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Budget binds Boulanger

Significant cuts forecasted should City Council approve budget

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD The city of Westfield will see some significant budget cuts beginning July 1, should the City Council approve Mayor Michael Boulanger's $119.3 million fiscal year 2009 (FY09) operating budget.

The budget is only a 2.68 percent increase over FY08 and contains within it some large cuts to various departments, including $1.4 million from the School Department.

In an interview with Reminder Publications, Boulanger said he had two primary objectives when preparing the budget to prevent layoffs and to spend taxpayers' dollars effectively.

"People who work in this city are working hard and it's their livelihood," Boulanger said of his efforts to save jobs. "The last thing I wanted to do was take away [someone's] livelihood."

He explained that because of "decreasing state aid" it was vital that cuts for unnecessary expenditures were made to "ensure that taxpayer dollars were spent most effectively."

The largest cut of $1.4 million came from the School Department, which will be sacrificing 13 staff members, closing the HVAC program at Westfield Vocational Technical High School one year early, postponing the purchase of new textbooks and a maintenance vehicle and eliminating late buses.

Boulanger explained that the School Department had requested a 6.5 percent increase over FY08, which was "far more than the city could afford."

The Police and Fire Departments also received cuts for FY09. The Police Department received approximately $300,000 in cuts from the mayor and will operate on a $6.5 million budget for FY09. The Fire Department requested a $5.8 million budget but was cut by approximately $400,000.

Boulanger noted that cuts made to the Police and Fire Departments were those necessary "without compromising public safety."

Cuts made to the budget request include the appropriation of $64,000 for overtime ($164,000 was requested), an appropriation of $5,000 for building repairs and maintenance ($130,000 was requested) and no money was allocated for vehicles ($112,000 was requested).

Fire Chief Thomas Kane said the department has been "under funded" for quite some time. He noted that the department is short funding for eight personnel since 2002. Kane said the department currently has a total of 85 uniformed personnel.

He explained that the funds requested for building repairs were for new roofing, energy-efficient windows and new bathrooms. Kane said he requested funding for new vehicles to replace "old [fire] engines that don't meet safety standards."

Barnes Airport received cuts of over $270,000 from a requested budget of $839,482.34. The department was budgeted over $609,000 for FY08.

Chris Willenborg, manager of Barnes Airport, explained that the mayor cut $166,828.50 from the department's budget because the airport has not yet received a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration's Airport Improvement Program. He said that money would have been the city's share of the building projects under the grant. Willenborg said the airport is hoping to receive the grant sometime in the future.

Other cuts to the department included supplies, purchase of services, hourly rates and $30,000 for 12-foot snow plows.

Willenborg noted that rising fuel costs and the need to meet safety standards at the airport will create difficulties when trying to fund the airport's budget for future fiscal years.

Other cuts included the near elimination of capital expenditures. The mayor has appropriated $10,000 for capital expenditures $40,000 was appropriated in FY08. The Department of Emergency Management will operate on a $59,000 budget $75,000 was appropriated in FY08. Flood Control was also cut by approximately $46,000 for FY09. The Law Department, Athenaeum, Mayor's Department, Veterans' Department and Youth Services all received cuts and were appropriated less funding than their FY08 budgets.

However, some departments did see increases including the Community Preservation Act, which was appropriated $63,300 in FY08 and will receive $288,300 for FY09 $200,000 will be added for open space this fiscal year.

Cost of insurance also jumped from last year the mayor has appropriated $13,308,600 for FY09 but only $4,784,163 was appropriated for FY08.

The budget is currently under review by the City Council's Finance Committee and will be presented to the full council on June 26.