Budget hearing a bust
Date: 5/24/2011May 25, 2011
By Debbie Gardner
WEST SPRINGFIELD They hosted a public hearing, but apparently, no member of the public had questions about the budget.
The Town Council dedicated the first segment of its May 16 meeting to a review of and public comment on the mayor's proposed fiscal year 2012 (FY12) budget, but despite Council President Kathleen Bourque's attention to detail in announcing each section of the budget asking the audience if there were any questions after each announcement there was no public comment on any portion of the town's proposed revenue or spending for the coming fiscal year.
The only public comments that evening concerned a resolution supporting the revoking of a biomass permit in Springfield and the continued lack of animal control in West Springfield. The majority of the audience, all of whom sat with thick binders apparently copies of the town's budget open on their laps during the presentation, left shortly after the budget hearing had concluded.
Mayor Edward Gibson introduced the presentation portion of the $88.3 million proposed FY12 budget, noting that preparing this year's numbers was possibly more difficult than any other budgeting cycle in his 10-year tenure.
"I think we came up with an good compromise for the residents and businesses of West Springfield to offer the services they expect while being kind to taxpayers," Gibson said before turning the floor over to the town's Chief Financial Officer Sharon Wilcox.
Calling the FY12 budget, which represents a modest 2.97 percent increase over FY11 spending "structurally sound," Wilcox noted that Gibson had chosen to balance spending and expenditures without taxing residents "up to the full [2 1/2percent] allowed and with no one-time funds or rainy day funds" to support recurring operations. The use of $1.2 million in free cash a 39.5 percent increase in comparison to the FY11 budget is, Wilcox noted, proposed to be used for capital and non-recurring operations expenses.
Among those FY12 non-recurring expenses are one-time capital outlays earmarked for the Information Technology and Fire Departments, the Department of Public Works, The Council on Aging, the library and the Parks and Recreation Department.
Other sources of revenue in the FY12 budget include a proposed $58.6 million in property taxes, approximately $23 million in projected state aid and $5.1 million in local revenue.
"No overlay surplus is proposed for this budget," Wilcox said, adding that the budget was "very lean" on the expenditure side.
Though contract negotiations had not yet been completed with the town's unions, Wilcox said there was no projected increase. In other cost-saving moves, the budget materials provided indicated several vacant municipal positions either were not scheduled to be filled in FY12 or had been reduced in hours and responsibility so they could be filled, where possible, with part-time, non-benefited personnel.
At $10.6 million a 10.2 percent increase compared to FY11, Wilcox said health insurance costs are the largest recurring expense this year, followed by $574,044 a 2.5 percent increase in workers compensation and $5.1 million a 2 percent increase in pension costs. The town's capital expenses, listed at $882,727, grew by a projected 12.8 percent; debt service, projected to be $5.1 million, grew by 11.59 percent, while the $525,660 figure budget for non-recurring operating costs represented an increase of nearly 27 percent.
The debt service increase, she said, includes an estimate for bonding that is projected to take place in June. A projected $175,00 in realized energy efficiency savings within the town's departments is expected to be available to offset the debt service figure.
She also reminded the council that the town's water and sewer operations are now classified as Enterprise Funds, and have been operating under this designation one that dictates fees associated with services support the operation for the past three budget cycles.
"We're getting closer to seeing user fees make them self-sustaining," Wilcox said. "Water is completely funded out of user fees except for non-recurring capital expenses."
The sewer fund is not yet self-sustaining, she noted, adding, "When [the town] adopted these funds, it did know it would take time to get them fully funded."
Wilcox also pointed out that the FY12 budget as presented calls for moving 9.41 percent of the town's annual operating budget to the Stabilization, or rainy day, fund.
"I harp on this every year and sound like a broken record," Wilcox said. "But it is important to keep [the town's] reserves funded for a rainy day. It might seem that this is the year we should use it, but I don't believe that [time] has come yet. I believe the worst is yet to come."
West Springfield's proposed FY12 budget is available online at www.west-springfield.ma.us
. Click on the budget information link on the home page to access the proposed FY12 budget.Debbie Gardner can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com