After a contentious debate, the Herndon Town Council, in a 5 to 2 vote, adopted the town’s proposed FY2004 budget at its May 27 public hearing.
While the council approved the $35.4 million budget, including a 2-cent reduction in the real estate tax rate to 28 cents per $100 of assessed value and a 15-cent hike in the town’s cigarette tax to 35 cents, it was specific issues about a proposed interim day laborer site, a permanent Neighborhood Resource Center, the long-awaited Cultural Arts Center and safety issues in the town that dominated the discussion a week ago.
With much of Mayor Richard Thoesen's tax restructuring package passed during the council's May 13 public hearing, the council still had to approve the cigarette tax increase, the real estate tax decrease and final resolution adopting the town's FY 2004 budget.
While no one member expressed complete satisfaction with the final product, only council members Connie Hutchinson and Dennis Husch voted against the adopting the town manager's proposed budget.
Councilman Harlon Reece was one of the members who did not fully embrace the council's final product. While voting "yes" for the resolution, Reece nonetheless expressed concern about the town’s FY2004 budget. "With some disappointment, I will support the budget," said at the hearing. "I am disappointed that we will not be able to provide more in tax relief, but it would be irresponsible to not take what I can get."
Councilwoman Connie Hutchinson took exception with Reece's contention that this was the best possible outcome. Hutchinson said the proposed budget was "the best" that the council could hope to get. Hutchinson question the wisdom of the council's decision to reduce the tax rate while the town embarked on such an ambitious CIP agenda and in light of the recently enacted 1.5 percent meals tax.
"I still think it is unwise for us to reduce the tax rate, and in light of the meals tax, when we have such large broad measures on our plate," she said.
Nearly a week after the vote, Hutchinson remained uneasy about her colleague's actions. "I just don't feel the council was looking far enough ahead," Hutchinson said. "With all the things we have on our radar, I am just afraid this is all going to come back and haunt us."
Hutchinson praised those that came out to the meeting and she said the council learned a lot from the discussion. "I think we learned that we have a lot more problems out there than we knew," the councilwoman said. "Safety is our number one quality of life issue."
While Hutchinson bemoaned the council's decision to cut real estate taxes by 2 cents, Husch — the only other 'No' vote — complained that the real estate tax cut was not big enough and the budget and CIP were full of wasteful spending.
"I cannot support this budget. There are expenditures that are unnecessary. There are expenditures outside the purview of this town. And there are expenditures that should not be on the backs of Herndon tax payers," Husch said.
Husch added that the budget and the budget process had created a lot of "deep divisions" and he insisted that the council will have to go through a lot of "damage control" if everything doesn't work exactly like some of the "Pollyanna's in town think it will."
"There could be heck to pay," he warned.
Nearly a week after the budget's passage, Husch is still upset about the outcome. "The council missed a big opportunity to do more for the people who put us here," he said.