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Easthampton mayor to present $36.3 million city budget

GAZETTE FILE PHOTO
Easthampton Mayor Michael Tautznik will present a $36.3 million budget to the City Council on Wednesday, up 3.2 percent from this year.

GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Easthampton Mayor Michael Tautznik will present a $36.3 million budget to the City Council on Wednesday, up 3.2 percent from this year. Purchase photo reprints »

Mayor Michael A. Tautznik will present his fiscal 2014 budget plan to the City Council Wednesday.

Tautznik’s proposal is an increase of $1,125,089 or 3.2 percent over the current year’s budget of $35,200,653. He said $235,365 of that increase is due to a bookkeeping change that for the first time appropriates Community Preservation Act funds as part of the budget, though it does not affect how the funds are spent.

He called his proposal a “good budget” because he did not have to rely heavily on non-recurring funds to balance it. He did not tap into stabilization funds and used only $60,100 in free cash, he said.

But the budget, which tallies up at $36,325,742, is about $1.1 million less than the approximately $37.4 million in requests he received from city departments.

“We aren’t able to fund all we want to fund,” he said. “The budget is significantly supported by property taxes and we’re taxing to the maximum allowed in order to provide the financial resources to maintain services.”

Tautznik said a “modest” projected increase in state aid — $46,000 more in state funding for schools and $56,000 in general government funding — coupled with less than stellar growth of the city’s tax base, limited his ability to fulfill department requests.

“Local funding, including $21 million in taxes, makes up $28 million out of the $36 million budget, with only the $8 million coming from state aid,” he said.

The city is projecting about $150,000 in new growth of the tax base in the coming fiscal year, which starts July 1. That will be down from the growth seen in the current year, he said. An agreement that will come before the City Council later this month could also mean about $50,000 from Borrego Solar Systems, the owner of the solar array on the former Oliver Street landfill that provides discounted electricity to the city. The payment would be made in lieu of property taxes, if the council allows it.

Among the departments that will need to make cuts is the school department. The School Committee asked for $15.6 million for a level-services budget, but Tautznik budgeted about $15.34 million. That is an increase of about $340,180 over the current year, and Tautznik said that number is based on a long-standing formula he uses that provides about two-thirds of available general fund dollars to the school department.

School Superintendant Nancy Follansbee said that since submitting their budget request, school officials have determined that lower than expected utility costs and tuitions for students going out of district means that the department will have to cut about $183,000 from its budget, rather than the $300,000 previously planned for.

The department had prepared a list enumerating $282,245 in possible cuts, including eliminating 1.5 staff positions and a tutor.

“We’ll work from that list to determine what cuts will need to be made,” she said.

Tautznik also allotted $40,000 from free cash to increase classroom security at the middle and elementary schools.

Other spending

The general government portion of the budget, totaling $1,667,732, would increase $124,307 or a little more than 8 percent over the current fiscal year. Spending here includes $12,872 for Grant Administrator Susan Penha, whose position in the Planning Department was previously funded with grants, and $10,000 for legal costs because the city is negotiating contracts with the police and firefighters unions.

Tautznik also upped city support of Easthampton City Arts Plus, the city- and grant-funded organization that puts on Bear Fest and other cultural programs, from $16,000 to $25,000.

“I see the arts and our relationship with the arts from an economic perspective,” he said. “The goal is to make Easthampton a destination. There are many ways to do it, but right now the main way we’re doing it is through the arts.”

The Department of Public Works budget of $1.48 million will be down $31,872 compared to the current fiscal year due to savings realized by lower than expected fuel costs and about $10,000 saved in the use of energy-efficient LED streetlights, Tautznik said.

After educational costs, the second largest piece of the budget is employee benefits, totaling $7,137,401 with an increase of 2.2 percent over the current year. Public safety spending is third at $4,758,731, up 1.2 percent over the current year’s budget.

While the Council on Aging asked the city to pay $32,916 for three part-time positions that had been grant-funded, Tautznik budgeted $20,100 to help the COA with staffing needs.

“We’ll meet and talk and figure out their priorities. We need to look at where to make the investment this year,” he said.

Meanwhile, since Tautznik has announced he won’t seek an eighth term in office, this is the last budget he will author. He said he transferred a lot of the responsibility for preparing it to Finance Director Melissa Zawadzki, who he hopes will assist the next mayor in the budgeting process.

“It’s bittersweet to think about leaving,” he said. “I enjoyed putting this budget together and I’m pleased with how I’m leaving this part of the mayor’s job.”

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

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