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Council majority votes to diminish stabilization account

Date: 8/25/2009

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

AGAWAM -- The City Council majority voted to dip into the town's multi-million dollar stabilization account last week to finance capital improvements omitted from the town's fiscal year 2010 budget.

The Council voted seven to two, with two absent -- Councilors Cecilia Calabrese and Jill Simpson cast a no vote and Councilors Joe Mineo and George Bitzas were absent -- in favor of an amended resolution funding $261,050 in capital improvements. Mayor Susan Dawson proposed the initial resolution, which called for $489,815 from the stabilization fund for improvements.

"I think it's a very fair compromise," Dawson told Reminder Publications. "I believe that this will work out very well and this makes it so we don't have to raise taxes. And I think that keeping those taxes down is imperative."

Capital improvements omitted from the resolution included $48,765 for a new gym floor at Benjamin J. Phelps Elementary School; $150,000 for equipment for the Department of Public Works (DPW); and $30,000 for sidewalk rehabilitation and extension.

"When we met in the [City Council's] Finance Subcommittee it was decided that the gym floor could wait, the sidewalks would be repaired to the extent that we'd have funding available and if the DPW needed new equipment it would be voted on one by one," Dawson explained.

Calabrese said she voted down the resolution because she believes all vital capital improvements should be included in the operating budget.

"I think it is a financially risky habit to start. Once you start the practice of tapping into your emergency savings you set a dangerous precedence," she said.

Councilors Paul Cavallo and Donald Rheault said they would not have voted in favor of the initial proposal of $489,815 in improvements but that cutting the spending in half was a "fair" compromise.

Cavallo added that items omitted from the initial resolution are not a "priority" at this time.

The amended resolution will fund $150,000 for the Street Improvement Program; $9,500 for the Hampden County Land Acquisition; $24,800 for DPW boiler replacement; and funding for departmental accounts.