FY 2016 Not the Happiest Budget on Earth, but a Hopeful One…
SPRINGFIELD—In a rather subdued press conference for the fairly good news, Mayor Domenic Sarno flanked by Chief of Staff Denise Jordan and Chief Administrative and Financial Officer Timothy Plante formally released the municipal budget for fiscal year 2016. Measuring in at just a few million shy of $600 million, its represents a 2.2% increase over last year, building off that well-received spending plan.
For all of the good news, however, the scene was more low-key than last year when officials and the mayor seemed almost ebullient about being able to hold the line on cuts and even invest in some services. That was true this year, too, but Sarno and his press release for the budget seemed highlight the city’s bond rating above all else.
The meat of the budget includes no layoffs and officials insist that the city will get ahead of attrition within public safety departments. Staffing up the Fire Department may take time, however. Sarno explained, the city will hold several “mini-academies” to avoid a large sudden turnover of firefighters.
Police ranks, too, will be bolstered perhaps cracking 400 sworn officers for the first time in years. While Sarno promised that this would mean more officers “on the street” this is impossible to substantiate as the Police Department does not release any illuminating information about deployment.
The budget also includes bumps for Animal Control and Code Enforcement and does not require an increase in the trash fee.
Plante, the CAFO, explained that the budget was balanced without reserves partly by moving a $4 million payment from MGM due at the end of June to July 1, the first day of fiscal year 2016. He noted 62% of city revenue comes from state aid, the overwhelming majority of which is education assistance.
While taking questions, Sarno did not answer directly whether the budget has any structural deficits due to the use of one-time funds. In lengthy reply that included breathless reminders of the tough decisions made, the indignities man and nature have inflicted upon the city and, quite possibly, the history of the world, Sarno concluded with a reference to the city’s bond rating.
In an interview Plante said that by virtue of moving the MGM payment to FY 2016—being ostensibly unnecessary to close FY2015’s books—the budget was balanced with some one-time funding. Full MGM funding is not expected until FY2018.
When budget planning began, the city had a $14.5 million deficit to tackle. Some $4 million was reduced by cutting department requests. The rest came from efficiencies, increased fees collections and less money socked away into the overlay account, which refunds taxpayers when properties are devalued.
At least some building fees may not return next year as they involve permits and filings pulled for the construction of MGM and CNR’s Page Boulevard facility.
Plante confirmed that the city would be looking to Boston to ensure Springfield can collect the revenue from new growth projects like the CNR railcar factory. Because of declines in property values, the city may not be able to fully glean the value of these new projects in its tax base. To avoid this, Beacon Hill would need to approve a change to Proposition 2 ½.
While such efforts have fallen flat before, Plante was hopeful this time might be different. A former senate staffer, the CAFO did not want to suggest he had any “juice” on Becaon Hill, but admitted, “I know the inner workings of the building.”
The City Council will now review the $594.9 million budget before making cuts and then approving the spending plan as a whole.