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Sullivan sees potential for changes in future of city government

Date: 6/30/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

HOLYOKE -- Mayor Michael Sullivan believes the city's budget will almost "be even" with what the state will give it in aid, although he added there might be a difference of $700,000.

He noted the City Council did not take action on $1.3 million it could have eliminated from the budget and the state contributions might force the council to look at that amount again.

If the council doesn't make the cuts, the city might have to use some of its free cash reserves. With the conventional wisdom among local elected officials that the fiscal year 2011 state budget will present even greater challenges to cities and towns, Sullivan hopes not to use any of the money this budget year.

"We've got to take the hard steps now," he said. "Don't wait."

Sullivan, who will be leaving office at the end of this term, said that for the past 10 years he has reduced the number of employees in City Hall. He said the 75 to 80 positions that no longer exist represents a savings of $4.5 million annually.

He believes the way to contains costs in the future for the city revolves around reducing the number of employees through a greater use of technology and instituting efficiencies through best practices.

Those best practices have included Holyoke having an income replacement policy that has eliminated many of the habitual absences of city workers. Instead of employees using sick time as vacation time because they were going to lose that time at the end of they year, the new policy pays employees for their unused sick time. They don't' lose the benefit and the city has more workers on the job.

City Hall might have to go on a four-day workweek in the future and be closed on Mondays, he added.

Although many people speak on how cities and towns are dependent upon state aid to operate, Sullivan said he sees the relationship differently -- the state is dependent upon the tax dollars raised by cities and towns.

He noted the Massachusetts Constitution calls for the state to fund public education, a responsibility that falls largely to municipalities. If the state took over the full cost of education, communities would have additional tax dollars to cover other local needs.

Sullivan also wondered what the impact would be if income tax revenues stayed within a community.

He said that many people trust their local governments more with the task of spending tax dollars over Boston because they have more immediate influence over local officials.