Revised fiscal plan gets second reading

NILES — A revised version of the plan to pull Niles out of its massive debt uses city dollars to repair roads, not a fee that would have been placed on motorists.

The sixth recovery plan from Mayor Tom Scarnecchia that was given second reading by council Monday would allocate $50,000 from the general fund and $50,000 from the street fund for a street resurfacing program.

“Our hope is that the sixth version will be passed (Tuesday) through city council, then through the (fiscal) planning commission in April,” Service Director Edward Stredney said.

In the previous proposal, the $100,000 from the street and general funds was replaced by a $10 license plate fee on vehicles registered with Niles addresses. The fees were projected to raise $180,000 next year for the street resurfacing program, and was proposed to avoid using money from the general fund, according to Stredney.

However, that version was rejected by city council April 12 at a special meeting. The plan went through a first reading with “no” votes from councilmen Steve Mientkiewicz, D-2nd Ward, and Frank Pezzano, D-1st Ward.

“They are avoiding budget cuts and trying to put the burden on the back of taxpayers again,” Mientkiewicz said. “First the tax levy, then the water rates. Now license plate fees? What are they doing to reduce spending?”

Mientkiewicz said he could not let a new tax on Niles residents gets pushed through without giving them a chance to provide input. Public comments are not allowed during special council meetings.

Council President Robert Marino told the mayor to call the Commissioner Quentin Potter last week to discuss the dilemma.

Marino and several members of council discussed feelings of frustration with Scarnecchia for showing them his plan a week before the meeting and with a new tax, even after Potter canceled a meeting scheduled in March to give the administration more time to worth something out.

“It is frustrating. I mean, we are running at $70 million company like a neighborhood grocery store,” Marino said.

Council should have known what details to expect before the special meeting was called, Marino and other members said.

“We look foolish,” Marino said.

After hearing council’s concerns April 12, Scarnecchia told City Auditor Giovanne Merlo and state-appointed fiscal supervisor Tim Lintner to remove the license plate fees from the recovery plan.

Councilman Stephen Papalas, D-at large, voted in favor of the new plan Monday because he wanted to get the process moving along.

“The state needs the plan,” Papalas said. “It’s one step toward financial recovery.”

Councilman Ryan McNaughton, D-at large, said the latest plan needed further examination Tuesday before he would fully get on board with it.

“We need to have a robust conversation about this plan,” McNaughton said. “I’m not comfortable with the plan, but I’m comfortable with entering the discussion.”

Council also met Tuesday at the Safety-Service Complex, 15 E. State St. If the recovery plan was approved by city council, the plan would be ready for the Niles Financial Planning and Supervision Commission to address.