Mayor presents balanced budget without use of stabilization fund

May 5, 2016 | G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD – For the second year in a row the proposed municipal budget for the new fiscal year has been balanced without the use of stabilization funds.

Not only didn’t the city tap into its reserves, but also Mayor Domenic Sarno stressed there would be no layoffs, as well as more police and fire personnel and three building inspectors added in the $616.8 million budget.

Sarno made the announcement on April 28.  This is the earliest in years for the mayor’s staff to hand over a budget to the City Council for its approval, Sarno noted.

By city charter, the council can delete, alter or approve line items but cannot add to the budget. The council must approve the budget by July 1.

City Council President Michael Fenton told Reminder Publications he plans to address the budget in three meetings, which will each take up discussion on one third of the city’s departments. A fourth meeting will then be scheduled for the vote. The process is expected to be completed by June 1.

Fenton expressed excitement on receiving the budget so early in the year.

Sarno said the city has a “strong” reserve of $40 million and the highest bond rating in the city’s history.

The financial health of the city is a “testament to the hard work being done by department heads and the rank and file,” Sarno said.

Sarno added his commitment to public safety remains strong with the largest police academy class in the last 20 years. He said that 60 new police officers would be on duty in November, which puts the city ahead of attrition in the department.

There will also be a mini-academy of 12 new firefighters as well, the mayor added.

All of the city’s parks, pools and splash pads will be open this summer, Sarno said. There is $100,000 allocated in the new budget for extended after school programs.

Services for the city’s veterans would also be expanded.

Chief Administrative and Financial Officer T.J. Plante said the budget process began with closing of a gap of $22.4 million. He said through reduce department spending, strategizing the city’s debt, among other steps, the gap was closed.

The city will receive $5.5 million in host fees from MGM Springfield, which assisted in the budget planning, Plante said.

Although the city still struggles with its levy ceiling with property taxes, Plante said there was $3.5 million in new growth in property taxes and $4 million in actual value growth.

He said the city is “heading in the right direction.”

The city is collecting 98 percent of those taxes on time, Plante added.

Plante said his staff based the budget’s state revenue on the versions of the state’s budget put forth by Gov. Charlie Baker and the House. The state budget has yet to be finalized.

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