Springfield City Council Unanimously Approves New Budget
The largest city in western Massachusetts has a new budget in place for the fiscal year that begins July 1st. After years of stress over deficits, layoffs, and service cuts this budget season was a relative breeze.
The Springfield City Council voted unanimously Monday night to approve the nearly $629 million budget recommended by Mayor Domenic Sarno with no changes.
The final vote, and several procedural votes, to put the city’s spending plans in place for Fiscal Year 2018, followed about 90 minutes of non-acrimonious debate during which several councilors praised the mayor and his budget-writing team.
After the vote, Sarno said he was “very grateful.”
"On the public safety front, the economic development front, the school front, the quality of life services front were are making headway left and right," said Sarno. " I am proud. It is my tenth budget."
In a 10-minute presentation to the council Monday night, Sarno stressed that the budget was fiscally responsible but would maintain popular city services.
" It is a good sound budget, I appreciate the participation and due diligence of the city council. You are part of this team, you have a good story to tell," said Sarno.
The budget will fund a new police academy class of 54 cadets and will add 17 firefighters.
Under the budget approved by the council, spending will increase by less than 2 percent over this year. The city will start the fiscal year with almost $44 million in the so-called “rainy day fund” and will increase by more than 15 percent this year’s contribution to its under-funded pension account.
Less than 20 years ago Springfield was on the verge of bankruptcy, resulting in a takeover by a state-appointed finance control board. Six years ago, the city was battered by a series of natural and man-made disasters.
Now, Sarno said the city is better off financially than a lot of others.
" This is my tenth budget and I had to make some tough decisions early on that I said would make us stronger, and it has," Sarno said.
For the first time in his eight-year tenure on the city council, Mike Fenton voted “yes” for an annual budget proposal.
" I saw the mayor take a real collaborative approach to the budget this year, and I was happy to have this be a budget I could support," said Fenton.
While councilors found little in the mayor’s proposed budget to complain about, Councilor Henry Twiggs flagged a $750,000 line item for an operating subsidy at Union Station, and said he hoped it would not be a recurring expense.
" I am concerned that they are coming back every year for us to go into the budget for $750,000, and I am not going to support it," said Twiggs.
Sarno justified the subsidy for Union Station as an economic development expense. He said the transportation center, which is scheduled to open in a few days after a $95 million historic restoration and renovation project, is projected to lose money initially.
The Springfield Redevelopment Authority, which owns Union Station, plans to cover the cost to operate it by leasing space in the building. All the available retail space on the first floor of the terminal has been rented, but the second floor commercial and office space is largely vacant.