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Neffinger sends vetoes back to council

Date: 6/20/2012

June 20, 2012

By Debbie Gardner

WEST SPRINGFIELD — Mayor Gregory Neffinger kept his promise to Town Council President Kathleen Bourque, submitting his response to the council's June 11 budget slashing by Friday of the same week.

During a marathon budget review session that lasted until midnight on June 11, the council reduced Neffinger's proposed fiscal year 2013 spending in several key areas, including the Senior Center, Police Department, Planning and Economic Development Department and Health Insurance Trust Fund.

Bourque said she was pleased by the work council members had done on the budget, adding that the number of questions posed during the council meeting showed that members had thoroughly studied the mayor's proposals.

Neffinger said he was unclear why the council chose to make some cuts, including a $50,000 cut to the reserve fund that is controlled by the council.

"Some of these cuts seem to be random," Neffinger said. "I have a plan for reducing taxes and spending over the next four years and this budget is part of that plan."

The first cuts Neffinger said he was adamant about restoring were those involving the Senior Center. He vetoed the council's $7,823 funding cut that reduced a proposed salary and negated the center's ability to hire an assistant director position to help Senior Center Director Laurie Cassidy.

"We really need that position. We need a person with a degree and experience," Neffinger said. "With our aging population growing, we're trying to provide more programs for seniors."

He said he was also was determined to restore money that was targeted for cleaning the center.

Under Neffinger's budget, the town was planning to contract for an outside service to clean the Senior Center. The amount — $30,000 — was considerably higher than the contract to clean the public library, and the council balked at the figure, cutting the line item.

Bourque said she was uncomfortable moving to a service to clean the Senior Center and reassigning the employee to other tasks. She felt that move might be the first step toward a layoff, something Neffinger had said he was not doing in this budget.

Neffinger referred to the council's cut, which left no funding for cleaning the center, as "anti-senior."

Other areas Neffinger restored through veto include $60,000 to the Department of Planning and Economic Development to hire a Director of Planning and Development and $94,350 to create a deputy police chief position.

Neffinger said the planning director position is "in the [town] charter — it says we have to have a Director of Planning and Development and as mayor, part of my job is to fill the charter."

Concerning the deputy police chief position, he acknowledged that there was concern among several council that the Police Department has too many captains on the force.

"What they really should have done was cut a captain," Neffinger said. "By creating a deputy police chief we expect to save $30,000 to $40,000 a year."

The mayor explained that under the current system, when the police chief is off for any reason — illness, scheduled day off or vacation a captain moves up to cover the post and, in accordance with union rules, receives out-of-grade pay for the number of days he covers the chief. The proposed deputy chief position would not be a union position, saving current salary bump whenever the police chief has time off.

"Everything I proposed is to save money. We need people who are going to look into things that will improve the town and eventually cut spending," Neffinger said. "A lot of [my proposals] are driving next year's budget, which propose is going to cut spending and taxes even more."

The mayor added he also vetoed the council's cut of $105,000 for the replacement of the police and fire chiefs' aging vehicles.

He felt the council's $1.5 million cut to the Health Insurance Trust fund was also too severe, as he had already cut $2 million under his budget proposal.

"If we have any catastrophic illnesses among our [municipal] employees, we could easily lose $1 million [in payments]," Neffinger said, adding that his trust fund reduction would already give municipal employees two months of health contribution holidays in 2013.

He also restored funding to hire an assistant for the mayor's office.

The council will take up Neffinger's vetoes at its June 25 meeting. They will need a super majority — a vote of 6 in favor, 3 opposed — to override the mayor's vetoes of any cuts.

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