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Mayor vetoes council's budget amendment

For the first time in a very long time, council decision gets squashed

Using his veto power for the first time, White Salmon Mayor Roger Holen overruled the City Council's 3-2 vote for a 2006 budget amendment that would alter the way emergency funds can be accessed.

"This will cripple the city from doing the business it needs to do," Holen said after the March 1 action. "Since you have passed this ordinance, I am exercising my veto power."

The proposed budget ordinance would have moved cash within five separate funds as follows:

Current expense fund: Remove $28,750 from the Planning Expenditure Budget for planning consultants and increases estimated ending cash for current expense by the same amount;

Street distribution/street reserve fund: Remove $3,572 ($4,000 less $427.50 approved expenses) from Street Expenditure Budget for emergency engineering and increase Street Reserve Fund revenue by $3,572.50;

Municipal capital improvement fund: Remove $207,988 from MCI fund for park, street, and pool improvements and increases MCI fund ending cash by $207,998;

Water distribution/water reserve fund: Remove $27,885 ($30,800 less approved expenses of $2,915) from Water Expenditure Budget for emergency engineering and water right procurement and increase the Water Reserve Fund revenue by $27,885;

Wastewater distribution/wastewater reserve fund: Remove $1,468.50 ($5,000 less approved expenses of $3,531.50) from Wastewater Expenditure Budget for emergency engineering and increase Wastewater Reserve Fund revenue by $1,468.50.

Voting for the budget ordinance were council members Timi Keene, Francis Gaddis, and Brad Roberts. Voting against were Susan Benedict and Richard Marx.

Marx was the original sponsor of the ordinance, but he claimed the impact of the measure had been circumvented, so he voted to oppose it.

"I voted no. It's not the original motion I made," Marx explained. "It's the motion minus the money the City Council said we approved to be spent. They never showed us where was the emergency it was spent on? That's highly questionable and very fishy. Perhaps that will give me something in my net. The city contends the City Council had approved expenditures of money in the emergency fund and planning review. When? Money has been removed in every account and they are saying we approved it, but they couldn't show us the paperwork."

Holen disagreed with the majority.

"It's a terribly inefficient way to run the city," he said. "In order to use the money, another budget ordinance would have to be passed to return the money from reserve funds into the emergency fund. To do that, it takes two weeks' notice, you have to have the council meet and vote on it, and then it take five days before it goes into effect. The only thing I can interpret from those who want to put money into the reserve funds is they simply don't trust the administration."

Marx said the city has exceeded its budget for the past four years.

"I have no personal agenda, other than trying to balance a budget," Marx said. "They want to be in control of the money, but not be responsible for over-expenditures. That's the way I see it. That's the line that has been crossed. The trust issue is out the window."

During the March 1 meeting, Mayor Holen and council member Marx argued about the expenditures that had been taken out of the various funds.

"You spent money, but we were never told about it," Marx said.

"I would remind you, in the second meeting of January, you were responsible for approving some of those bills," Holen countered. "You approved them. Why didn't you object then?"

Holen told the council members that he did not believe the ordinance would have any practical purpose.

"If there's a landslide on Dock Grade Road, the mayor has emergency powers that can be exercised," Holen explained. "Every year there are events that can't be anticipated."

Holen conceded that the use of a mayoral veto is a rarity in White Salmon.

"I'm not aware of a veto ever being done," Holen said. "That's not to say it's never been done, but I certainly haven't."

The council can override the mayor's veto if at least four of the five council members vote to pass the ordinance anyway.

Council member Timi Keene, who voted to approve the budget ordinance, said she thought the proposal represented a better approach to the city's budgeting.

"Our budget committee recommended that the money be put back in reserve until the committee could recommend what the best use of the funds was to be," Keene said. "The ordinance would have put all the money back into reserve so it would not be an automatic budgeted item. It would instead have to be discussed and voted on by the City Council. By Ricky [Marx] voting against it, he allowed Roger to veto it."

Marx said he did not plan to alter his vote.

"I'll vote to support the veto, then make my motion again. Give me the amendment I asked for, or prove where we made the expenditures," Marx said.

Marx drew the following scenario to demonstrate why he could not support the ordinance as presented.

"It's like you've got some money in your pocket and are going to spend it on an emergency. I say no, give me the money back, and when we have an emergency I'll give you the money then," Marx said. "A month later, you give me some of the money back, and say I approved you keeping the rest. No emergency was declared. I want to know who advised or gave authority to take the money out in the meantime and never told anyone, and then say we approved it."

The City Council's vote on whether to override Mayor Holen's veto is expected to be on the City Council's March 15 agenda.


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