Mount Vernon mayor blames comptroller for looming budget woes

November 21, 2020


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Categories: Tax Service

Mount Vernon mayor blames comptroller for looming budget woes


Mount Vernon’s mayor and city council warned residents that they face drastic cuts in services or a double-digit tax increase in 2021 and blamed the forecast on Comptroller Deborah Reynolds.

“COVID is not our biggest threat right now,” Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard said Friday at a City Hall press conference. “Our biggest threat to the immediate future of Mount Vernon is our comptroller.”

Mount Vernon Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard speaks at City Hall on Nov. 20, 2020, about looming budget crisis that she blames on Comptroller Deborah Reynolds (Photo: Jonathan Bandler/lohud)

She accused Reynolds of being either “unwilling or incapable” of doing her job and of violating her authority by eliminating the access other city officials had to the city’s financial records.

And she insisted that the comptroller’s continued refusal to pay bills or accept state and federal funding could result in a 10 percent tax increase that would be “unconscionable” at a time of reduced income because of the pandemic. But avoiding it would require cuts in city services ranging from 10 to 25 percent, the mayor said. 

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It was the latest joint salvo against Mount Vernon’s chief financial officer, who has been blamed for keeping the mayor and council in  the dark about the city’s fiscal standing and failing to pay vendors or accept millions in state and federal funding.

Patterson-Howard, the first-year mayor, was supposed to present her proposed 2021 budget in September. She contends that, more than the pandemic, the delay is the result of a lack of financial data from Reynolds. That was despite a series of resolutions passed by the council in August mandating regular reporting by the comptroller.

The comptroller did not immediately address any of the specific allegations other than to suggest she has provided the financial information city officials need to form a budget. 

“Putting out a false narrative to the news outlets and residents of Mount Vernon instead of meeting with me to discuss what they do not understand makes no sense,” she said in an email. She added that she should not be blamed for the administration’s failure to propose a budget on time.

But the mayor and council members insist their attempts to meet with Reynolds have been rebuffed.

Three years of missing budget deadlines

The delay in presenting a budget will mean 2021 will be the third straight year the city won’t have an approved budget by Jan. 1.

The bulk of what Patterson-Howard claims is $13,1 million that Reynolds has not accepted in money earmarked for the city is federal funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for housing for the homeless, addiction treatment, re-entry programs and other social services.

It included $1.3 million for an aerial ladder fire truck that the mayor said has been ready since September but that Reynolds only released the funds for Friday . 

It also includes $4.3 million in COVID funds the city needs for eviction prevention, small-business support and food distribution, Patterson-Howard said.

Amy Gellis, CEO of the Guidance Center, said her agency has had a contract to provide housing for homeless people in Mount Vernon who have mental health and substance abuse issues. The agency for over a year has had to use its own funds to pay the rent “to keep people stable” because Reynolds has not made $250,000 available that it is owed.

Reynolds insisted in January that she did not think her office should accept HUD funding for the Urban Renewal Agency, which is quasi-independent from the city, because the agency was a few years behind in its audits and its financial resources were uncertain. She suggested that HUD find another way to get its money to the URA.

Only this month did the city council create a pass through to allow the city clerk’s office to open a bank account to accept funds for the URA.

Reynolds, a former city councilwoman, has seen her relationship with the city’s other elected officials steadily worsen since she took office at the start of 2018. She weathered efforts by Mayor Richard Thomas and Patterson-Howard petitioning the governor to remove her from office.

She has not announced whether she will run for re-election next year but faces the prospect of several challengers if she does. Councilman Marcus Griffith in particular has targeted Reynolds and is passing up a bid for a third term to run for comptroller.

Griffith said it was bad enough he and his colleagues have not been kept apprised of the city’s fiscal standing. But his biggest fear, he said, was that Reynolds herself may not have a handle on those finances as well.

Twitter: @jonbandler

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