JOHN T. WARD
His vote against the spending plan followed a 3-3 deadlock that included a “no” by a member of the budget-crafting finance committee, Democrat Kathy Horgan, whose caught committee chairwoman Linda Schwabenbauer, a Republican, by surprise.
“She was in every meeting,” Schwabenbauer told redbankgreen afterward.
Menna’s vote also surprised her, Schwabenbauer said.
“Even prior to this meeting, he told me he thought it was a good budget,” she said.
The 3-3 vote reflected the council’s new political alignment. In January, the GOP had a 4-2 majority for the first time since 1991. But Councilwoman Cindy Burnham, who’s up for re-election in November, was booted from the GOP primary ticket in April, and is now running as an independent, and often antagonizes her former party members. She joined Horgan and Councilman Ed Zipprich in opposing the spending plan.
Schwabenbauer and first-year council members Mark Taylor and Mike Whelan voted in favor.
The spending plan included a controversial increase in parking fees, which Schwabenbauer said was one element used to reduce a projected 5.5-percent property tax increase to 1.98 percent. But the fee increase appeared not to factor into the three no votes.
“I cannot in good conscience vote yes,” Menna said before casting the decisive vote. He said afterward that he wanted to “review” the reserves with auditor Bob Allison before approving the plan.
Under Red Bank’s charter, the mayor only votes in the event of a council tie. Menna inquired whether he had line-item veto authority, and was told no by Allison.
Allison told the council several times that the proposed spending plan was “a good, tight budget.”
“It’s disappointing to me that everyone who voted ‘no’ has in the past voted for budgets with significant tax increases,” Schwabenbauer told the council and audience.
“But we always fought to cut,” said Horgan.
The budget “replaced reserves that were stripped out last year” by the Democrats in order to avoid a tax increase, Schwabenbauer said. The restored reserves, she said, will help cushion the borough against unexpected expenses.
Zipprich said he opposed the budget because it reduced payroll in the public works department by four positions.
“Eliminating staffing in a department where employees are not well-paid is not the way” to achieve savings, he said.
Schwabenbauer said during and after the meeting that the payroll reduction in public works would occur by attrition, not layoffs. The positions targeted “were probably needed in the short term, but not the longer term, and that’s why we took them out,” she said.
Horgan, who attended the administration’s annual and informal budget presentation last week without voicing any objections, told redbankgreen Wednesday night that she voted no “because we need to cut more.” Asked where, she said, “that’s what we need to find out. I think we can find ways” to get the tax increase down to zero.
“That budget should have passed,” Schwabenbauer said afterward. “And I think that everyone who voted no on that budget should put their heads together and tell us where, specifically, to cut, because I will not be responsible for the cuts.”
The council will now likely have to hold a special meeting in another attempt to adopt a budget, one that would presumably have been modified by Schwabenbauer’s committee. But she told redbankgreen that she may not be available.
“I have plans for the next week straight through, so I’m going to have to figure that out,” she said. “They may have to do it without me.”
Menna said the borough is in no danger of missing state-mandated deadlines for budget submissions.
The two-percent tax increase would have increased the tax bill for the owner of a home assessed at the town-average $354,006 by about $40 for the year, Schwabenbauer said.