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Springfield's surplus cash is being used to fill inflation-driven budget holes

Focus Springfield Community Television
Springfield City Comptroller Patrick Burns addressed City Councilors at their March 6th, 2023 meeting. He advised them that a request will likely be made in April or May to transfer money from free cash to pay energy bills that have been higher this winter than what was projected when the municipal budget was approved last summer.

Latest transfer is $500,000 with more to follow as comptroller eyes winter gas and light bills

Like many households, inflation is punching holes in the budget of the city of Springfield, Massachusetts. Unlike many households, the city has plenty of cash available to plug the gaps.

Springfield City Councilors voted unanimously this week to transfer more than $500,000 in free cash into the accounts of the Parks and Facilities Departments and were told they will likely be asked at a future meeting to again dip into the surplus to cover shortfalls in what was budgeted for electricity and natural gas bills.

Even with the latest transfers, the free cash account still has more than $30 million.

Pat Sullivan, the city’s Director of Parks, Recreation, and Building Management, said the additional cash is needed to balance his accounts until the fiscal year ends on June 30th.

“There’s just been tremendous market increases across the board for different supplies and materials,” Sullivan said.

The unexpected price increases include the cost to the city to properly dispose of old tires, televisions, mattresses, and other items that people have illegally dumped in city parks.

New equipment such as grass mowers is on order but delayed by supply chain issues, said Sullivan. So, more money than expected will be needed to keep the old machinery running.

“We know what is down the road and what we have to do to open up the parks and open up the golf courses,” Sullivan said. “If (the cash transfer) does not go tonight, then by April we would start having problems to pay bills.”

It has been a relatively snowless winter, but there is a $50,000 shortfall in the budget line item for snow and ice removal at municipally owned buildings. There have been about a dozen rainstorms followed by overnight freezing temperatures, so city crews salted and sanded parking lots and sidewalks at public buildings including libraries and senior centers, said Sullivan.

“One slip and fall you’re going to spend over $100,000,” he said. “We air on the side of caution so we do not have any lawsuits by not maintaining those public facilities.”

City Comptroller Patrick Burns said the city’s electric and gas bills have been coming in significantly higher this winter than what was budgeted last summer. At this point, he would not speculate how much the shortfall might be.

“We’re fortunate that we are locked in on rates with our supplies, but the delivery charge with Eversource, as we all know, has gone up,” Burns said.

Shockingly high energy costs this winter is something most people can relate to, said City Councilor Zaida Govan.

“All of my constituents are complaining about the increase in their utility rates – both gas and the light bill,” she said.

After a double-digit rate spike for natural gas this winter, bills in Massachusetts should now drop. The state’s Department of Public Utilities approved a reduction in the base rate that Eversource and National Grid charge for natural gas.

The new rate will mean a 10 percent reduction in the average monthly bill for residential natural gas customers, according to the agency.

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.