Bristol’s provisional budget for fiscal year 2013-2014 that was approved last month created a “hung jury” on Monday night, with freshman town councilors forcing a delay on the vote to adopt or reject the budget.
Council vice chairman Halsey Herreshoff, who supported the proposed budget at the provisional vote, was absent from Monday’s meeting. Councilor Tim Sweeney who voted with Ms. Parella and Mr. Herreshoff to approve the raises for non-union town employees in the provisional budget remained silent when a motion was called for.
When chairwoman Mary Parella’s call for a motion to vote on the budget went unanswered, the question was posed as to what would happen if no motion was made, or, what if a motion to adopt the budget failed.
“It’s an interesting question,” said town clerk, Louis Cirillo.
The question sent Mr. Cirillo and the town council on a quest to find the answer, calling for a recess while Mr. Cirillo scoured the town charter and made a phone call to the town solicitor who was not present for the meeting.
Although the town’s $48 million provisional budget received unanimous support on April 8, councilors Edward Stuart and Nathan Calouro voted against giving non-union employees a blanket 1.5 percent raise. In stonewalling the vote on Monday, the councilors forced further discussion on the issue of pay raises and amounts of those raises based on merit, rather than basing raises on what other employees are getting.
Absent a comprehensive grading system to measure town employees’ work performance, Ms. Parella thought the 1.5 percent raise across the board was a fair compromise. Since nothing had changed since the council approved the provisional budget, she urged her colleagues to make a motion to adopt it.
“I think we’ve been through this numerous times. I think we should just do it and get it done. I think it would be beneficial to move forward with it,” Ms. Parella said in trying to get the vote accomplished.
The other councilors present were not receptive to her suggestion.
“You are right. Nothing has changed,” said Mr. Stuart. “I still have my reservations. I’d be contradicting myself” by accepting the budget as it is. “There are no changes.”
Mr. Calouro also held back on making a motion.
“I’ve expressed my concerns. I didn’t vote for it prior,” he said.
Mr. Sweeney, who remained silent for much of the meeting, offered his thoughts only when prompted by Mr. Calouro.
“I have some reservations on the budget. Maybe it’s best to have the full council here,” he said.
Because the town charter states that the budget is to be approved “no later than two weeks following the public hearing,” town officials sought the advice of the solicitor, calling a recess to research options. When the meeting was reconvened, Ms. Parella conversed with attorney Andrew Teitz over speakerphone.
“If you think you’re deadlocked like a jury, continue (the vote) to a date 48 hours out,” Mr. Teitz said.
The issue of resolving the budget by May 6, a date that is two weeks after the public hearing as stated in the town charter, Mr. Teitz said that unless the wording includes “or else,” that timeframe is discretionary, not mandatory.
“I think you’re OK continuing,” he said.
The vote was continued to the next regular council meeting, scheduled for Wednesday, May 15. At that time, the council and town clerk will determine another date on which to discuss the budget and take a vote.
After months of budget discussions, approval of the provisional budget and a public hearing on the budget, failing to adopt the budget was an unprecedented move for the town of Bristol.
“In my 30 years I have never seen this,” Mr. Cirillo said.