MARGATE - Mayor Michael Becker's no vote on the introduction of the 2010 municipal budget led to a heated argument at Thursday's City Commission meeting, with Becker contending the tax rate was too high while Commissioners Dan Campbell and Maury Blumberg questioned why Becker had not expressed his concerns earlier.

The $26,172,204 budget for 2010 increases the tax rate by 2.5 cents, a 4.3 percent increase over last year, and includes a net appropriation increase of $1,051,154.

There are "no layoffs and no furloughs," City Clerk Thomas Hiltner said.

Salaries and wages increased by $646,630 and pensions increased by $255,039, although municipal debt service was reduced by $175,284.

The city is $712,000 under the state-mandated 3.5 percent spending cap.

"I have some concerns," Becker said. "I have a problem about how we can justify increasing taxes by 2.5 cents, when we just scrutinized the Board of (School Estimate) and their increase was less than a penny."

He was referring to Margate's school taxes increasing $0.0047, with the budget increasing 5.5 percent to $12.5 million.

"How can we sustain annual debt payments of $4.75 million (including school debt)?" Becker said. "How can we tell people Margate is fiscally responsible? ... Because of these reasons, I have to vote no."

Becker cited a study that showed the city had 53 more employees at the end of 2009 than it did in 2007, adding that he wanted to sit down with employee unions to ask for concessions to lower costs.

Campbell, who voted to introduce the municipal budget but voted against the school budget March 31, told Becker, "I find it surprising that you can question how we can increase our budget when seven or eight days ago, you OK'd an increase of $550,000 for our schools without even asking a question."

"It was OK to close a school and eliminate 15 teaching positions and eliminate pre-K?" Blumberg asked. "You had no problem over half a million in increases?"

Becker jumped in to say that those quotes about being "OK" with the school budget "didn't come from the mayor's mouth. I'm just asking whether we can go back and see if we can make any changes."

Campbell asked Becker "Why you didn't say anything in the work session? Why haven't you made them months ago? Now, when we introduce the budget, you pull out your notes and say, ‘I think we should do this.'"

Blumberg defended the way that the public safety departments are run, citing among other things the reduction of weekend police beach patrols to the three major holiday weekends, a savings of $30,000, a shortened beach season that would save $40 to $50,000, the reduction of salaries in the building departments and the delay in filling staff at the fire department and the courts.

By that point, Becker kept saying he wanted to move on.

The budget will be voted on at the next commission meeting April 22.

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