City Councilors Discuss Framingham Mayor’s Proposed $298 Million Budget Proposal

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FRAMINGHAM – During the month of June, the 11-member City Councilors will review and vote on the mayor’s proposed $298 million budget.

The budget will impact the taxes property owners will pay in 2021 and 2022.

On April 30, Mayor Yvonne Spicer proposed a $300.95 million budget for fiscal year 2021, which starts on July 1.

The current fiscal year budget, which ends on June 30, is $296.4 million.

But on May 18, the Mayor announced she had laid off 12 employees and furloughed another seven, and was resubmitting her budget, lowering it to $298.1 million.

The City Council must vote on a fiscal year 2021 budget in June.

The finance subcommittee has been meeting for weeks, and is looking at a budget that is at least $1 million lowered than the Mayor’s $298.1 million budget.

The largest proposal by the finance committee comes from City Council Chair George P. King. Jr, who recommended a 10% operations cut for all municipal, not school, budgets, over $20,000.

He has been advocating for the City Council to lower the mayor’s proposed budget, since state revenue and local receipts are expected to be significantly impacted due to the coronavirus budget.

Last week, Superintendent Bob Tremblay and the 9-member elected School Committee reduced the Framingham Public Schools budget by more than $750,000 by eliminating the administration’s lease for the Perini building at $512,000 and by eliminating two senior staff positions at more than $200,000.

The full City Council will receive the recommendations from the 5-member finance subcommittee on Tuesday, June 2.

SOURCE asked the 11 City Councilors to submit to the news media outlet innovative cuts they would propose like the Superintendent of Schools did with the elimination of administration space.

“I have believed for the three years we have been a city, that we need to take steps to assure our city operates more efficiently.  We have great front line services and I want to be sure we maintain the resources to fund them. Our administrative. infrastructure has grow over the last decade, and I think there are opportunities there to save money without impacting services,” said City Council Chair King. “Combining like functions allows us to save administrative and executive salaries  To date, I have not seen the sense of urgency to accomplish these goals from the Mayor.  I hope that changes.”

“Unfortunately, we have been put in this impossible position of balancing the budget,” said at-large City Councilor Janet Leombruno. “It’s our job to put forth a sustainable budget that will not cripple us next year. It didn’t have to go this way, but where we are, I believe we need to lead by example. It’s the right thing to do.”

Leombruno proposed all City Councilors take a 25% pay cut in fiscal year 2021.

Not all of the City Councilors submitted a statement to the news outlet.

“Mayor Spicer’s budget, sadly, is not balanced. It utilizes almost all of our ‘free cash’ and relies on revenue estimates that we have been told directly will not materialize. We cannot spend funds that we do not have. We need to seek efficiencies and reductions in administrative costs in order to preserve direct services wherever possible. It will not be easy to make these necessary reductions,” said District 8 City Councilor John Stefanini.

“There are no doubts that the Mayor’s budget must be significantly reduced in order to live within our means and protect our core services. We cannot spend revenue that we do not have without worsening the fiscal crisis over the next few years. Any cuts need to be made in a transparent, compassionate, and consistent manner,” said the District 8 Councilors. “I would look for cuts that consolidate roles and responsibilities, merge administrative or financial positions, and look at the hundreds of new positions created over the past decade, rather than across the board percentage cuts. The cuts proposed by the finance subcommittee are a good start, but need to go further to create a sustainable budget. And while a small reduction, stipends for all elected officials should be reduced by 25% to share the burden.”

“What we cannot do, is eliminate direct service providers: teachers, firefighters, trash collectors, police officers, librarians, and the like.  And we cannot keep doing business as usual. We should do what the Charter suggested three years ago: conduct a performance audit of every department, adopt best practices followed by other communities, consolidate duplicative functions, and utilize technology to create greater efficiency.  Lastly, an early retirement incentive could be helpful in humanely downsizing our workforce,” said Stefanini.

“”We all will experiment financial loss due the COVID-19 and will need to be creative and responsible to get through the next 12 months. The key to local government administrative success is the quality of the work provided by the employees. My first goal to achieve expense cutting while keeping the best public services possible is to share responsibilities with employees and city residents to guarantee peace of mind for all families.  I am 100% in favor of the hiring freeze but I don’t want to compromise the structure of the administration. Salary freezes, contract reviews and operational cost reductions need to be on the table,” said District 7 City Councilor Margareth Shepard.

“We need to consider how we can share responsibilities with the residents. For example, we have a weekly trash collection; how about we change it to every other week? Right now, the residents are able to pay for the services bill every day at City Hall. How about reducing this service to 3 days a week?  During the stay-at-home, many employees worked efficiently from home; that means less office expenses. It is required for the government to sacrifice some things in a time of crisis but we have an incredible body of employees and a strong community. I am confident that we can count on their support and collaboration during the next year.  I am an optimist and I believe that the economy will rebound fast and we should review our budget six months from now and make the necessary adjustments,” said Shepard.

