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Local towns deal with budget cuts

By Courtney Llewellyn, Reminder Assistant Editor For weeks, the potential of further fiscal year 2009 (FY09) budget cuts loomed over the heads of administrators all over the Commonwealth. When the governor's 9C cuts were announced last Wednesday, some of those in the Pioneer Valley breathed a sigh of relief. The cuts would not be catastrophic. "There's not going to be a significant effect on this year," Tom Caliento, Town Accountant for East Longmeadow, said. "Every year we have a general fund surplus, and what we're projecting is that [this year's] surplus will absorb this." Wilbraham Town Administrator Robert Weitz said the situation was the same in his town. He said Wilbraham will be able to absorb the cuts due to an expenditures freeze and a hiring freeze that have been in place for several months. East Longmeadow saw a total of $175,550 in cuts for the remainder of FY09; Longmeadow, $169,442; Hampden, $75,972; and Wilbraham, $162,802. The cuts were made in additional assistance and lottery funding. Tracey Sicbaldi, Treasurer for Hampden, stated, "Due to prior planning, we do have funds in the town's Stabilization Account that we may be forced to use to balance the 2009 fiscal year shortfall." "We're going to be looking to make sure we don't incur a revenue deficit," Paul Pasterczyk, Finance Director for Longmeadow, said. "We're looking at estimated receipts for the rest of the year and we need to make sure the net of all this is not a negative number." Pasterczyk added that the town will be working "generically" on this before taking any specific actions. He'll be meeting with the Select Board this week to hammer out the details. On the same day the cuts were made, Gov. Deval Patrick also released his preliminary FY10 budget, which locals towns have been trying to prepare for. East Longmeadow, in this first draft of the budget, will be receiving $315,380 less than in FY09. Hampden will receive $86,708 less; Longmeadow, $368,666 less; and Wilbraham, $185,958 less. "It's not depressing," Caliento told Reminder Publications. "It's certainly not the best news I've ever heard, but East Longmeadow is extremely fortunate to have a strong Stabilization Account. It could be worse." He noted that there will be "a lot of thought and votes" going into the state budget over the upcoming weeks. Weitz noted that next year will be more difficult, but that the town "will move forward" and that it is "looking at all the different ways to be more efficient." "We had anticipated this situation due to the current national economic conditions," Sicbaldi reported. "All departments have been asked to submit their Fiscal Year 2010 budgets assuming a five percent decrease from last year. Since the departmental budgets...have already been slimmed down, unfortunately, it will be the town employees that may be impacted." The Hampden Public Library will be impacted with a loss in state funding, and Library Director Ellen Bump said that makes her nervous. "Since the library reopened, we've depended more and more upon outside sources [for funding], like the Friends of the Library," Bump said. "Having been around when the library closed, I feel certain it will never close again, but our staff is stretched to the limits." She said circulation at the library is up about four percent compared to last year, which is significant in a library of its size. "We'll live with what we've got and do the best we can," Bump stated. Hampden was prepared for a five percent decrease in state aid; Longmeadow was gearing itself up for a decrease three times as large. "We were anticipating a 15 percent reduction, and right now it's 5.3 percent," Pasterczyk said. "We're cautiously optimistic about the meals and room tax, that funds will materialize from that." He added, "Our preparations led to a little bit better position [to deal with less state aid]," and that the schools were anticipating some layoffs which may not be necessary with this "better news." Regional school districts, however, will be hit hard in FY10. The Hampden Wilbraham Regional School District is looking at $386,149 less in state aid during the next fiscal year. "I've been working with the principals for the past two months to prepare for this," Superintendent Dr. Paul Gagliarducci said. He'll be meeting with the Financial Committee this week to discuss what will happen next. "I don't think anyone foresaw the economy going where it's going," Gagliarducci stated, "but this is no surprise. We figured things would be pretty bad." The superintendent said he and his administrators worked out a worst case scenario for next year's budget and, while the governor's proposed budget is close to that, Gagliarducci feels the district "did better in some areas than expected." The FY10 budget Gov. Patrick released on Jan. 28 has yet to go through the House of Representatives and the State Senate before it can be approved by the governor before the close of the fiscal year on June 30. "Everything is on the table," Sen. Gale Candaras stated. "We're no longer cutting fat."

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