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Springfield city council approves mayor’s budget mainly intact

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno stands before the Springfield City Council as the officials discuss, and ultimately pass, the fiscal year 2025 budget.
Focus Springfield
Springfield City Council 5/28/24 Special Meeting
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno stands before the Springfield City Council as the officials discuss, and ultimately pass, the fiscal year 2025 budget.

City councilors in Springfield, Massachusetts, have signed off on a budget that features no major cuts to programs. Final talks also included details on possible tax relief for residents

It was a mostly cut-and-dry special meeting for the Springfield City Council Tuesday as Mayor Domenic Sarno presented the latest edition of the proposed fiscal year 2025 budget.

Unveiled earlier in the month, what started as a $928.7 million budget from the mayor’s office was a 5.8 percent uptick from last year’s adopted spending plan.

More than two-thirds goes toward school department spending while the remaining $301 million covered city-side expenses. 

Sarno celebrated the plan for featuring no major cuts to city services and being the 10th consecutive balanced budget that did not draw on reserves.

He returned to that theme before the city council Tuesday evening.

“While other municipalities across the state and school systems are cutting services and making layoffs, we are not doing that,” the mayor said. “This budget that I offer to you for your consideration is efficient, effective, strategic and compassionate.”

Councilors had been meeting over the past few weeks to discuss the finer details of the proposal.

Leading some of those discussions was Ward 7 Councilor Tim Allen, chair of the finance committee. Allen described the challenge of providing fiscal oversight over what is already a tight-knit budget Tuesday, including ways to improve it while keeping an eye out for ways to possibly lessen the tax burden on residents.

“The mayor gives us his marching orders of what he’d like to see - no layoffs, no service reductions, and no use of reserves,” Allen said. “So, those are three things that - we agree with them all - but it's kind of like, how do you make the budget better? What are the things we can, you know, work with? So, we tried to work with them and nobody wants to lay anybody off – so, how do you find a place to maybe make it better, without impacting any of the services, any other people.”

The councilor says he and others continued to meet with city leaders, including Chief Administrative and Financial Officer Cathy Buono throughout the month, including a meeting on Friday, when what he considered a breakthrough appeared to be nearing. 

Further discussions involving Council President Mike Fenton and Sarno as well appeared to come to a head before the meeting. It led, in part, to Buono announcing via memo that the city would pursue not filling 17 open positions, freeing up some $750,000, Allen said.

That would be in addition to a million dollars in free cash and $2 million from treasury bond investments the mayor says would go toward tax relief.

Where those 17 jobs come from will be determined in the weeks and months ahead, Buono told the council.

“It's going to be the finance team that's going to identify jobs with the department heads, and I made the commitment to the mayor and to Councilor Allen that on a monthly basis, I will be meeting with department heads and their finance staff - surprise,” she said during the meeting, turning to the department heads who were also in attendance.

Other councilors appeared to be largely agreeable with the plan, with the council later approving it without much opposition.

Before that, though, Councilor At-large Jose Delgado highlighted that while the almost $4 million in potential tax relief was better than nothing, it’s only a little more than half of the funding that went toward offsetting taxes in the year prior.

“We put down $7 million in free cash to offset the taxes last year, so, this year, we're going to 928 [million dollars] - we're looking at roughly 3.75 [million in tax relief],” he said. “So, we still have a three-and-a-quarter gap, based off of last year's budget, not including the increase to this year. So, that tells me, obviously, that taxes are going up, and so, I sympathize with our folks, particularly the folks that came in November that I heard about, but also folks that I know who are limited on income." 

Delgado also brought up one of the biggest budget item increases – school transportation costs. Sarno previously said the costs had increased by 12.2 percent or $4.7 million, making it what he considered a “budget buster.”

Other parts of the meeting featured the mayor highlighting future projects and happenings for the city. That included word that all city pools and splashpads will be open during the summer.

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