Budget Should Require 2/3 Vote

Written by Martin A. Cameron
Monday, 19 September 2005
The following is a detailed analysis of why the APT is supporting a charter change to require a 2/3 vote of the Council to pass the annual budget.During the June 6 Portsmouth city budget hearing, the City Council voted on two financial programs. One, the $71 million city budget, and the other, a $2 million-plus tax anticipation note (TAN). The TAN money is borrowed to finance the city until the property tax receipts are received.The $2 million TAN required a super-majority vote of two-thirds of the council. Paragraph 7-14 of the city charter states any fund appropriation not contained in the original budget requires a two-thirds majority vote. However, the charter is silent on the number required to pass the annual budget. So, for the much larger $73 million city budget, a simple majority, a 5-4 vote, was all that was required. We believe something is wrong with that picture. Don’t you?

With these factors in mind, the Association of Portsmouth Taxpayers is petitioning the council for a charter change to emphasize and enhance the criteria for the city budget.

The charter change petition reads as follows:

“Each of the undersigned voters respectfully requests the municipal officers to provide for the amendment of the municipal charter as set out below. Amend the charter (1 Jan. 1988) Section 7-13 which presently reads as follows:

“‘The budget shall be adopted not later than the last day of the fiscal year. Should the council take no further action on or prior to such day, the budget as submitted, shall be deemed to have been finally adopted by the council.’ Amend to read: ‘The vote necessary for adoption shall be by two-thirds (2/3) majority of the council. The council failing a two-thirds adoption vote by 30 June of the current fiscal year, the budget of the current fiscal year shall be automatically adopted and increased by the federal cost of living (Cola) in effect on 1 Jan. of the calendar year. As determined by the Federal Social Security Act.’”

We believe this is a very reasonable and common-sense request. If a department requires a supplemental request of $100,000 for an unexpected event, even a vital emergency event, it still needs a two-thirds majority vote. Surely, a budget whose process stretches over months and that represents an entire year’s operation for all departments deserves the credibility of the same two-thirds majority of the council. The only barrier it provides is one of consensus; a budget will not be passed unless a real consensus of the council, thus hopefully of the voters, is reached.

The “Cola” addition inserted into the change will allow for a cost-of-living increase in the unlikely event of a non-vote of the council, allowing the budget to keep pace with the economy. At present if the City Council does not vote to accept a budget, the city manager’s submitted budget, be it a very large increase or a large decrease, is adopted automatically.

We ask the voters/taxpayers of Portsmouth to sign and support this petition. Copies are available for signature at John’s Barbershop at 95 Daniel St. and at our Sept. 21 membership meeting. Doesn’t it make sense to exercise the same caution with the annual budget as is already incorporated for a small supplemental request?

We believe the present council members would see this as a necessary and prudent charter change. Ask the candidates for all elected offices in the upcoming Nov. 8 election where they stand on this recommended change to the Portsmouth charter. Those who support it are those with concern for the taxpayer. Approved by the Association members.

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