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Final Budget Vote Expected In Springfield

City Hall in Springfield, Ma

  With less than 2 weeks before the start of a new fiscal year in the city of Springfield, Massachusetts, City Councilors are poised to approve a new budget, perhaps as soon as tonight.

    During hearings to review the $629 million budget proposed by Mayor Domenic Sarno, city councilors appealed to the administration to include funding for some of their priorities, according to City Council President Orlando Ramos.

   "Hopefully we can move toward filling some positions and addressing our concerns," said Ramos.

   By-and-large he said there have been few complaints from councilors about the mayor’s budget.

   "I think the mayor did a great job to balance the budget without using ( cash) reserves and I look forward to approving the budget," said Ramos.

   Ramos said councilors want a full-time position added to the budget to pay someone to monitor and enforce the residency requirements for city employees.

   " It has been such a big issue for the city council and without enforcement there are ways around residency requirements, so it is important to have the right mechanism in place to enforce residency," said Ramos.

   Residency requirements have been a flashpoint in City Hall for years, with councilors complaining about lax enforcement, exemptions, and loopholes.  But, now more and more of the city’s workforce is being required to live within the city limits.

   In 2009, just five of the two dozen collective bargaining agreements covering city employees included a residency provision, now 17 of the contracts do, according to Springfield Labor Relations Director William Mahoney.

  Last month, the City Council approved a contract with the union representing the fourth-largest city workforce, firefighters, which requires all new hires to live in Springfield for a minimum of 10 years.

 Councilor Mike Fenton said the contract covering 276 firefighters is a “huge victory” for advocates of strict residency for city employees.

   In one concession to the council, the Sarno administration announced it would add an additional $1 million to the city’s pension fund.  In his original budget, the mayor allocated $58 million for the pension fund, a 15 percent increase over this year’s contribution.

" We have continued to address ( pension liability) at an aggressive pace, but we have to be fair because that comes from the bottom line of the budget, and , as councilors know, that can take away from services," said Sarno.

  City Councilor Tim Allen, who chairs the council’s finance committee, first complained last year that the city was not taking adequate measures to address its unfunded pension liability, which is the highest of any municipality in the state.

  Councilors can ask the mayor to increase funding for a particular line item, or create a new funded employment position in the budget, but they are powerless to compel the mayor to act.

   Under the city charter, the council can cut spending from the budget, but cannot add to the bottom line.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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