MONTPELIER — Mike Vejraska, already feeling some discontent with Montpelier Mayor Reed Peterson and some of the changes in the city during the past seven years, said last week’s City Council meeting was a breaking point for him.
“It was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said Thursday. “About 15 or 20 people got up and spoke out against the (city) budget wanting changes. Peterson didn’t make any changes and cast the deciding vote.”
So Vejraska — the “J” in his name is silent — decided to start a recall campaign against Peterson, knowing that the mayor is up for re-election next year.
“I know he is up for re-election next year, but he will still have another budget cycle,” Vejraska said.
And he doesn’t want to see that.
The Montpelier fiscal 2013 city budget passed last Wednesday was about $2.1 million and Vejraska, although admittedly uncertain what the city’s budget was in the fiscal year 2006, is under the impression the budget has grown seven-fold during that time.
Peterson says that just isn’t the case. While the budget has grown, as it has in many cities throughout the country, he said it hasn’t grown by seven times during his tenure as mayor, which began in January of 2006. Because he was at home during an interview for this story, Peterson was not able to access the exact figures of the city’s budgets over the past few years. That information is at his office.
Peterson did say, however, that there were many more people at last week’s City Council meeting, during which public comment was accepted on the budget, than he has seen during past years.
He also said that while some spoke in favor of the budget, the majority of those who commented were looking for even deeper cuts than the City Council had already made.
Peterson said that one of the points of contention during the meeting was the raise provided to city employees — 3 percent. During the meeting there was a motion and a vote from the City Council to accept the current budget or cut that employee raise to 1 percent, reducing the budget.
The City Council was locked at three in favor of accepting the tentative budget and three against passing it.
“I broke the tie and voted to stay with the tentative budget,” Peterson said. “We have to take care of our (employees) and I don’t apologize for that and everyone know that about me. When you compare the salaries of those who work here compared to other cities our size, we are lower.”
Also leading his decision, Peterson said, was the loss of four valuable employees last year, primarily because of pay. Two police officers moved to departments in Wyoming while another went to work for the Bear Lake County Sheriff’s Office. Of those officers, two had recently completed training at the city’s expense.
The fourth was a Streets Department employee who had been with the the city well over a decade and was considered a vital part of that department. He left for a position in the private sector.
Peterson said all four indicated money was a primary reason for their decision to leave the city. He also said one of the officers who went to Wyoming, although mentioning pay as a leading concern for leaving, had been looking for a position in Wyoming for a while.
While Vejraska cites last week’s meeting as a tipping point for him personally, he’s taking the mayor to task over several other issues, including the increased cost of his sewer and water bill and a larger police department despite a reduction in population.
Vejraska is under the impression the Montpelier Police Department employees six full-time officers and four part-time officers.
Peterson, however, said the department has just the six officers.
Vejraska is also concerned with a water and sewer bill that he says has more than doubled during the seven years he’s lived in Montpelier, from $22 a month to about $52 a month.
Peterson says that while the sewer and water rate has increased over the years, the average bill is actually less than $40 a month.
He does say, however, that a complaint about that increase over the past few years is one he believes is valid. But, just the same, the increase has been needed to help the declining state of Montpelier’s infrastructure.
“One of the biggest problems Montpelier faces is its aging infrastructure,” he said. “A mayor or city council is going to have to deal with it. If it’s not me and the current City Council it will be the next one.”
A recent scoping of Montpelier’s sewer system showed a number of places where the lines are corroded to the point that sewage is moving through dirt.
“The city has a whole lot to worry about when it comes to the infrastructure,” Peterson said.
After a few tries and getting some information and direction on how to go about the effort, Vejraska began his move recall Peterson this week, spending time on the city’s main drag, U.S. Highway 30, on Wednesday. He’s already collected nearly 50 signatures.
Vejraska explained that in order to recall Peterson, he must first obtain 250 signatures, or 20 percent of Montepelier’s citizens who are registered to vote.
Once that’s done, he turns that list into the Montpelier city clerk who will pass it on to the Bear Lake County clerk for verification of the signatures. That’s the most important part of the attempt, Vejraska said, because he doesn’t get a second shot at it, according to state statutes, and if he is short on signatures, he’s done.
Should the signatures all match up and total that 20 percent he must obtain, a recall election would then be scheduled. Vejraska said it would take one vote over 50 percent to recall Peterson.
But Peterson, while more than willing to answer any of the complaints Vejraska, or any other Montpelier resident has, is taking a rather simple approach to the recall effort. In fact, it’s the same approach he took when he ran for the office in 2005 and sought re-election in 2009.
“This is kind of a distraction and there are more important issues we should be talking about, but if the people of Montpelier want to have a recall on me, they are welcome to,” he said. “I love the community, I wanted to make it better, help it progress, and if at some point they don’t want me anymore, they are welcome to look for someone else.”