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Springfield Mayor's Budget Spends On Public Safety, Maintains Popular Services

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WAMC
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It is municipal budget season in Massachusetts. The mayor of Springfield  is proposing a budget that puts more cops on the streets and does not dip into the city’s cash reserves. 

Mayor Domenic Sarno, in a message that accompanied the release Thursday of a recommended budget totaling almost $600 million, praised the city’s finance team for producing a spending plan that prioritizes public safety, avoids layoffs, maintains core services and for the first time since 2008 does not touch the city’s cash reserves to balance the budget.

" We've done this by rolling up our sleeves, making difficult decisions, making strategic decisions that make us stronger down the road," said Sarno.

The city’s stabilization account, or rainy day fund, contains $40 million.  Sarno said he was determined to hold that much in the account because it will help the city maintain its high bond ratings from Wall Street credit rating agencies.

" Standard and Poors gave us the highest bond rating in the city's history AA-, and Moody's, which is even tougher A2 with a positive outlook, " said Sarno.

The budget keeps a commitment Sarno made months ago to increase the ranks of the city’s police and fire departments.  It funds 58 additional police officers and 42 new firefighters.  When the cadets graduate from the police academy later this year the number of officers in uniform will climb above 400 for the first time in almost two decades.

"For the first time in many, many years we will be ahead of attrition," he said.

Sarno said the increase in staffing for the fire department will allow for assigning an optimal four people to each engine and ladder truck.

The budget contains no new programs or initiatives, but Sarno said he will increase the number of animal control officers who work out of a regional animal shelter located in the city.

City services that endured cuts in leaner times including  library hours, street cleaning, grass mowing, and swimming pools all get fully funded in Sarno’s recommended fiscal year 2016 budget.

Sarno said contracts with the city’s unions are all fully funded.  The new budget calls for spending just 2.2 percent more than the adopted budget for the current fiscal year.   Sarno said he rejected about $14 million in requests from department heads for additional spending.

The city is due $7 million from MGM as an advance on the revenue from the casino that is scheduled to open in 2017.  The budget projects an increase of $2.8 million in building permit revenue from construction of the casino and a $60 million rail car factory.  A promised increase in state aid to all cities and towns will bring Springfield an additional $1.2 million.

A major source of revenue, property taxes, is expected to be flat.  Housing prices have still not bounced back from the 2008 crash, according to Springfield’s chief finance officer T.J. Plante.

" Right now we do have a revenue problem," he said.  " We are fortunate this year to have $7 million available from MGM and we took advantage of it to balance the budget."

Springfield City Council President Mike Fenton said he was pleased to learn the mayor’s proposed budget does not dip into the city’s cash reserves.  But, Fenton raised a red flag over deferred payments into the city’s already underfinanced pension fund.

"To the extent this budget relies on further  kicking that can down the road that would be something that is extremely concerning to me and should be to anyone with a fiduciary responsibility to city taxpayers," said Fenton.

Fenton said he will schedule hearings beginning in late May for the council to publically examine the budget proposal.

The council can only cut from the mayor’s proposed budget and not increase spending in any area.

A new budget must be approved by July 1st when the new fiscal year begins.      

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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