First votes by County Council's two new members are big ones
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In their campaigns for seats on Allegheny County Council, Nick Futules and Jim Ellenbogen never shied away from their status as political upstarts, and they pitched themselves as outsiders challenging the system.
But come Dec 4, at their first County Council meeting, the two men might cast important and historic initial votes -- votes that could make the difference between council's adoption of a 2008 budget or its failure.
And so far, as council continues its budget deliberations without their input, both men say they are up to the challenge of approving or rejecting a spending plan that could see the implementation of a new 10 percent tax on poured alcoholic drinks and $2-a-day tax on car rentals.
County Chief Executive Dan Onorato last month proposed the new taxes as a revenue stream for the county's $30 million subsidy of the Port Authority in his $727.5 million budget for 2008.
"I just got a copy of Dan Onorato's proposed budget a few days ago, and I have been studying it carefully," said Mr. Futules, D-Verona. The 54-year-old will replace Susan Caldwell.
"There are some issues in it that will make that vote a difficult choice. I have already gone on the record to say that I am against these new taxes, and I am ready to vote 'no,' " he added.
A co-owner of the Futules' Harmar House, a banquet facility in Cheswick, Mr. Futules never expected to be in this position. He said he was not prepared to vote on the 2008 budget because his four-year term will not start until January.
But thanks to 39 write-in votes in a special election to fill the District 7 seat between December and January, Mr. Futules now finds himself in the prime position of voting down Mr. Onorato's tax proposals and by extension the budget. And he is ready, if not excited.
"I have been lobbied by a number of council members to change my vote. But the truth of the matter is that they are the ones who are wrong," Mr. Futules said.
His experience as chairman of the budget committee in Verona for the last eight years, he said, will serve him well as he labors through the county's budget-making process.
On his part, Mr. Ellenbogen, D-Banksville, who will replace William E. Lestitian in representing council's District 12, said he has not made up his mind on the taxes, but he wants to "make sure that anything I vote for is in the best interests of the working people of Allegheny County." He was unopposed in the Nov. 6 election, so he will automatically fill the one-month seat before beginning his full term.
Mr. Ellenbogen, 51, who works for the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue as chief enforcement officer for Allegheny, Washington and Greene counties, said he is ready to hit the ground running come Dec 4.
"I understand the budget process very well. I am used to tough situations like this, but I'm not going to be pushed around," he said.
Mr. Ellenbogen said he has been lobbied both by County Council members who want to adopt the budget with the proposed new taxes and restaurateurs and business owners opposed to the taxes.
"I'm being lobbied from both sides, but one thing about me is that I am bull-headed. I have my own mind," he said.
"I think it's wrong to raise any tax without making sure it's absolutely necessary, and I will vote to make sure the working man is not getting hit on the head once again."
County Council's budget committee has been meeting several times a week, trying to reach a consensus on the spending package and tax proposals. It will take 10 votes to approve the taxes, but so far few members of the 15-member council have expressed support for them.
First Published November 22, 2007 12:00 am