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Sarno presents 'austere, balanced' budget

Date: 5/31/2013

By Chris Maza

SPRINGFIELD — Mayor Domenic Sarno unveiled his recommended fiscal year 2014 (FY14) budget at a press event on May 29, touting the fact that the city will not endure any layoffs.

The mayor's budget proposed a budget of $571.8 million, representing a modest increase of 1.6 percent from FY13. The City Council also received Sarno's recommendation that evening and has approximately a month to ratify the budget.

"This budget it austere . It's balanced, it's sound [and] it makes every effort to protect and keep core services to the best of each of our departments' abilities with the restricted resources that are available to city government," Sarno said.

He explained that the budget includes funding for 1,242 general fund employees for an increase of about 2.9 percent from the current fiscal year. Noting that while that was a positive, he admitted the number is still significantly lower than the 1,581 that were employed by the city when he took office in 2003.

Sarno and Acting Chief Administrative and Financial Officer T.J. Plante both spoke of a projected deficit of nearly $22 million at the beginning of the budgeting process. Plante said that while the city projected a $21.6 million shortfall, once departmental requests were in that gap grew by more $3 million.

Sarno cited the fact that the city is at its tax levy ceiling and reductions in state aid as the primary reasons why his administration has had to address deficits over the past six years. He noted that his negotiations with the state to garner more funding resulted in an additional $750,000 for the city, but said, "This in no way sustains our growing non-discretionary expenses and we will continue to work the state."

The budget gap, Sarno said, was bridged through funding reductions as well as the use of $7 million in reserves and $4 million from an Overlay Surplus declared by the Board of Assessors.

"Without this revenue package, there would definitely be severe service cuts and layoffs would take place," he said.

Sarno also stressed the importance of up-front money received from MGM Springfield as a key to avoiding a financial crisis.

"Without the strongly negotiated MGM community host agreement, through which we were able to get $1 million of up-front guaranteed money and $4 million of up-front money, pending a decision from the voters, we would have had to lay off 100 employees and made massive service cuts," he said.

When asked if the reliance on casino revenue was a concern to him, Sarno said that in FY14, the city would be able to cover the $4 million in expected monies from MGM, but in fiscal year 2015, without the additional revenue, layoffs and cuts would be necessary.

In order to avoid cuts to active city personnel, Sarno and the Finance Division opted not to offer the opportunity to fill 17 positions in several departments that were previously vacant, including 11 in the Police Department.

Sarno noted, however, that the city would go forward with a fully funded police academy with a class of 22 new recruits. He added that Springfield would also continue to fund the Quinn Bill, despite the fact that the state has opted to stop funding the law enforcement education initiative.

The Police Department will also continue its deployment strategies, including the North End Initiative, Operation BADGE and the Ordinance/Flex Squad with a new Mason Square initiative expected to be announced shortly, Sarno said. The Quebec unit, which deploys officers in the city's schools, would include two officers that would rotate between the elementary schools, he added.

The ShotSpotter system would continue to be utilized and possibly expanded.

Sarno also proposed the closing of the Liberty Street and Pine Point libraries, asserting that work with the libraries as well as an outside consultant conducting an independent study drew the conclusion that "it made no sense to keep libraries open for six to eight hours a week." With the closing of the branches, additions for the remaining libraries will occur, including an increase in hours of operation from 18 hours to 30 hours a week.

Sarno proposed a $127,000 reduction in the Fire Department's budget for salaries based on expected retirements, but would have a "mini internal academy to try to stay close to attrition levels." That class would include eight candidates.

The Parks and Recreation Department would not fill four current vacancies and the Capital Asset Construction Department would be reduced by one vacancy. After ceasing operations at 10 parks, including Walsh, Armory Commons, Gun Square and Angelina to balance the FY13 budget, services to those facilities will be renewed in FY14. Summer recreation programs would remain intact, as would the city's pools, Five Mile Pond and the splash pads that are used during the summer months, Sarno added.

Terraces that have been neglected would be maintained by inmate work crews through an agreement with the Hampden County Sherriff's department.

Funding for vehicle maintenance and new trash barrels was reduced in the Department of Public Works budget. Two CDL licensed drivers would be added to aid with snow removal and road maintenance while solid waste and Single Stream recycling curb-side pickup as well as curb-side yard waste and bulk pick ups would be continued, Sarno said, however, some hazardous waste collections would be reduced.