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City Council explains reasoning behind budget cuts

Date: 7/11/2011

July 11, 2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD — After a bruising press conference conducted by Mayor Domenic Sarno in which he criticized the City Council for making cuts in his fiscal year 2012 (FY12) budget, members of the council explained the motivation behind the cuts at a press conference on July 7.

Councilors Timothy Allen, Kateri Walsh, Michael Fenton and John Lysak took turns reading a two-and-a-half page statement and they issued an invitation for Sarno to meet with them for a discussion on the budget at his convenience.

“It is the role of the mayor to create the budget — all items in the budget are put in by him and his financial team. The City Council puts nothing in the budget — we are not allowed to. However, it is the role of the City Council to approve the budget. The only actions the City Council can take on the budget are to approve what the mayor has already put in or to take things out of the budget,” Allen read.

He continued, “Many of us have a philosophy of absolutely minimizing the amount we are taking out the stabilization account (‘rainy day fund,’ ‘savings’). We believe an important part of our jobs is to provide fiscal oversight and to protect our savings.”

At the core of the statement presented by the councilors was the following statement: “We do not believe that it is structurally sound to use our savings to fund our operational budget.”

Walsh also read, “We mentioned this throughout the year to the financial team and they responded by proposing to use $15.5 million in reserves (including $5 million from the assessors’ overlay account), up from the $12.5 million that was used from last year. We believe it should be less than $15.5 million. Therefore we made cuts of $2.7 million (approximately) that represents a 20 percent reduction of that amount.”

The statement emphasized that none of the cuts made by the council resulted in the furloughs city employees must take.

Allen said council members were surprised by Sarno’s inclusion into the budget of revenue from an increase in the hotel/motel tax and from late fees attached to property owners who don’t pay taxes on time. The council has approved neither of these measures.

The much-publicized increase in salary for the councilors did not come from the council, but from Sarno who restored the $1,000 cut from the councilors’ salaries for the past four years. Allen said the councilors have had their own furlough through the pay reduction and maintained many “didn’t really know [the increase] was in there [the budget].”

Fenton added that this year other city officials have received substantial raises such as School Superintendent Dr. Alan Ingram.

The account labeled “other than personal services” (OTPS) was cut by 5 percent and the statement read, “We believe that by reducing 5 percent from OTPS in every budget that it should cause a significant amount of prioritization to occur. We hope that the prioritization occurs across departments and that the highest priority items still get done. We have preserved 95 percent of over $30 million in services. It is our hope that some lower priority items can be reduced or eliminated.”

The council made reductions that had the following impacts, according to a statement by Sarno:

“CitiStat: Elimination of this department will mean the lay-off of three staff and the elimination of Continuous Improvement Springfield, which is our process improvement (lean/six sigma) effort, which has targeted $1.3 million in hard and soft savings in FY12. It also means significant setbacks in performance management and reporting, strategic planning and neighborhood-stat.

“Police, Parks, Department of Public Works: These departments will be unable to provide extra support through staffing and materials for special events as they have provided in the past.

“Police Department: Lay-off four recently hired cadets will mean more police officers off of the streets to fill the duties and functions that a cadet would normally perform. In addition, [the department] will no longer be able to purchase an adequate supply of crime prevention supplies including DNA test kits, gunshot residue tests, blood and saliva tests, and fingerprint kits.

“Public Works: Street maintenance functions will be reduced to pothole patching, street sweeping, and asphalt-patching of concrete sidewalks. No street paving will occur unless it is a large-scale project funded by the state. In addition, in order to maintain the regular pickup schedules for solid waste, recycling, and yard waste, the bulk waste program and household hazardous waste programs will be eliminated.

“Parks: Reduction will eliminate all ground maintenance, including mowing, trimming and cleanup, of all the city terraces in every neighborhood across the city.

“Veterans’ Department: The cut taken by the City Council will impact the timing of payments made to veterans for this mandated benefit and if caseload continues on its current trend, supplemental funds will be required.”

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