After five months of haggling, the Monroe County Legislature approved the 2004 capital budget in a special session Friday that saw Democrats breaking from an earlier stance to support financing county projects with borrowed funds.
The vote green-lights a $58 million plan for projects throughout the county: road repair, bridge work, technology upgrades, and other ventures, including renovation of the sheriff's office. The bulk of the money will be raised through bonds, though some state and federal funds will also be used.
The capital budget, essentially a list of projects the county wants to tackle each year, had been rejected three times after Republicans failed to muster the necessary 20 votes. Republicans have a 16-13 majority in the legislature, but borrowing requires approval by two-thirds of the legislators.
Until Friday, the Democrats had held steady against the plan, saying it increased the county's debt at a time when it already faces a large deficit.
"It's this simple," minority leader Stephanie Aldersley said of the Democrats' change of heart. "It's the construction season, and we can't hold up jobs any longer. It's time to put people to work. It's time to move on." If work on the projects did not start soon, it could not be completed by winter, Aldersley said.
The Democrats still felt it would be harmful in the long run to finance the projects with borrowed funds, Aldersley said, but, she said, she was "tired of saving people from themselves."
The Republicans unanimously voted for the budget plan, as did all the Democrats at the meeting. Democrats Christopher Wilmot, Ronnie Thomas, and Todd Bullard weren't present.
After the April legislative meeting, the Democrats had proposed an alternative capital plan that they said would allow the county to complete essential projects and avoid a projected $25 million deficit.
The plan essentially divided 56 projects into three categories: high, medium, and low priority. Of the 15 "low-priority" projects, 13 would be deferred until next year. The Democrats' plan, however, never seemed to pick up steam. Republicans said they didn't want to defer the projects because inflation and deterioration would make them more costly later.
County Executive Maggie Brooks has continued to insist that she can balance the budget without raising taxes or cutting services. "Once we have eliminated our deficit," she told legislators last month, "we will rebuild our county's reserves."