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Gibson surmounts bigger budget challenge

Date: 5/18/2010

May 19, 2010.

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

WEST SPRINGFIELD -- Mayor Edward Gibson thought preparing the fiscal year 2010 (FY10) budget was the most challenging of his career. Fast-forward 12 months and he's surmounted an even bigger one, the FY11 operating budget.

Gibson submitted the town's $80.3 million FY11 operating budget -- an increase of 3.86 percent over FY10 -- to the Town Council earlier this month. The budget was balanced without the use of stabilization funds and in spite of a $1.2 million decrease in Chapter 70 and federal stimulus funds and the new $8 million bond, a debt which financed federally-mandated repairs of the levee system.

"This fiscal year 2011 budget presents a number of unique challenges and is a balance between providing prompt services to the residents of West Springfield and a cost efficient budget due to the tight fiscal constraints and reductions over the previous year's state aid," Gibson said.

He noted, "Despite estimated reductions in state aid, I am able to present a structurally balanced budget that leaves the estimated excess levy for FY11 at approximately $535,000 (an increase in excess levy from last year's excess levy of $495,000). The result is continued stabilization of property taxes during this difficult economic time."

The mayor himself has also made additional sacrifices this year to help balance the budget. Not only will he continue to use his personal vehicle to travel while paying for meetings with his own funds, Gibson has also opted to take five furlough days this fiscal year.

The mayor's staff has also been reduced by one office assistant in FY11.

Other department heads are also making sacrifices to curtail budget deficits. Antonia Golinski-Foisy, director of the West Springfield Public Library, and her assistant director have opted out of their raises for FY11.

"Thankfully we didn't have to cut any staff," Golinski-Foisy said, adding that state aid was cut to $36,000 from $54,000 in FY10.

She explained that the library received a level-funded budget from the town this year but had to cut $17,000 to finance salary increases. Cuts came from line items including traveling, office supplies, repairs and new books, Golinski-Foisy added.

The School Department will also see reductions totaling a 1.96 percent decrease from FY10.

"Level funded is what we would have preferred as a minimum but even that brings some difficulty," Kevin McQuillan, assistant school superintendent, said. "Although a level funded budget sounds good it means we have to absorb cost increases."

Cuts were made to line items including student activities, administrative technology, utilities, maintenance, professional development, equipment and personnel.

When asked if he thought the department averted major cuts this budget cycle, McQuillan said, "I suppose comparatively speaking we could have been seen as dodging a bullet ... One of the reasons is prudent use of the federal stimulus money, which we spread over two years which will minimize the impact.

"The ARRA [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] funds have really helped us out and without them we would have been in a dire situation and we tried to make the best use of them as possible," he continued. "We're very conscious of the fact that in 12 months we'll not have that luxury."

The Town Council is currently considering additional cuts to the FY11 budget, which must be approved by June 30, the last day of FY10.