Council picks through Mayor's $310M budget
Even before the City Council completed its review of Mayor Scott Avedisian’s proposed $310 million budget, the mayor trimmed expenses and his proposed tax rates.
Tuesday night’s hearing began with an amendment from Avedisian to reflect an approximately $548,000 savings in healthcare costs.
As a result of that reduction, the new residential tax rate is $20.64, commercial is $30.96, tangible at $41.28, and motor vehicle at $34.60, Avedisian said. The rates prior to the amendment were: $20.70 residential, $31.05 commercial and $41.40 tangible. Motor vehicle tax rate is unchanged.
The change came after the City Council moved on a healthcare bid that was previously undecided upon. In preparing his budget Avedisian used a higher dollar amount was to cover all associated healthcare costs. When the City Council made their final selection on the healthcare provider, West Bay Community Health, the cost was lower than anticipated.
“I know a last-minute change like this can be frustrating for all parties, but ultimately, this amendment will result in a savings to taxpayers, which I always consider to be of the utmost importance,” he said in a statement released at the beginning of the hearing.
The Council made it through about half the 53 departments listed on the docket. Many departments were completed without much questioning, but others, including water, library, human services, senior centers, and police sparked debates.
Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur took particular issue with the proposed $111,162 salary for library director Chris LaRoux, which he said if approved, would amount to an 18 percent raise in a 2-year period. Library Deputy Director Jana Stevenson said Wednesday that from her understanding, salaries for director and deputy director are set by Library Board of Trustees, but still need city approval.
During talks on senior centers, with a proposed budget of $520,000, the closure of Buttonwoods Community Center was debated and drew criticism from members of the council. Avedisian noted that closing the center would result in a savings of about $82,000 and Chief of Staff David Picozzi made a case for the Cooper Building as the new community center, saying it’s in better condition and would be able to accommodate parks and recreation programs, after school programs, the Boys and Girls Club, and PAL wrestling.
“We couldn’t do all that in Buttonwoods,” he said. “Looking at it from strictly a business standpoint, it doesn’t make any sense to repair that building when we were given a near perfect building only about a mile away.”
Ward 7 Councilman Steve McAllister questioned costs associated with the Cooper Building.
“The new building, I don’t know if it’s a ‘free’ building. We have to put in a new elevator, we have to upgrade it, we have to put in a bunch of things. So I don’t think we can say it’s a free building,” he said. Picozzi clarified that the facility itself was given to the city for free.
In a letter to the Beacon, McAllister writes, “It is very disappointing with a budget that large the city chose to close a community center that had a great impact on so many residents. I still hear from citizens across the City upset this building was closed,” he writes in part, saying that he will “continue to advocate for this building to be reopened as a community center.”
The police department, which has a total proposed budget of about $20.4 million, is seeking to increase to 175 budgeted officers, up from the compliment of 172 and the 166 Chief McCartney said the department currently has. He noted that a resignation would drop them down to 165. Ladouceur pointed out that the city would have to pay the new officers when a COPS Grant received in October runs out.
The Council wrapped up the hearing around 10:30 p.m., finishing with Building Inspectors. Budget hearings continued Wednesday night after press time.
City Council Liaision Joanne Cournoyer said Wednesday that according to an ordinance put through by Ladouceur, the Council has no less than 24 hours and no more than three days from when public hearings are over (those must conclude by tonight, June 1) to get their version of the budget back to the mayor. The mayor then has until June 12 to approve or veto the budget.