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New formula affects budget

By Erin O'Connor

Staff Writer

AGAWAM Mayor Richard Cohen's town budget may face a $108,000 deficit unless state funds are restored, said Cohen on Friday.

Numbers for state aid submitted to the city were reflected in his town budget for the new fiscal year of $12,483,017, Cohen said.

The numbers were based on what the State House of Representatives had in its budget proposal.

The State Senate amount, though, would decrease Agawam's funding by $108,000 less than what the House proposal offered.

The budget proposed by the Senate is requesting a new formula for distributing Chapter 70 funds. The new forumla puts Cohen's town budget in deficit.

"The new formula is to adapt to the times," State Senator Stephen Buoniconti said. "The formula is changing to help communities who need it," he said.

Members of Senate met last Wednesday and discussed a $210.4 million increase from last year in educational funding for local funding for schools and communities.

"It is very exciting," George Bitzas, Agawam City Council member said in response to the news.

"This amount is $37 million more than what the House proposes and $47 million more than what the Governer proposes," said Samantha Delair, press secretary to State Senator Therese Murray of Plymouth, the chairperson for the House Ways and Means Committee.

Bitzas had recently put forth a resolution from the people of Agawam asking that no more cuts be made to local education funding.

None of the three branches of Massachusetts government currently will be asking for cuts specifically in Chapter 70 funds but the new formula being proposed by the Senate will change the disbursement of funds.

The change in the formula that the Senate proposes will disburse the amount of aid going to local communities based on what the residents' income is compared to increases and decreases in property value, Buoniconti explained.

All communities in Massachusetts will receive an increase in chapter 70 funding, Buoniconti said.

According to the Senate budget, some communities will receive more funding than others said Delair.

"The new budget is geared towards helping communities with lower incomes and more special needs students," Delair said.

"Agawam will get an increase in aid," Buoniconti said.

It will not be as much aid as other towns and communities will get based on the new formula.

Cohen, upon submitting his Agawam budget proposal for the next year, believed a 14% increase is what the Agawam budget would see. The recent Senate proposal would decrease this percentage.

"I would like to restore the $108,000 loss in Chapter 70 school funding," said Cohen.

"All politics are local," Bitzas said, who advises the people to petition in the community to local law makers.

"Lobby the State Senate office," Cohen said, "Let them know that you want to see Chapter 70 funds restored."

"Things can change," said Buoniconti.

The Senate is not finished yet, he said. The Senate will have to confer with the House at which time the two branches will have to agree to a number and then submit the budget to the governer who wil then approve it or veto it.

The Senate and House will be meeting in June to debate the two budget proposals.

"I am hoping the Senate in all their wisdom will make the right decision," Cohen said.