Two weeks ago, City Councilor Michael Young decried the council's passage of the 2012 city budget and agitated a number of councilors when he said "no one else cares about the taxpayers."
Now, following the passage of the $140.8 million budget by an 8-1 vote, with Young casting the dissenting vote, councilors said they're still confident they made the right decision in voting yes despite Young's objections.
"I still believe he owes us an apology," Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O'Brien said. "When we come together it should be collegial."
O'Brien said Young was playing politics when he named himself the sole defender of the taxpayer.
O'Brien said she voted to pass the budget because it will retain city services, add police officers and keep fire stations open.
Passing the budget on time also enabled the city to collect $2.4 million from the state to put toward the Hale Hospital debt. The city did raise property taxes by 2.5 percent, the maximum annual increase allowed by law.
Satisfied that Young received a "verbal spanking" that evening for his statements, O'Brien said she intends to keep moving forward alongside the entire council even when there are differences of opinion.
"They don't elect us to get along and sing 'Kumbaya'," she said. "We as a council made some very hard choices. Because we've been prudent we've been able to do some better things."
Young, who has criticized a number of budgetary maneuvers by Mayor James Fiorentini over the past year, refused to vote yes for the budget primarily because it continued the practice of charging the independent Water and Wastewater departments for vaguely related services. Such "charge-backs" include office rentals at City Hall, two-thirds of the city's IT department budget and part of the director of public works' salary.
Young had pushed for an audit of the two departments last year, but Fiorentini rejected the idea each time and said the city couldn't afford it.
"I intend to still bring things to light," Young said. "I like to think I got elected because people aren't happy with their government and would like more transparency. I have made some suggestions at the subcommittee level and at budget time, but I guess they fell on deaf ears."
Council Vice President Robert Scatamacchia, one of the more outspoken critics of Young's statements at last month's budget hearing, said everyone took the budget seriously.
"You don't agree on everything, but it was a budget that had to be passed," he said.
Councilors William Macek and David Hall, though taking slight offense to Young's statements that evening, said they plan to continue working alongside Young to bring about greater clarity to the water and wastewater budget issue.
"He got upset and justly so," Hall said. "He brought out some issues in the budget. Councilor Young is one of the hardest-working people on the council."
Macek and Hall both said they voted to pass the budget despite their own objections since the $2.4 million state windfall was too helpful to pass up.
"We actually made money the way we made the budget," Macek said. "If we decided not to do a 2.5 percent increase we would not have gotten aid."
The state agreed to approve the aid only if the city had exhausted all options to raise revenues independently.
Councilor Sven Amirian said he appreciated the issues raised by Young and fellow councilors about unclear budget practices, saying the debate lifted a "veil" for the public.
"There was some frank and open discussion," Amirian said. "Without some objections that veil stays in place."
Councilor William Ryan defended the budget, saying regulations by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue limit what the council can cut.
"We still have to teach children, police the street and put out fires," Ryan said. "The fact of the matter is we have very little flexibility. We have a lot at stake here."
Councilor Colin LePage echoed Ryan's sentiments, noting the council ultimately can do little to control budgets proposed by the mayor.
"The mayor is the CEO," he said. "We're just a check and balance."
Council President Michael Hart said the council typically only cuts during economic boom times, when the threat of overspending looms large, rather than during recessions.
"Under the circumstances it was a good budget overall," he said. "There's really not a lot of cutting that can be done."