Council lowers proposed taxes by maintaining budget cuts
Date: 7/3/2012July 4, 2012
By Debbie Gardnerdebbieg@thereminder.com
WEST SPRINGFIELD Residents would have seen tax relief under either scenario, but the Town Council's final version of the fiscal year 2013 (FY13) operating budget is projected to provide a bit more.
During a special meeting on June 25, the Town Council voted to override eight of Mayor Gregory Neffinger's 11 veto requests, choosing to only restore money for the town's Senior Center and municipal building operations.
At its regularly scheduled June 11 meeting, the council voted to slash more than $2 million from Neffinger's proposed $81.9 million operating budget.
"The message was sent in the last election, taxes were foremost on residents' and businesses' minds, and the council took heed of that, especially this year," At Large Town Councilor Brian Griffin told Reminder Publications
. "We put our mouth where our money is ... individuals want tax relief and tax breaks, and the Town Council listened."
According to figures presented at the June 25 meeting by Town Council President Kathleen Bourque, the council's initial cuts to Neffinger's proposed FY13 budget would have decreased a average homeowner's taxes by approximately $232 and a business owner's taxes by $1,965, using the town's 2012 tax shift percentages and home valuations.
If accepted as presented, Neffinger's 11 vetoes would have restored approximately $1.9 million in spending nearly everything the council had cut back to the town's bottom line.
Bourque said, if all of that spending had been restored to the budget, taxpayers would have still received a projected cut in their tax bill, with the average homeowner seeing a reduction in his or her tax bill of $109 and business owners seeing a drop of approximately $921.
Bourque said the three items where the council accepted the mayor's vetoes would have minimal impact on the initial tax cut predictions for residents and businesses.
All projections are based on the fiscal year 2012 tax shift and property valuations. The town's FY13 tax rate and valuations will not be set or approved by the state until November.
Town Accountant Sharon Wilcox said the final operating budget, as approved by the Town Council, was $80.06 million, a 2.88 percent reduction over the FY12 budget passed under former Mayor Edward Gibson.
Neffinger said his FY13 budget, as originally presented, was part of a four-year plan to "cut taxes or keep them flat" while stimulating economic growth for West Springfield.
"I've already cut taxes," Neffinger continued. "And I have a plan for next year.
The FY13 budget Neffinger originally submitted to the council reflected a reduction of $1 million in spending as compared to the town's FY12 budget. His budget included a $2.5 million reduction to the town's contribution to its Health Insurance Trust Fund, a figure the council reduced by an additional $1.5 million.
"I think the cutting of that was too much," Neffinger said. "I had proposed cutting more [initially] and Sharon Wilcox said she felt we should cut some [of the contribution] this year, and some next year [to be prudent]."
Neffinger said Wilcox was concerned about the impact of a catastrophic health issue among one or more municipal employees, something that has not occurred in several years.
In total, the council voted to restore a little more than $77,000 to the town's FY13 operating budget, enough to fully fund the salary for an assistant director position at the Senior Center, to contract for an outside service to clean the Center, and for day-to-day operations at the Municipal Complex, including cleaning services.
It refused to restore an assistant position in the mayor's office, create a deputy police chief position, establish a motor pool or fully fund the salary to fill an economic development director position, which Neffinger indicated is required under the Town Charter and has gone unfilled for more than 10 years.
"The council felt the stipend in the amount of $21,000 could take care of [those additional duties for economic development], rather than add a position, especially in these economic times," Griffin said.
Neffinger said Town Planner Richard Werbiskis, who would be asked to add the economic development duties under the council's move, had previously said this was his offices' busy season, and he would not have the time for additional duties.
Other cuts included removing a $50,000 contribution to the town's reserve account and a cut to its personal legal services fund.
Griffin said when the state certifies the town's Free Cash in October those monies might be restored.
Neffinger expressed frustration over the lack of communication between the council and his office regarding the budget process.
"Some of the City Councilors did not speak to me about the budget at all," he said. "I reached out to them and they did not respond.
"One councilor voted for every single cut but he never spoke to me at all about the budget of West Springfield," Neffinger continued.
The mayor maintained that he is "the only one" who has a four-year plan for the town.
"I have a plan for not raising taxes," he reiterated. "I'm the only one who looked at the whole budget and decided this is what's best for the town."