Council approves budget with little conflict
Date: 7/3/2012July 4, 2012
By G. Michael Dobbsnews@thereminder.com
CHICOPEE What a difference a year makes.
Last year's budget process was characterized by tit for tat attitude with a majority of the City Council showing Mayor Michael Bissonnette their displeasure by cutting members of his staff and reducing funding for programs.
Instead of last year's recriminations, there were smiles and handshakes at the end of the meeting.
This year, the reconciliation meeting on June 28, at which the City Council voted on changes to the fiscal 2013 budget was quick and cordial. It was followed by a formal acceptance vote of the complete budget.
In remarks made at the beginning of the reconciliation meeting, Bissonnette explained that at a meeting between him and a number of councilors several issues had been resolved to everyone's satisfaction that saved the city money but did not eliminate any services.
City Councilor James Tillotson was credited for devising a number of the adopted revisions.
Instead of funding a separate position for an environmental planner, the mayor and the council agreed to add the duties to those of James Dawson, the development manager in the Planning Department. The move gave Dawson a raise, but saved the city the greater part of a new salary, plus the cost of health insurance and other benefits.
Bissonnette also reported the City Clerk's budget had been increased to allow for an additional clerk who would also do some paperwork for the City Messenger's Office.
Bissonnette had announced earlier in the month the $163 million budget would maintain present city services without any additional fees.
He said that fiscally the city is "back to where we were before 2008." He noted that since that time there has been a $24 million decrease in local aid, but there have also been no layoffs of municipal employees. The mayor added that with the new developments on Memorial Avenue a Marriot hotel, an Aldi supermarket and a Firestone franchise commercial growth is starting to return.
Bissonnette also told the City Council that the earliest the licensing of a casino in Western Massachusetts would take place is October 2013. He said that Chicopee is still of interest to developers, although he acknowledged "there is a very large push to get it in downtown Springfield."
If the casino is located in Springfield, Bissonnette said that he would seek funding to address what would become a major traffic issue: the Massachusetts Turnpike exchange at Burnett Road and Interstate 291.
"There would be no compromise in that," Bissonnette said.
The mayor also gave each councilor a new rendering of the Older Adults Center that had a new façade. He said that too many people believe the original façade looked like a prison.