|By G. Michael Dobbs|
SPRINGFIELD Mayor Charles Ryan said he is grateful for the work State Senator Stephen Buoniconti has done in developing a list of 17 strategies to help Springfield reach a more secure financial future.
Ryan reviewed the list with Reminder Publications last week and noted that some of the items have already been implemented, while others are being considered.
Buoniconti released the list last month and recently met with Ryan about the proposals.
The following are the 17 suggestions and Ryan's reactions:
"Create a quasi-independent Golf Commission with an Enterprise Fund to take over operation of the municipal golf courses...The model is the Water and Sewer Commission."
Ryan said the Water and Sewer Authority is a body that was created by the legislature. He said the idea is "worthy of examination," and his administration has been looking at changing the management of the courses in order to save money.
Ryan said the challenge would be a Golf Course Authority would have to see bonds in order to buy the courses from the city. He wondered what entity would buy the bonds and whether or not there would be enough of a revenue stream to back the bonds.
"The selling of outstanding tax liens to a private company to capture owed taxes and spur economic development as allowed by legislation I filed during the last session."
Ryan said his administration is "doing extremely well moving forward with the enormous task of dealing with the backlog of taxes" and is reluctant at this time to sell the liens to a private company. He is primarily concerned with what would happen to the properties and their owners once control leaves the city government.
He did add that the suggestion is "an alternative worthy of considering."
"Aggressive encouragement of employees and retirees to purchase prescription medication via Canada."
Ryan said the city's Canadian prescription program is on going and that it works best for people who are on regular medication.
"Institute a competitive bidding process for a prescription drug contract to service employees. This would be a minor inconvenience for city employees, but I believe an exclusive contract could be very appealing to a chain pharmacy (CVS, Walgreen's, etc.) A contract with an exclusive chain drug store would lower health costs."
Ryan said that he would want to know more about this idea.
"Explore possibility of city employees being added to State Health Care Coverage."
Ryan said this is a "good idea and is being explored right now."
"Streamline departments combine Park and DPW departments; combine Elections, City Clerk and City Council; Planning and Community Development; establish civilian dispatch for police and fire (this would have the additional advantage of freeing up fire personnel to help fulfill state-mandated staffing numbers)."
Ryan said that his administration has streamlined many departments and that the number of people reporting to the mayor has been reduced from 29 to 11. He is open to additional re-organization and noted that civilian dispatchers have been brought into the Police Department.
"Re-finance outstanding debt."
The city has already refinanced $147,510 million of debt resulted in a savings of $7.6 million, Ryan said. He noted that $5 million of that $7.6 million was returned to the state government.
"Hiring freeze for non-essential employees."
Ryan said a freeze of this nature was put in place two years ago.
"Is the city at full tax levy? Because of Proposition 2 1/2 not appropriating to full amount creates a lag effect on future year's budget."
The city has been at full tax levy for "many years," Ryan said.
"Utilize Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts to prepare a comprehensive economic plan for the city. This organization is well-staffed and has the necessary combination of regional and economic to play a leading role in Springfield's turnaround."
Ryan said that city is working with MassDevelopment to come up with strategies for an industrial park, although no final plans have been reached.
"Adoption of special legislation to allow a meals tax in Springfield."
Ryan said he would be very happy if the Legislature passed a bill creating a meal tax for the city.
"Legislation has been passed to issue pension obligation bonds. Brockton recently saved substantial monies through this measure."
Ryan said it's doubtful that the Finance Control Board would approve such a plan at this time and he questioned who would buy the bonds considering the city's credit rating.
"Ask Governor to support Distressed Cities Fund. I have proposed a $100 million Distress Community Bill to help Springfield and other communities that are struggling."
Ryan supports this legislation.
"Discussion with State Auditor regarding transportation costs. 1971 Board of Education decision, upheld by state court could be considered a mandate. Ask Auditor DeNucci to make declaration on this matter which could lead to state aid."
Ryan explained that additional busing of school children in the city was ordered by the state to help Springfield's schools reach racial equality. He explained that the state was supposed to reimburse the city for the cost of the busing but that at best Springfield received a reimbursement rate of 30 percent and in the last four or five years has received nothing. Ryan said his administration currently is in discussions with state officials on this subject.
"Examine 121A agreements to ensure full valuation is being paid."
A 121A agreement is a contract between a developer and a municipality that locks in a negotiated tax rate for a 40-year period for a major project. The tax rate is lower than the standing rates in order to encourage the development, Ryan explained.
In Springfield, Ryan said he could think of two developments Tower Square and Monarch Place which have 121A agreements and that those contracts are not yet up.
"Support the Telecommunications Bill that could instantly generate millions in poverty taxes for the city."
Ryan is "much in favor" of that legislation as it would close existing loopholes for telecommunications companies based in Massachusetts cities that have formed offshore partnerships so they can afford paying local taxes.