“During this economic crisis, my goal as Vice Chair of the Finance Subcommittee has been to minimize or eliminate all non-essential spending in an effort to protect front-line employees and essential public services. I, and some other Councilors, have been advocating for years for the executive branch – the Mayor’s branch of government in charge of the city’s day-to-day operations – to find opportunities to consolidate certain administrative positions and merge some of those responsibilities across departments. Is our current configuration of multiple human resources departments, multiple facilities departments, multiple technology departments, etc., sustainable? Are the ways we did things yesterday the most financially-responsible ways to do things tomorrow? These strategies were originally to help us prepare for the next cyclical economic downtown. Instead, we find ourselves caught in a very sudden economic crisis where Framingham unemployment has reached double digits. While it is not productive to dwell on the administration’s inaction over the last two-and-a-half years, what is unavoidable are the difficult decisions before us. Many believe that at the municipal level, this economic crisis will continue for at least a few years,” said District 4 City Councilor Michael Cannon.

“So to protect essential employees like teachers, paraprofessionals, fire fighters, police officers, sanitation staff, pump station technicians, and others, we must be sure that any non-essential spending is discontinued until we have a better understanding of our economic future and our ability to support our portfolio of public services. No travel, no conferences, no non-essential capital projects, no new non-emergency vehicles, renegotiation of vendor contracts, and much greater financial oversight than we have seen since becoming a city,” said Councilor Cannon.

“The families throughout our community who are footing the bill for our municipal government find themselves in similar circumstances through no fault of their own. They too are making their own unpleasant cutbacks. We need to do the same. Within our local government, we need to consolidate behind-the-scenes administrative roles in an effort to protect essential front-line employees and the services they provide. The crisis is real and tough decisions must be made. Our failure to act right now could result in even worse dilemmas in the coming months and years. Quite simply, our municipal government must now live well below our means and find ways to do more with less,” said the District 4 Councilor.

“Anyone in business knows that when you cut experienced, trained people it can cost twice as much to replace them in the future. The city can lose valuable expertise that’s hard to find when you need it again. Short term cuts often lead to long-term voids if they’re not done wisely. I don’t want this to happen. It took years for Framingham to build a solid team of credentialed, knowledgeable experts who have helped us make tremendous progress and overcome decades of shortcomings. I’ll be keeping a careful eye on the personnel line items to make sure we fund and keep the highly skilled workforce behind our vital services,” said District 5 City Councilor Robert Case.

“My eye for cuts is on extras we can do without. If this was a discussion about our personal budgets we all know what we’d do.  When your income is reduced significantly and you don’t know when or if it will fully recover, you have to make changes. The first thing you do is cut the non-essential items to make sure you have enough for the essentials. That’s my perspective on this budget for Framingham,” said Councilor Case.

“I have three children in the Framingham schools. I know how hard it has been to handle home schooling, the impact it has had on the kids, and what a challenge it is to keep students on track with their education and make up for lost time. The school department has to put more resources in front of the students and make cuts that don’t directly impact the students,” said Case. “Government can operate leaner and wiser in all departments but at the same time, residents and businesses will have to be patient and more accepting if services are not as quick or as readily available due to reductions.”

“During this time of high unemployment it doesn’t make sense to be giving out pay increases. Salaries make up the majority of the budget. Increases in all departments have to be reconsidered. There’s a very long list of what should be reconsidered in this fiscal year 2021 budget. The entire City Council will be working together on it beginning next Tuesday evening. I hope everyone who is concerned and interested will participate in the meeting, and I strongly encourage District 5 residents to reach out to me with any questions or concerns,” said Case.

“I was hoping for a much more collaborative and creative approach with the City Council and the mayor’s administration. The time is now to work together and make the difficult choices that will keep our city strong for our future needs,” said District 6 City Councilor Phil Ottaviani Jr. “We have a very TOP heavy government with assistants to assistants and a lot of administration. The time is now to consolidate and also eliminate positions and make the tough choices that we were elected to do to make this budget sustainable and affordable for the folks of Framingham.”

The City Council’s finance subcommittee chair Adam Steiner, elected to serve District 3, did not submit a statement. However, Steiner wrote a letter to the editor on the budget submitted to SOURCE earlier in May.

​”Since we began looking closely at the budget, I have made and supported proposals that fall within these parameters. I have voted to cut an additional 10% from all departmental operating budgets. Additionally, I have proposed deferring purchases of any vehicles and large equipment for a year and to remove cost of living adjustments (“COLAs”) wherever possible (including within the school budget). I also proposed defunding the vacant position of City Council Auditor, which has never been filled since
we became a city. I believe we can and should delay taking on new projects that can be postponed a year or two with minimal repercussions,” said District 2 City Councilor Cesar Stewart-Morales.

“As we finalize our budget deliberations, I will continue to do what I can to make sure that Framingham residents receive the quality services they pay for. I want our seniors, our children, all of our residents, and our businesses to know we are looking out for their best interests. I will also continue to focus our budget cuts to areas that will not hinder our long-term objectives for short-term gains that are insignificant to the overall budget,” said Stewart-Morales.

“At this time I believe it is premature for those of us who are not on the finance subcommittee to comment on budget cuts. The finance subcommittee will bring its recommendations to the full City Council next week for public discussion in concert with the Mayor and the School Department. I applaud all of the efforts thus far to reduce the overall budget. However, there are still unanswered questions and concerns with respect to COVID-19 and the potential long term impacts this will have on
our overall operations and budget going forward for both the municipal and school side operating and capital budgets,” said District 1 City Councilor Christine Long.

The District 9 City Councilor Tracey Bryant did not submit a statement.

editor

email: editor@FraminghamSource.com call or text at 508-315-7176

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