Bethlehem City Council met on Nov. 16 to discuss several issues and hold the procedural vote to adopt the general budget for the 2022 calendar year.
Councilmembers Bryan Callahan and Grace Crampsie Smith cast disapproving votes, postponing the adoption of the general budget to the next meeting on Dec. 7.
Two council members were not able to attend the meeting, leaving five members present. The first hearing requires four votes to pass.
Councilwoman Olga Negrón said it is the duty of the council to pass the budget before the end of the year, as required by state law.
“I’m going to be voting ‘no’ on this until we have more information,” Callahan said.
Callahan asked City Business Administrator Eric Evans why the city is adding a position in community economic development in the budget.
Outgoing Mayor Robert Donchez responded and said they are not ready to open that conversation until the preliminary budget hearing on Nov. 22.
“Isn’t that a pretty simple question to answer right now?” Callahan said. “I’m hearing a lot of rumors of why, and I’m just shocked that this is being done. Everybody talks about transparency and this is probably the most non-transparent move I’ve seen in a long time.”
Callahan said city council should be telling city taxpayers and residents why it is making specific decisions in the budget.
“I would think that after all the time that you guys put this budget together that you would have an answer for that … I don’t know why it couldn’t be discussed tonight, it’s obviously already been discussed because it was added to the budget,” Callahan said.
Council Vice President Michael Colón said the council invites greater public comment during the budget process and there would be ample opportunity in the coming hearing to dive into the particulars being reviewed.
Crampsie Smith said she had concerns voting because she did not have all of the specifics, especially because this year there are more budget considerations with the American Rescue Plan fund.
“I feel that it is vital that we have transparency and all the information we have before we vote on anything, even if it’s procedural,” she said.
Solicitor John Spirk said because there have historically been seven council members present at the first budget hearing, there have occasionally been symbolic “no” votes with the budget still passing the first reading 6-1.
These ordinances have historically passed because of the urgency to get the budget approved by the end of the year.