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Springfield Mayor's Budget Preserves Core Services, Leaves ' Rainy Day Fund' Untapped


   The mayor of Springfield, Massachusetts is proposing a budget that increases spending and banks on the city receiving more money from property taxes and a soon-to-open casino.

    The $656.2 million budget proposed by Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno will maintain core city services, pay for training academies for the police and fire departments and fund a new seven-person unit in the Department of Public Works to do sidewalk repairs throughout the city.

     " The budget, believe it or not, is really going to be sold on sidewalks, sidewalks," said Sarno.

     The emphasis on sidewalks during Sarno’s Tuesday press conference highlighting his budget recommendations is notable because City Councilors frequently complain the administration is too focused on downtown Springfield and big economic development projects to the detriment of the city’s residential neighborhoods.

     " It is important to have a balance," said Sarno. "You have to have a thriving downtown area that helps with the psyche of the city and the tax base but you also have to be respectful of the neighborhoods, which I am, and quality of life issues are very very important."

     While the proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1st increases spending by 4.4 percent – one of the largest jumps in several years – Sarno said it is fiscally sound and does not require dipping into the city’s $44 million cash reserves to balance the budget.

     " This is the fourth consecutive year that we've balanced this budget without using any reserves That is a tremendous feat," Sarno said.

      The mayor’s budget would put $40 million into the city’s pension fund in an effort to reduce a large unfunded liability.

      " We are being as aggressive as we can, but the more aggressive you are with the pension payoff, that means you have to take it away from the bottom line of the budget which means services would have to go," said Sarno.

      To balance the budget, Springfield is counting on a big chunk of cash from MGM. The casino operator will pay $17 million to the city under the terms of a negotiated revenue agreement.  The amount is prorated based on advance payments MGM made over the last three years while the casino was under construction, according to Springfield Chief Administration and Finance Officer TJ Plante.

      He said the budget also relies on an $11.7 million increase in state aid payments to the city, and a $7 million increase in local property tax collections.

      " The (property tax ) levy is going to be around $200 million and we have to figure out between now and November when we set the tax rate how that is going to be allocated," said Plante.

      The budget funds all current parks and recreation programs, library operations, elder services, public health, and animal control.

       There is funding for a police academy of 32 cadets and a police department that includes 510 officers.  

        Springfield Fire Commissioner Bernard Calvi said he’s very pleased the mayor’s budget pays to train 19 new firefighters.

        " With the people we have in the academy now in the hiring process and the additional five people (funded in the budget), we will be able to maintain adequate staffing on all apparatus," said Calvi.

        The Springfield City Council now has almost two months to review the proposed budget.

        "I am hopeful we can get this budget passed early and continue our rebirth of our city of Springfield," said Sarno.

       Last year, the city council approved Sarno’s $629 million budget without making any cuts.



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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