Report reveals financial challenges to city
Feb. 14, 2014
By G. Michael Dobbs
CHICOPEE – Mayor Richard Kos, who has released the first report from one of his transition team committees told Reminder Publications “the magnitude of the needs in terms of infrastructure as well as the investment that is necessary” impressed him.
He thanked the Finance Committee of Carol Campbell, Ernest LaFlamme, James Low and James Lynch for their efforts on behalf of the city. He said the report has allowed him to get up to speed faster when talking about the status of city needs with department heads.
“It’s [the report] is an initial blueprint,” Kos said. “Identifying these issues is a great help to me and hopefully to the council as we pinpoint and address the needs of the city going forward.”
One of Kos’s greatest concerns is the funding for the new senior center. The committee reported, “The budget for the new senior center is exhausted with work remaining. The current anticipated coast will exceed $20 million and no budget or source of funds has been established for the ongoing maintenance care of this facility.”
“I have great concern that a $9 million project is now a $20 million project,” he said. He believes one of the reasons for the increase in cost is the site, which he called “challenged, to put it mildly.”
Kos was also critical of the use of future Community Development Block grants to help fund the senior center as it commits funds that could have been used for other purposes.
Among the issues discovered by the committee include a “lack of communication” between department heads and elected officials. The report recommended, “Improvements in these areas must emanate from the top.”
The report noted the Fire Department has a shortfall of about $165,000 due to under-funding of its budget for overtime. The city is losing about $700,000 a year on ambulance costs. “Part of this loss is attributable to the need to have a private ambulance shadow each Fire Department ambulance call,” report stated. The Fire Department has only six paramedics and is not Advanced Life Support certified.
Of the 26 Fire Department vehicles more than 30 percent are in “poor condition,” and fighter turnout gear is obsolete by state standards and must be replaced.
In the Police Department, the radio system is “failing” and will require a replacement with an estimated cost of $1 million.
The bonding of the federally mandated sewer separation “has created a significant strain on city finances.
The report continued, “While a request for an extension on the work has been filed in an attempt to spread out the adverse impact it is unlikely to be approved and alternative means of dealing with this problems need to be identified, as the anticipated sewer rates are to increase dramatically.”
Another infrastructure issue is the water line along Burnett Road, which is 66 years old and has no backup. The cost to replace the line is estimated at $8 million.
Other observations and recommendations include a reorganization of the roles of the city messenger and assistant as well as the reorganization of the Information Technology Department in order to “facilitate the modernization of systems within the city and reduce unnecessary expense.”
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