By TESA GLASS
MT. VERNON — —
Harsh words were exchanged by residents and the city council Monday night after a $36 million bond ordinance for infrastructure and capital projects was approved for the second time this month during the regular meeting Monday night.
Ray Botch returned to chastise the council for going out for the bond issue urging the council to pay for projects as funds come available instead of borrowing.
“There is a more fiscally responsible way,” Botch said. “It’s pay as you go. ... instead of using home rule revenues ... put funds in a strategic plan fund. ... No, you couldn’t do all the projects at once like you can with a bond issue. ... I strongly believe in home rule, but I am strongly against what I view as fiscal insanity.”
Calling the council action insanity brought a comment from Councilman David Wood about Botch’s financial idea and his work as a former city manager of the city.
“Pay as you go may make a nice bumper sticker,” Wood said. “But the reality is that it’s not what municipalities do when they are looking at doing the types of improvements and infrastructure work we are doing. ... It’s been years and years since this city has not moved forward.”
Wood gave the example of a person who builds a house, saying a resident doesn’t save money and buy land, then save money and in a few years build the foundation, a few years later build a kitchen, a few years later a bedroom and in 10 years put a roof on top.
“The next 20 years will look like the previous 20 years if this council doesn’t work to make improvements, putting in the time with the planning and putting the financing in place to move forward, ” Wood continued.
Botch then came forward again during the public input section of the meeting, visibly agitated, saying he wanted to address Wood’s bumper sticker comment.
Botch said the citizens of Westmont were able to pay for improvements in its public service areas such as city hall, police and fire stations without bonding when he was the city manager of that municipality. As Botch was talking about Westmont, Wood said, “too bad you didn’t get some of those types of things done in Mt. Vernon when you were city manager here.”
“I did,” Botch answered. “I opened the whole west side of the interstate.”
Botch then told the council that former Mayor Rolland Lewis did more for the city than Wood would do in his lifetime, at which point Mayor Mary Jane Chesley intervened and told Botch and Wood to keep the discussion on city business and not make the discussion personal.
Resident Jim Rippy told the council that he perceives the problems facing the city at this time to be one of communication.
“People think they are being left out of the decisions,” Rippy said. “I know you are working at it, but you need to get the details out to the public. ... I believe you would have more overall support if you get more people engaged.”
Resident Jere Shaw dramatically told the council “You’ve done it. You have done it. With one vote you passed an ordinance to issue $36 million in bonds that never went before the voters.”
Councilman Dennis McEnaney addressed Shaw and his criticism, going back to the Census numbers.
“I’m always against property taxes,” McEnaney said. “If you go back 50 years, ask yourself, why have we lost census in this city? Forty years ago, there was an increase in population. ... From that time, people started leaving. When you ask why people are leaving you find out it’s about quality of life, infrastructures, streets without potholes. That’s why I ran (for city council). We talked a great deal about a fair way to do this, to fund the things we need to bring people here and bring people back here. ... Sales taxes are fair and we get to do the projects now. ... I feel we did the right thing in representing the people to move this city forward.”
Also present to speak to the council was Steven Caspar, who initiated the petition to put the home rule question on the ballot. Caspar came to the meeting as public input began.
“You may be right,” Caspar told McEnaney. “The people may have voted to approve these projects, if it had been put to a vote. Then, the citizens would have decided. ... It wouldn’t have been just your choice. ... It’s not what this city is doing, it’s because of the city not asking.”
In other business, the council: