Knapik cites loss of state aid, contracts as basis for budget
| By Carley Dangona
WESTFIELD – In an open letter to citizens of the city, Mayor Daniel Knapik explained the basis of his proposed $132 million fiscal year 2015 (FY15) budget by explaining that amount ensures the level of service residents are accustomed to can be maintained.
In the letter to residents, Knapik wrote, “Your city government is where the rubber meets the road … our most important job, to educate our children to compete in a 21st century world, followed by providing for public safety (effective crime fighting and prevention, top notch EMS [emergency medical services] and fire protection), caring for our veterans and senior citizens and public works has been funded to a level where I can say confidently we have met those objectives.”
He also addressed the loss of $1.9 million in state support since 2008 in the letter. Knapik cited the significant cutbacks in state aid, as the main reason revenue must be generated in other areas.
“This budget, in order to balance at this point in the year, contains proposals to implement the local option hotel and meals tax, use approximately $2.1 million in free cash and a levy increase of 2.5 percent. A final determination as to the levy increase will be made when the tax rate is set in the fall. In three of my prior four budgets, only one, taxed to the full 2.5 percent.”
Knapik told Reminder Publications, “We wouldn’t need free cash and taxes to balance he budget [if the state refrained from cutting its local aid.]”
He noted that 85 percent of the budget funds the salaries and hourly rates of 635 employees in the schools and town departments.
“In every budget, I’ve tried to make decisions based on what I hear citizens want,” Knapik said. “We’re at the point where, if we take any more money out of the budget [we’ll have to choose to] either you don’t fill a pothole or it means the loss of a body [layoff].”
He criticized the city’s historical pattern since the 1920s of not funding the upkeep of the infrastructure for cycles of 20 to 25 years, creating “gargantuan” costs when the maintenance can no longer be postponed.
“There’s a rush to hold the line. Then, all hell breaks loose. I’m not going to let that happen while I’m in the chair,” Knapik said.
In his budget letter to the City Council, Knapik wrote, “I submit for your consideration and approval my recommendations for appropriations for Fiscal Year 2015. The budget totals $132 million. Of this, $117.7 million is requested for the operation of city and school departments, $2.42 million for operations of ambulance services, $438,350 for Community Preservation, $5.4 million for Sewage and Wastewater Treatment, $244,589 for Sewer services, $5.2 million for water resources, and $572,900 for stormwater services. This budget contains no layoffs.”
The mayor included a $157,000 line item in the Department of Public Works to initiate a single-stream recycling program. He cited the Commonwealth’s goal of reducing the amount of waste it produces as one reason for the addition. Knapik also said that landfill and incinerator space is limited, while the cost of diesel fuel continues to rise, prompting him to find another means of trash collection. He explained as the city increases its recycling, it becomes eligible for more state grants.
The Historical Commission’s budget is proposed to increase by $3,050. While most of the change is due to compensation obligations, a few hundred dollars was added to enable the commission to expand its Haunted Cemetery Tour program.
Knapik also requested $360,000 to fund a service contract with Siemens to maintain the warranties and maintenance of the new heating and cooling system as well as the older units still being utilized.
A Human Resources director position at an annual income of $60,000 is a main change to the Personnel Department’s budget. Knapik explained that the position is necessary to address day-to-day activities such as discipline, promotion, hiring and professional development within the city’s workforce.