City Council readying to vote on early budget
By G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD The Springfield City Council will vote to affirm its approval of the fiscal year 2010 budget on May 13 meeting, but the vote may not count for much.
As City Council President William Foley pointed out, "this is a unique year." Foley explained that in years past, the council regularly gets a budget from the mayor late in May or in June after the state has settled its budget and it is known how much money is coming to the city.
This year, however, the state is still in the middle of its budget process and Foley said the Finance Control Board (FCB) decided if the City Council wants to have a voice in the city's budget they must vote on it by May 15.
Foley called the date of the demanded vote "very premature."
"[We're] all very frustrated" Foley added.
Councilor Bud Williams said the council should consider petitioning the governor over changing the FCB's decision, which he called "irresponsible." Foley, who sits on the FCB, said he made a request for the board to change the date but was denied.
Five members of the council -- Bud Williams, Kateri Walsh, Patrick Markey, James Ferrera and Foley -- attended the discussion of Mayor Domenic Sarno's budget. The rest of the members either had personal or business commitments, Foley noted.
Sarno said his budget was based on Gov. Deval Patrick's budget numbers, which he said were more conservative than those in the preliminary House budget.
"This is a very, very conservative budget," Sarno stated.
Sarno said this budget's goal was to preserve the city's public safety efforts and to avert any more layoffs.
Acting Chief Financial Officer T.J. Plante noted, though, the state numbers, which affect the city's budget, "could change daily."
The $643 million budget had to be built around a $13.5 million decrease in unrestricted state aid, Plante said. He added that 67 percent of the budget pays for personal services and benefits.
Local receipts are down over $2 million as well and other state aid has dropped over $3 million.
Sarno added that none of Springfield's share of the revenue enhancing measures proposed by Patrick have been included in the budget.
Plante said the city is facing "cost drivers" in the form of benefits, which rose $2.2 million; collective bargaining wages that rose $1.2 million; and a $5.9 million increase in school transportation.
The city has saved money through $10.4 million in cuts spurred by state budget reductions; $1.5 million in recurring costs through the CitiStat program; and savings ranging from $70 to $96 million over the next five years by switching to the state's health insurance program, Plante noted.
At the end of the presentation Sarno traded remarks with Ferrera, who asked what Sarno's contingency plan was when the potentially lower state budget numbers are set and if Patrick makes more 9C cuts to this year's budget.
Sarno emphasized the word "if," and added he didn't want "people to get into an uproar" with a discussion of possible cuts.
Ferrera said that he didn't see any contingency plans and called Sarno's budget "simply pure fiction."
"That's your opinion," Sarno responded.
Plante told Ferrera the numbers used for the budget were lower than those noted in the House plan and asked him what numbers the finance team should have used.
"T.J., T.J., T.J., that's not my job," Ferrera said, his voice rising in volume.
"There's nothing to talk about," Ferrera added.
While Walsh thought the budget was fair Markey, believed its conservative nature put the city "somewhat ahead of the game." Williams said he couldn't vote for it.