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Mayor's Budget Reflects Hopeful Outlook After Years Of Cuts

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WAMC
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The mayor of Springfield, Massachusetts is proposing a city budget that he says leaves him in a good mood after years of belt tightening.  The president of the city council is promising a speedy, but thorough review of the spending plans. 

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno is recommending a $582 million budget for the new fiscal year that he says will maintain essential services, result in no layoffs of municipal workers, and fund public safety academies to fill vacancies in both the police and fire departments. 

" I'm in a good mood," said Sarno.

The recommended budget reflects just a 1.8 percent increase in what the city will spend during the current fiscal year that ends June 30th.   City finance officials said the budget assumes a $4 million increase in property tax collections. Property values in the city are rebounding following several years of decline.

The city is counting on a $900,000 increase in unrestricted local aid based on resolutions approved by the Massachusetts House and Senate.  Governor Deval Patrick has called for level funding state aid to cities and towns.

The budget also reflects optimism about the city’s business climate and assumes an increase in fees collected for building permits, inspections, and entertainment licenses.  It does not include any payments from the proposed MGM casino because it has yet to be licensed by the state. The $90 annual residential trash collection fee is unchanged in the budget.  

The mayor’s recommended budget uses $2.8 million from the city’s stabilization or “rainy day” fund — a significantly smaller drawdown than in recent years.  Sarno used a total of $24 million from the stabilization fund to balance the last three budgets.  The fund will be left with $30 million.

" That has sent a strong message to the business community and the bond rating agencies. We have the highest bond rating in the city's history, AA-," said Sarno.

Staffing levels and hours at city libraries will remain the same. The city closed two library branches last year.  Summer recreation programs are fully-funded and so is grass cutting in the city’s parks.  The city was forced to curtail that maintenance due to budget cuts two years ago.

"We're right at the level of services and man and woman power that we should be."

Sarno said his recommended budget funds a training academy to bring 26 new recruits to the police department to fill vacancies caused by retirements and a second academy for six to 12 additional police officers.  The budget funds 20 new firefighters.  Springfield Fire Commissioner Joseph Conant said it will return the department to 2010 staffing levels.

" This will allow us to man our apparatus without using overtime and increase staffing at some of the firehouses, which is safer and more effective for the fire department and the citizens of Springfield."

Springfield City Council President Michael Fenton said the council will be diligent in reviewing the mayor’s recommendations. He has scheduled three hearings on the mayor’s recommended budget —each two hours long.

" At the conclusion of those hearings we will be in a position to thoughtfully deliberate on the total budget."

A special city council meeting has been tentatively scheduled for June 16 to vote on the budget.  The new fiscal year starts July 1st.

Fenton said he was encouraged to see the city rely less on its savings to balance the budget.

"This is excellent news. It represents a substantial reduction in our  reliance on the use of stabilization reserves and is a symbolic move away from our recurring structural deficit"

The city council can only cut the mayor’s recommended budget.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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