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So far in budget city avoids layoffs


Feb. 22, 2013
By G. Michael Dobbs

news@thereminder.com

CHICOPEE — Despite an anticipated level funding from the state, Mayor Michael Bissonnette does not believe the city will have to diminish services or lay off employees this year.

Speaking to Reminder Publications in the midst of his budget meetings with department heads, Bissonnette said this is the fifth year in a row the state has decreased aid to the city side of the budget. He noted that the School Department's budget has increased, though.

What has helped the city is that there have been consolidations in departments such as police, fire and public works through retirement and an active effort to pay for various programs with grants, Bissonnette explained.

The strength of the city's reserves has allowed it to maintain a favorable bond rating — which keeps borrowing rates low — as well as providing a "cushion to help us offset [the decline] of local aid."

The high-tension electrical lines and poles that cross the city may provide with a welcomed $3 million to $4 million in tax revenue, he said, but that has not yet been finalized.

The mayor said he and his department heads have been trying to create a capital planning budget for the next decade. The plan would replace worn out city vehicles.

"We have to have fleet maintenance," Bissonnette said.

Actions taken by the City Council have slowed down the capital plan, though. Bissonnette said the idea of retrofitting outdated trash packers for $20,000 into sand and salt spreaders — a new salt and sand truck costs $180,000 — was not supported by the council.

Budget-wise trash is a major concern for the city, Bissonnette said. He said that every year the landfill used by the city can be extended, the city saves $3 million. He said that when he was elected on 2006, he was told the landfill would be closed in 2011. Steps taken to increase recycling have given the landfill a new closing date of 2016, he explained.

Future mayors will have to deal with the expense of trash disposal, but Bissonnette is continuing to push for a way to reduce the over-all cost of trash pick-up. The mayor asserted the city and residents could save money on new city provided trash toters that could be picked up by trucks, but so far the City Council has not acted on the idea.

"It would just make trash pick-up more efficient, cleaner and residents won't have to buy replacement barrels," he said.

He said the other trash expense measure that he believes will be happening in three or four years is the separation of food waste from trash and recyclables. Table scraps and discarded food, for instance, will be composted rather than being buried with trash, he explained.

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