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Budget passes, remains unscathed from proposed cuts

Date: 7/19/2013

By Carley Dangona

WESTFIELD — To meet the fiscal year 2014 (FY14) needs of the city, Mayor Daniel Knapik gave to some departments and took away from others.

The council approved the proposed $113.32 million FY14 budget in full on June 20.

Budget savings included a $25,000 decrease for the Westfield Redevelopment Authority since the city has fewer projects in need of appraisal; a $750,300 reduction for the Technology Department that was a result of decreased expenditures and a vacant part-time position; and a $47,650 reduction in the Building Department resulting from the retirement of two employees.

Increases to the budget included a $44,000 increase to the Fire Department budget, which covered the remaining $42,000 of the $86,000 needed to purchase tools for the new platform truck; a $270,000 increase to the Police Department budget to cover the addition of three patrol officers and newly-established 40-hour work week; and an additional $360,000 to cover the interest of the city’s short-term debts.

Knapik explained to the City Council that he approached the budget by comparing the “asks” of each department for FY14 to the expenditures of fiscal year 2013 (FY13) in an effort to determine a budget that reflected the realistic financial needs of the city.

For example, the Fire Department requested a FY14 budget of $5.66 million dollars, but only used $5.51 million in FY13. The increase was due to a request to expand the overtime fund account. Knapik said there was no need to do so since money was still available at the end of FY13.

The FY14 Police Department budget incorporated a savings of $374,000 that the mayor noted was a result of stringently managing the overtime hours of the officers.

“I’ve asked both chiefs of fire and police to aggressively manage overtime,” Knapik said.

He added that he expected additional budget savings once the new cruisers were in use since the warranties had been increased from 50,000 to 75,000 miles.

The City Council’s Finance subcommittee had recommended cuts of 1.25 percent to each department’s budget at the June 13 council meeting. On June 18, Knapik sent a letter to the council stating his concerns about the cuts. Accompanying the mayor’s communication were 15 letters from city department heads stating the reductions would result in layoffs since salary cuts would violate contract agreements.

“We are not talking about not mowing the grass a few times a year. We are talking about personnel that file reports, help with federal and state grant management, inspect the airfield and maintain lights, markings and work closely with the state, federal and environmental agencies on a weekly basis,” Brian Barnes, manager of Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport, wrote regarding the staffing changes that the FY14 budget cuts would result in.

According to the other letters, anticipated workforce reductions include the elimination of five police officers and two firefighters; a reduction in the programs offered by and office hours for the Parks and Recreation Department; the Information Technology Department would have to limit its support and repair services to the town and schools.

The subcommittee’s proposed cuts would have resulted in the newly purchased truck for the Fire Department remaining idle because the necessary equipment could not be purchased; an estimated 10 percent reduction would occur in the money the Engineering Department uses to support the city’s infrastructure; and the Community Development Department would have to negotiate furloughs or staffing reduction of its employees.