Easthampton mayor calls for budget cuts across all departments in next fiscal year

  • Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Easthampton Municipal Building GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/11/2020 10:59:51 AM
Modified: 12/11/2020 10:59:38 AM

EASTHAMPTON — Mayor Nicole LaChapelle has directed city department leaders to cut their budgets by 2.5% for fiscal year 2022 without making staffing reductions.

In a letter to department heads, LaChapelle wrote that when creating budgets, “every effort must be made to preserve jobs — no budget should include furloughs, layoffs or staff reduction at this time.”

The 2.5% reductions would be over the current year’s funding levels. The next fiscal year begins July 1, 2021.

LaChapelle said Thursday she expects “shifts in our expenses,” some associated with COVID-19 relief funding, to help avoid staffing reductions. Remote operations have allowed the city to save money on resources that were funded by the CARES Act or FEMA, she said, such as computers for students, and other departments have needed to spend less money than expected on items such as paper products.

Additionally, a larger shift to electronic business can cut back on costs, LaChapelle said, noting that virtual licensing cuts back on expenses associated with paper and office supplies.

“Due to several fiscal unknowns, I am cutting the budget now proactively, instead of in a reactionary manner,” she wrote in the letter to department heads.

City Clerk Barbara LaBombard, who oversees the City Clerk & Elections department, said that implementing the 2.5% cut will be difficult due to the city election slated for next year with the possibility of ranked-choice voting, though she noted that it’s “not unusual” to look at cuts every year.

As the clerk, LaBombard deals with two budgets, one she described as a “pretty straightforward” budget for the clerk’s office, and the other a more complicated elections budget, which varies year to year depending on the number of elections planned. She said she is not yet sure where she can make cuts, but will “have to just sit down and see where the numbers play out.”

“The budget doesn’t have that much fat to begin with, so cutting 2.5%, especially (for) the elections budget, I’m just going to have to put forward what I think I need and see how it works out,” LaBombard said.

LaBombard said that she prefers for department heads to be able to determine their cuts on an individual basis, rather than having the mayor implement cuts across departments, as she thinks department heads “know what is best to trim.”

Easthampton Parks & Recreation Director John Mason said that he appreciates LaChapelle’s approach to a difficult situation.

“She has tough decisions to make and it isn’t easy,” he said, “but we fully understand and appreciate her reaching out to all departments and being proactive regarding budget cuts.”

The Parks & Recreation department reduced its programs, services, and events this year amid the pandemic and will continue to make cuts as needed for the fiscal 2022 budget, Mason said.

While all departments are directed to submit a budget showing a 2.5% increase, the city is still in a position to honor its collective bargaining agreements that can otherwise affect finances, LaChapelle said.

Department leaders must submit their fiscal 2022 budget proposals by Feb. 1, 2021. LaChapelle will deliver a balanced budget at the City Councils’ second meeting in April.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.

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