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New England News

Springfield Looking At A 'Bare Bones Budget' But No Layoffs Or Service Cuts

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With the start of the new fiscal year just days away on July 1st, the Springfield City Council will meet Monday to consider passing a budget.

Like every municipality, Springfield is facing unprecedented financial challenges because of the coronavirus pandemic with new expenses and decreased revenues.  As they begin budget deliberations, Councilors have also heard calls from some constituents to “defund” the police.

The budget presented by Mayor Domenic Sarno totals $728.6 million. There are no proposed layoffs of city employees or cuts in services considered essential.

"I always place an emphasis on education, public safety, healthy neighborhoods and community services," said Sarno.

The spending proposed by the mayor is a 5.3 percent increase over the current budget. But when non-discretionary expenses for such things as health insurance and contributions to the pension fund are excluded, the recommended budget is down by almost 1 percent or $1.2 million.

"It is really an austerity budget," said Sarno.

Over the next 12 months, the budget forecasts Springfield will see a $10 million drop in revenue.   That is from anticipated cuts in state aid, and lower tax collections from restaurant meals and hotel guests, according to the city’s Chief Administration and Finance Officer T.J. Plante.

"This is probably the most challenging budget I've had to put together because there were so many unknowns," said Plante.

To balance the budget, Plante said savings will result from a hiring freeze that was put in place in April. He said there is also surplus cash from previous fiscal years.  The city is getting millions of dollars in federal aid to pay for some COVID-19 expenses.

The City Council have held hearings this week where department heads described their budgets as level-funded and tight.  Council President Justin Hurst said it is a “bare bones budget.”

"The one postive take away is there were no layoffs and no cuts to services, which I think is huge for the city of Springfield considering everything we are dealing with with respect to COVID-19," said Hurst.

In the wake of the protests that followed the death of George Floyd, there has been a lot of focus across the country on police budgets. 

The proposed spending plan for the Springfield Police Department is $50.5 million. That is $400,000 less than the current budget.  During her hearing, Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood told Councilors she had asked for a $2 million increase.

" This is a tight budget, but I believe we can live with it pending no additional cuts," said Clapprood.

Clapprood said the police budget will pay the salaries and benefits for 512 officers and 88 civilian employees.  It funds a police academy class of 40 recruits.  There is money for the new body camera program and to upgrade the Taser system to the latest model of the non-lethal weapons.

Councilor Orlando Ramos, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, raised concerns about the $1.8 million allocated for police overtime.

"It would be a lot more cost efficient if we were to hire more officers rather than pay overtime," said Ramos.

Hurst said he and three other Councilors sent a request to Sarno asking him to put more money into police training.

"It is my hope we can reach some sort of compromise that might reallocate some money in the (police) department to go toward training, which I think is crucial and vital during times like these for our police officers," said Hurst.

The mayor’s office announced Thursday that Sarno planned to transfer $125,000 from the police budget and an additional $125,000 to the city’s Health and Human Services Department. The press release said the funds will be used for a new outreach program for troubled youth and for cultural sensitivity and mental health training for police.

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