WESTFIELD, Mass. (The Westfield News) – Of the $2.2 million in cuts to Mayor Brian P. Sullivan’s $139 million budget that the Finance Committee and other councilors brought forward to a meeting of the whole City Council on Wednesday, only $106,000 were approved.
Finance Committee Chair and Ward 5 Councilor Robert A. Paul, Sr., who chaired the meeting after it was turned over to him by Council President Brent B. Bean, II, said his committee had met with all of the departments, invited public participation and received input from each of the city councilors. He said they had pulled all of that together in a spreadsheet, resulting in the $2.2 million in cuts.
Paul brought forward the first proposal of the evening, which was to cut the 1% across-the-board wage increase to city workers, totaling $194,449. The motion failed after a brief discussion, foreshadowing the rest of the evening’s votes.
The Finance Committee’s motion to cut $600,000 from the Westfield Public Schools budget was amended to a zero cut by At-Large Councilor Stephen Dondley.
At–Large Councilor David Flaherty, who spoke for the Finance Committee, said the committee had changed its schedule and informed school department officials of the potential cut early, in order for them to be able to “hand out pink slips” by the June 15 notification date.
“The fact is, we gave them this number and they didn’t hand out pink slips. That tells me they can absorb this number,” Flaherty said.
Ward 2 Councilor Ralph J. Figy, the liaison to the School Committee, said that committee was just as frustrated as the City Council about the growing budget. But he added that with the new superintendent Stefan Czaporowski starting July 1, he didn’t want to see his hands tied.
“This cut is excessive, extreme, almost vindictive,” Figy said. He said he would like to amend the cut to $200,000, but Dondley’s zero percent amendment had already been raised.
“A budget is a list of a city’s priorities. The highest priority has to be education,” Dondley said.
At-Large Councilor Bean said it was important to give the new mayor, the new superintendent, and even the new Westfield State University president the tools they needed to make good choices.
Bean added that he would be supporting the zero cut, but if that didn’t pass, he would not support the $600,000.
Former Mayor and At-Large Councilor Dan Knapik said that making a $600,000 cut would be sending the wrong message.
“The job Principal Czaporowski did at Westfield Technical Academy was nothing short of a miracle. We owe it to the new superintendent and the new mayor to say this is the budget,” Knapik said. The amended motion of a zero percent cut then passed.
At the start of the meeting, Dondley gave a presentation to the councilors challenging the notion that the city was approaching its levy ceiling. He said that it was impossible to know with any certainty, and that Westfield was no different than neighboring communities.
Dondley said the focus should be on economic development and broadening the tax base. He also stressed the importance of building the city’s reserves.
“You don’t want to chop off a foot today to keep from chopping off the foot in the future. You want to save that foot,” Dondley said.
The tone of the meeting seemed to follow Dondley’s mindset, as department after department was spared from cuts, including the collector’s office, the law department, the Westfield Redevelopment Authority, and the police department’s overtime account.
Some departments were trimmed. Purchasing was cut by $41,000, in anticipation of savings on the new LED street lights.
ommunity development, which faced $35,000 in cuts, lost $5,000 in their purchase of services. $10,000 of the Airport’s noise mitigation fund of $138,888 was also cut, as well as $5,000 from the Public Safety Committee’s overtime.
City Engineer Mark Cressotti spoke during public participation, asking the Council to strongly revisit the $240,000 in cuts to the Western Avenue and Columbia Greenway redesigns, and to leave the funding intact. The Council heard his plea, and did not cut engineering.
Several large cuts were withdrawn. Figy withdrew his proposal to cut the funding for a fire captain from the fire department. He said his intention had been to move the position into the ambulance fund. The department did sustain a $25,000 cut to purchase of services however, with the thinking that money could be transferred from the ambulance fund later in the year. $10,000 was also cut from the department’s building fund. Earlier this month, the City Council authorized $2.06 million to complete the new substation on Little River Road.
Also withdrawn were major cuts, totaling $712,000, to waste collection and recycling. Paul said the intention of the proposed cuts was to encourage the Department of Public Works to pursue outside trash collection in the city as a cost savings measure. The recommendations were withdrawn due to the uncertainty of the timetable.
As one recommendation after another was voted down, several councilors expressed frustration with the outcome.
Ward 4 Councilor Mary O’Connell, who attended all of the budget hearings, said that many of the councilors had campaigned on reducing taxes.
“I’m especially frustrated that so many worked so hard,” she said.
“I think a lot of the frustration is that we have been level funding for a long time. There is not a lot of room to cut,” Dondley said.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Flaherty said there was not enough income to balance the budget, which is slated to be approved by the City Council on Thursday evening. Prior to its adoption, there will be a second vote on the Meals Tax. Flaherty said, however, that even if the Meals Tax passes, they will need to transfer in money from Free Cash to balance the budget.