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Mayor's budget proposal 'averts large-scale layoffs'

Date: 5/18/2010

May 19, 2010.

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

AGAWAM -- Mayor Richard Cohen submitted his proposed fiscal year 2011 (FY11) operating budget to the Town Council last week, reiterating his commitment to fiscal responsibility.

The $71.6 million FY11 budget is only a 1.27 percent increase over last fiscal year and may be reduced further by the Town Council.

"In this time of global economic crisis, we are confronted by extraordinary challenges that require us to come together, as a community, to reconfirm our priorities and continue to define the great community we want to be," Cohen wrote to the council.

"The fact that we were able to avert large-scale layoffs and massive service cuts to municipal and school services within this budget is no small feat," he added.

Cohen said he was "extremely pleased with the budget," adding that he did not require the use of stabilization funds.

The increased tax levy helped supplement shortfalls garnering $45.6 million, as opposed to last fiscal year's $43.6 million, while local aid totaled $21.4 million in revenue.

Cohen noted no cost of living increases were given to employees this year with the exception of contractual obligations.

Many areas of government received cuts including the Law Department, Auditor, Clerk, Assessor, Inspection Services, Planning and Community Development, Council on Aging, Department of Public Works (DPW) Administration and the School Department.

School Superintendent Mary Czajkowski noted her department was able to absorb the 0.24 percent budget decrease while preserving the jobs of all 15.8 retiring teachers and staff.

"The priority was to keep the teacher in the classroom," Czajkowski said of lobbying for those jobs rather than losing them to attrition.

She added that department personnel are seeking outside funding sources such as grants to fund updated technology and other supplies.

Cuts to other departments included a 52.6 percent reduction to the DPW Administration, which stipulated decreases in salaries for the superintendent, solid waste coordinator and the elimination of the senior clerk position.

Smaller-scaled reductions were enforced in departments such as the Town Clerk's Office, which posted salary decreases for the assistant town clerk, the principal clerk and the elimination of the senior clerk position.

The mayor's proposed FY11 budget is being considered by the Town Council's three budget subcommittees and must be ratified by June 30.

Budget subcommittee meetings are open to the public. Budget #1 Subcommittee will meet on May 27 at 6 p.m. Budget #2 Subcommittee is scheduled to convene on June 2 at 7 p.m. Budget #3 Subcommittee will meet on June 9 at 7 p.m. Each of the aforementioned budget subcommittee meetings will take place at the Agawam Public Library.