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Northampton mayor unveils $96.2 million budget, 15 positions lost

GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Northampton Mayor David J. Narkewicz submitted a $96.2 million budget to the City Council THursday night that would eliminate more than 15 full-time jobs.

GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Northampton Mayor David J. Narkewicz submitted a $96.2 million budget to the City Council THursday night that would eliminate more than 15 full-time jobs. Purchase photo reprints »

However, whether this is the final budget the council will consider in late June depends on a Proposition 2½ override vote scheduled for June 25. Residents will be asked to increase their property taxes beyond the legal limit imposed by state law to produce $2.5 million that would stave off the cuts.

For now, Mayor David J. Narkewicz has submitted to the council the city’s $81.1 million general fund budget without the potential revenue from the override to leave enough time for two votes before the new fiscal year begins July 1.

Including roughly $15 million allocated from the city’s water, sewer and solid waste enterprise funds, the overall budget for the next fiscal year is slightly more than $96.2 million. That is a 0.6 percent increase over the current year.

Should the override pass, the budget would increase by $2.5 million, about $1.4 million of which would be used to plug a budget gap for the next fiscal year with the remainder set aside in a special fund to maintain level services over the next four years.

As proposed now, the budget would make significant cuts in both city and school operating expenses. It would eliminate slightly more than the equivalent of 15 full-time positions — approximately 11 from the schools and four full-time police officers.

The schools would face the deepest cuts, with reductions in teachers, aides and programs in core subjects, as well as special education, arts, music, technology and libraries.

Students would also see increases in fees for sports and school lunches and decreased funding for supplies and textbooks, the mayor said.

Narkewicz said Police Chief Russell P. Sienkiewicz is particularly concerned about the impact to public safety should the cuts occur, which would reduce the number of officers on the streets and their ability to respond to serious and violent incidents. As a result, Sienkiewicz is considering a plan to move a sergeant from the department’s detective bureau to patrol.

The budget also calls for cuts to maintenance and supply budgets, and overall reductions in services across all departments.

Other budget highlights include:

∎ A “historic breakthrough” around health care, which for years has seen the single largest annual increase in the municipal budget.

By moving the city’s health insurance into the state Group Insurance Commission starting Jan. 1, 2014, the city will save about $1.3 million next fiscal year, with about $331,000 set aside for employees and retirees to offset the impacts of the transition.

The three-year plan was approved this week by a special committee representing the city’s unions.

“The health care piece was big,” Narkewicz said.

∎ A roughly $1.7 million capital plan to fund “high-priority” investments in buildings, equipment, vehicles and technology.

Some of the projects include $400,000 to fix a retaining wall on River Road along the Mill River; $150,000 to repair the roof at Ryan Road School; $100,000 for school technology; and $100,000 to provide an elevator for handicapped patrons at Forbes Library.

For the second straight year, Narkewicz is delaying replacement of the Department of Public Works facility on Locust Street for financial reasons.

Significant changes

Narkewicz also provided an update on the progress of two significant changes the city addressed in its current budget: reducing unfunded compensatory time and improving efficiency in parking operations.

The mayor said the city has reduced its overall compensatory time liability by 27 percent through the implementation of new reporting procedures and regular monitoring of balances.

The reorganization of the Parking Division last year has led to better financial management, according to a recent outside audit. The changes also reduced costs, especially overtime, which dropped by 76 percent to less than $10,000 this fiscal year, Narkewicz said.

In his budget memo, Narkewicz highlights what he has said numerous times since taking office: There is an imbalance between rising fixed costs and the lack of revenues to meet them.

Net state aid is projected to increase by $154,100, or 1.5 percent, next fiscal year. That is still $1.1 million less than the amount allocated to the city five years ago. Had state aid remained level-funded since 2002, the city would have had more than $35 million to work with since then.

“There is more pressure on local revenue, which is capped and limited,” Narkewicz said.

He said the city has adopted and implemented all of the options offered by the state for increasing local revenue. Among those are meals and hotel/motel taxes, the Community Preservation Act and health insurance reform.

He called on the state to revisit outdated and unfair aid formulas. Barring that, the city must demand more local revenue authority from the state to “let us control our own fiscal destiny,” he wrote.

This year’s budget has more information than in years past. For the first time, the budgets of Northampton public schools and Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School are in the budget. The school departments are required to approve their budgets earlier in the year as a result of the city’s new charter.

The mayor has also included what will become a running tally of city employees so that the public knows how many positions the city has from year to year and in what departments.

Additionally, the budgets of Forbes and Lilly libraries are included in the mayor’s budget, though their finances are separately managed.

The council has scheduled hearings with city departments from 5 to 9 p.m. May 29 and 30. The council will then hold a public hearing on the mayor’s budget at its June 6 meeting, followed by a first vote at a meeting on June 20. A second vote would take place at a special meeting June 27, whether or not the override is approved.

The budget is available on the home page of the city’s website at www.northamptonma.gov.

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