Mayor Scott Avedisian, who resigns from office today, has introduced his first no tax-increase budget, leaving incoming acting mayor Joseph Solomon and the City Council to decide whether to go along with basically level funding city departments and using $3.8 million from the city’s $22.2 million reserves or altering allocations and possibly raising taxes.
In the past two weeks, Avedisian said his administration would prepare a “maintenance budget” with options to help Solomon through the budget process. Avedisian said Solomon chose not to become engaged in the process. Solomon said he expected the mayor, who technically does not leave office until the end of the month because of accrued vacation, to prepare and submit the budget.
On Thursday, the administration filed notice with the state of a $310.7 million budget, a $2.5 million increase in spending from the current budget. On Friday the Beacon was sent the legal ad providing a breakdown of department allocations and notice of the first City Council budget hearing starting at 5 p.m. Tuesday, May 29. Later on Friday, the Beacon was advised there would be changes in line item allocations, although the overall amount of the budget would not change, including no tax increase.
While the city allocation to schools does not change, thereby maintaining the city’s level of effort, the overall school budget reflects a $1.3 million decrease in funding. The decline is in state funding, according to the city’s finance department. Schools submitted a budget request of $171.4 million, $7.5 million more than what the mayor’s proposed $163.9 million budget provides. Tonight the committee is slated to consider the department’s recommendation to lay off 71 teachers, most of them at the elementary level in anticipation of the closing of John Brown Francis, Wickes and Randall Holden School resulting from declining enrollment. John Brown Francis is to be re-purposed as the early childhood center now operating as Drum Rock.
City Council President Joseph Solomon, who will take the oath of office as acting mayor today, said yesterday morning he had heard “some figures” but had not been provided a copy of Avedisian’s budget. He said it was premature for him to comment on the budget.
According to the budget outline provided in the advertisement, the city administration projects a modest increase in property tax revenues for a total of $230.4 million, up less than $200,000 from collections this year. State aid is projected to increase from $44.8 million to $46.4 million. The fund balance drawdown drops from $4.3 million to $3.8 million.
Although Avedisian terms the budget as “level funded,” increases are built in for increased employee benefits of $2.3 million, pensions and in the fire department for overtime. Debt retirement drops by more than $1 million, as does debt retirement interest that declines by more than $130,000.
Informed Friday of the mayor’s proposed allocation for schools, Chair of the School Committee Beth Furtado said, “It would be unfortunate. Already [schools] took a hit from the state. Never have I seen this in my 12 years on the committee.”