By Jordan Cohen
With the city staring at huge deficits and a rapidly diminishing general fund, council received one more financial setback Wednesday from an unlikely source.
Auditor Charles Nader revealed that the city’s phone and communication bills, which average $120,000 yearly, are projected to skyrocket to $177,000 by year’s end, a jump of $57,000.
“What is going on?” shouted a visibly exasperated council President Robert Marino. “I don’t understand this.”
In addition to the costs of landline telephones, wireless and cable, the bill includes telemetry lines that run from the water tower and the fire department to the waste treatment plant for calculating pressure. Mayor Ralph Infante blamed AT&T, the telemetry provider, for the unexpected hike in expenses.
“They are constantly raising their rates and overcharging us,” the mayor said. “[Their] bills used to be around a few hundred dollars a month, and now they’re up to $2,600.” Infante said the city should “do an audit” on AT&T because of its ever-increasing charges.
The phone issue came to light when Nader requested fund transfers amounting to more than $67,000 to cover the expenses for the remainder of the year.
“I want to know who is responsible for this … who signed the contract,” Marino said. Nader replied he did not know, but said he believes the city has been “with AT&T forever.”
Council would only give the legislation a first reading to allow time for an investigation.
“We want a full report about where the money’s gone and where it is going,” Marino said.
Despite its financial shortfalls, council, apparently bowing to a public outcry, voted to restore the 1.5 percent credit to Niles residents who pay income taxes to other communities. Last year, council rescinded the credit, meaning that residents who paid municipal income taxes elsewhere still were required to pay the full amount of the city’s 1.5 percent income tax. The decision affected 2,300 residents.
Steve Papalas, D-at large, estimated the additional revenue after reciprocity was terminated last year at more than $225,000, money that council unanimously voted to forgo.
“We can get by without money raised from these people who work out of town and have to pay taxes twice,” Papalas said.