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Springfield City Council Schedules Hearings On Budget

City Hall in Springfield, Ma

    The City Council in Springfield, Massachusetts begins a series of public hearings this week on the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1st.

     Mayor Domenic Sarno has recommended a $691.7 million budget that he says maintains core services, enhances public safety, and keeps popular programs without dipping into the city’s $50 million “rainy day” fund.

     " This is the fifth consecutive year we've balanced this budget without the use of reserves and we've managed to preserve core services," said Sarno.

     The proposed budget increases spending by about $35 million dollars, or 5.4 percent from the current fiscal year.  Most of that increase goes to pay for salaries that are the result of recently ratified contracts with municipal employee unions.

     The budget includes money for new training classes for the police and fire departments to keep both agencies staffed at current levels.  Sarno said the budget also will pay for police officers to be outfitted with body-worn cameras later this year.

     "We think that is essential to enhance community relations and the safety of our police officers," said Sarno.

     Other items highlighted by Sarno in the budget include funds for a sidewalk repair crew and a new unit of municipal workers to maintain downtown city parks.

     Sarno said the city is providing funds to expand preschool. The number of early education classrooms will increase from five to 15, making room for almost 300 additional children for full-day programs.

    " And we know that is a critical component to the overall success of a student's academic career," said Sarno.

     The budget counts net revenue from the MGM casino at $13.9 million and estimates modest increases in taxes on restaurant meals and hotel stays, according to Chief Administration and Finance Officer T.J. Plante.

      Property taxes will increase by a total of $9 million to help fund the budget, but how that will impact the tax bills for homeowners and businesses won’t be known until the end of this year when the tax rates are set.

      The City Council has scheduled public hearings on three different days beginning Tuesday to hear from 33 municipal department heads and agency directors on how services will be impacted by the proposed budget.

    Then, additional meetings will be scheduled where the council will publicly deliberate on the spending plan, according to City Council President Justin Hurst.

    "One of things we did not want to see happen were any cuts to personnel and that is always first and foremost, so I was pleased to hear there were not any cuts," said Hurst.

     By law, the council can vote to adopt the mayor’s proposed budget as is, or reduce spending, but cannot increase the budget’s bottom line.

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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