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Springfield City Council Schedules Budget Debate


It is getting down to the wire to put a new budget in place in the largest city in western Massachusetts.

With just five days remaining before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1st, the Springfield City Council has scheduled a special meeting this evening to consider passing a new budget.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno will address the council to advocate for a nearly $692 million budget he has recommended.  The council, by law, can only cut the budgeted amount recommended by the mayor and cannot increase expenditures.

The mayor’s proposed budget would increase spending by 5.4 percent over this fiscal year. City finance officials say most of the municipal spending goes to salaries, health insurance, and payments into the  pension fund.  So, any cuts to the budget would likely result in layoffs.

City Council President Justin Hurst scheduled three hearings on the budget to take testimony from city department and agency heads.

"It's always a pretty lean budget. Nobody ever gets what they want," commented Hurst.

Sarno’s budget proposes a more than 12 percent increase in spending by the police department.  

Acting Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood said there are funds included to implement a body camera program and to pay for police academies to keep pace with the department’s high attrition rate.

Both the patrol officers union and the police supervisors union have new contracts that include pay raises.

"The contracts are such that the increases in pay are pretty much what is causeing the increase ( in the budget)," said Clapprood.

In unveiling his proposed budget last month, Sarno stressed that it is balanced without dipping into the city’s $50 million cash reserves, or “rainy day” fund.

" This is the fifth --fifth -- consecutive year we have balanced this budget without use of reserves and we've maintained core services," 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 parks.  

The proposed budget has the city providing funds to expand preschool.  The number of early education classrooms would increase from five to 15, making room for almost 300 additional children in full-day programs.

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

To balance the budget, the city is banking on a 2.7 percent increase in general local aid from the state, $13.9 million from the MGM casino, a $9 million increase in property taxes, and “modest” increases in taxes on restaurant meals and hotel stays, according to Chief Administration & Finance Officer T.J. Plante.

"Motor vechicle excise tax is going up almost a million --$980,000 -- from this year's collections," said Plante.  "People are buying new vehicles. It's a sign of the economy."

City Councilor Tracye Whitfield said in a statement she intends during the budget debate to advocate for homeowners to get “a break” on their property taxes.

The impact of the new city budget on property tax bills won’t be known until later this year when the City Council sets the separate tax rates for residential property and for commercial property.

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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