Sarno: no layoffs planned in new budget
|May 5, 2010.|
By G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD -- Mayor Domenic Sarno briefed the press on his proposed fiscal year 2011 (FY11) city budget, one he called "balanced and fiscally sound," on Friday.
The budget is the first one in years prepared by city officials without the participation of the Finance Control Board, which ended its supervision of city finances last summer and is also the first budget created under the administration of Lee Erdmann, the city's first chief administrative and financial officer.
Despite the fact the city "faces continual bad news in the economy" as well as the threat of more budget cuts from state aid, Sarno called this budget "good news."
Sarno said the details of the budget show the city could manage its own fiscal affairs. At $533.9 million, it is represents an increase over last year's budget of .99 percent, which is less than the inflation rate of between 2 and 3 percent, Sarno explained.
Sarno said his finance team made some "tough choices" and used "creative ideas" to balance this year's budget. He said costs -- and solutions -- were considered on a one-by-one basis, as a "one size fits all" approach would not have worked.
The budget includes:
• "A fully staffed and trained Fire Department including a fully staffed Arson Unit and Ladder 9 including costs for a new class of 23 firefighters bringing the total firefighter count to 236. The total number of firefighters in the department on any given day will change depending on attrition.
• "Full funding for Quinn education incentives to police officers even though the state has nearly ended its commitment to this cost.
"Full funding for technology needs in the police department that were once funded from State grant funds that are no longer available.
• "Full funding for the city's Centralized Dispatch Unit which maximizes the use of State E-911 funding.
• "Full funding for the School Department including meeting all State mandated funding requirements.
• "Full funding for city and school pools for use during the summer months.
• "Full funding for afterschool and out of school programs within the Parks Department to give our city's children a safe and productive place to go.
• "Funding for Public Works to address road maintenance issues through in-house milling and paving efforts.
• "Funding for line painting across the city with a focus on downtown areas and crosswalks around schools to ensure pedestrian safety.
• "Full funding for snow and ice based on historical estimates to ensure road and bridge safety during the winter months.
• "Reduction to the city's trash fee from $80 to $75 without a reduction to service levels currently provided and a continued focus on single stream recycling with the purchase of additional large blue barrels. Eligible seniors will continue to receive a 25 percent discount.
• "Fully funds veterans' benefits to accommodate caseload growth and state mandated benefits.
• "Level funds libraries and maximizes other sources of funding to maintain the library hours and programming consistent with the current year.
• "Fully funds the Elections Division to accommodate the costs of the statewide gubernatorial election that will occur in FY11.
• "Funds a position in the Law Department to help with the License Commission duties.
• "Fully funds employee contractual agreements and health insurance benefits without contribution or co-pay increases.
• "Maintains current city employment levels with small adjustments based on re-structuring. No layoffs are contemplated for city departments.
• "Maintains funding for terrace maintenance to keep the city's neighborhoods clean and beautiful.
• "Fully funds the city's marketing campaign to continue to draw home buyers and businesses to the city and drive additional economic development.
• "Fully funds environmental clean-up efforts to keep the city's parks and facilities clean and safe while meeting Federal and State mandates.
• "Fully funds the city's pension schedule in a responsible way while maximizing the municipal tools offered by the state.
• "Addresses the city's debt schedule while not pushing off costs into the future and maximizing debt mechanisms offered through federal stimulus.
• "Maintains a healthy reserve balance of $43.6 million for the city to use during these difficult economic times."
LeeAnne Pasquini of the city's Finance Department explained there are four general factors that drive the increases in the budget: schools; employee benefits; contractual increases; and debt services and veterans benefits.
Looking over the next four years, Erdmann said that while this budget is balanced by the 2014 budget year there would be a $61 million gap between the projected revenues and costs in the city.
"There is a tremendous challenge in front of us," he said. He added he and the finance staff are taking measures to close that gap.
"We're not there yet but we are on the way," Erdmann said.
Sarno was scheduled to go before the City Council on Monday night to formally present his budget.
While the City Council cannot add to a municipal budget, it can remove items to decrease it and City Councilor Timothy Rooke has been vowing to remove the funding of the rent needed by the city to house the School Department offices in the former Federal Building at 1550 Main St.
Rooke's actions, he explained to Reminder Publications, are designed to force the city to put a bid out to ensure the best possible deal for relocating the School Department from its present location on State Street. If 1550 Main Street, as the building is now known, is the best location, Rooke said the funding would be restored.
The city signed a 20-year lease with the annual rent at $570,000.
According to Finance Director T.J. Plant, though, the $600,000 set aside by the city for the rent can not be altered by the City Council as it is part of the School Department budget. The City Council cannot address line items with that budget, but can only approve the total amount.
Rooke called the action "back room deal making" as he charged the rent amount was first in the city budget -- where the council could have cut it -- but was then moved to the School Department budget.
Calling the situation "irresponsible," Rooke asserted the obligation to rent the space without going out to bid was "borderline to malfeasance with the taxpayers' money."
"I have a sick feeling we have wasted money we are going to be spending for the next 20 years," he said.
"This issue is not going away. It's going to haunt the Sarno Administration and the Patrick Administration," he predicted.
Comments From Our Readers: