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Tough decisions required to balance FY10 budget

Date: 3/24/2009

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD -- Money is tight, there's no doubt about that, and more cuts will have to be made before Mayor Michael Boulanger can submit a balanced fiscal year 2010 (FY10) budget to the City Council.

During an interview with Reminder Publications, Boulanger explained that department heads are required to reduce their budgets by a certain percentage. He noted that larger departments such as the Westfield Public Schools are receiving bigger reductions than smaller offices. Superintendent Shirley Alvira is required to cut $2.1 million; Personnel Director Richard Merchant must cut six percent of his budget.

"The city's hands are tied and it's a matter of all of us working together," Boulanger said.

Alvira said she is working diligently to find ways to reduce the school budget in addition to the recently approved closure of Moseley Elementary School.

"My decisions are not made off the cuff -- they're based on data an input from the School Committee and the city," she explained.

Alvira added that reductions under consideration include closing the administrative offices on Ashley Street and moving them to South Middle School as well as cuts to line items within each school's budget. Alvira said cutting teachers would be a last resort.

"Teachers are the most important part of the school department," Alvira said.

Police Chief John Camerota explained that the department's FY09 budget is pared to the bone. He added that the only cuts that can be made for FY10 would have to come from Community Police personnel.

"We fought for years and years to get those [Communinty Police] programs and they've been very successful," Camerota said, adding that cutting these officers would not be in the best interests of the city.

Merchant explained that in order to make the necessary cuts his department was forced to reduce operating expenses and one of his full-time staff to 22 hours per week. He added that in order to retain that full-time employee, other members of the department opted to take five to seven days off each year without pay.

Merchant noted that his department is non-union, which allows them to make such concessions for one another.

"[FY10 has] an operations budget that's very tight and there are areas that you hope [pan out such as] the printer lasts longer [so you don't have to buy a new one] and you don't go to [professional] training sessions," he explained. "We're taking those chances but unfortunately there are some things that take the back seat during this kind of budget crunch."

Boulanger noted that FY10 budget reductions total between two and 10 percent per department.

"It's a very stressful time and this budget will be difficult...but we ll [balance] it," he said.