Mayor defends budget to skeptics on council
By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser City Hall Writer
Mayor Jeremy Harris yesterday defended his city budget and spending priorities to the City Council, saying his policies have kept money in taxpayers' pockets.
Council members had complained that increases in sewer rates and soaring costs for sidewalk improvements had been put off until after Harris leaves office in July to run for governor.
Harris said he hoped the council would pass a budget close to his $1.1 billion operating budget for fiscal year 2002-2003 and his proposed $475 million construction budget.
"I think we presented an excellent budget, a balanced budget without any increase in taxes or user fees," he said.
The mayor said keeping sewer fees the same since 1993 was something to be proud of.
Council Budget Committee members have asked why that fee was kept low when $1.8 billion in improvements is needed over 20 years.
Rather than continuous fee hikes, Harris said, "my philosophy is the money ought to stay in the taxpayers' pocket until it's necessary for a public works project."
Of sidewalk improvements to comply with federal disabled access laws, Harris said the city was simply following the schedule required by the courts.
Council members also have asked why road projects have an accelerated schedule for years after Harris leaves office. Harris said people want improved roads, but don't want the congestion and inconvenience. "It's a real balancing act of how much you do and when you do it."