Acting Holyoke mayor cuts funding requests by $3M

  • GAZETTE FILE PHOTO GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/17/2021 7:16:29 PM

HOLYOKE — Acting Mayor Terence Murphy has proposed a budget for fiscal year 2022 that reduces funding requests from city departments by around $3 million.

Murphy introduced his $144.6 million general fund spending plan at a special meeting of the City Council last week. In an accompanying letter, he said that his budget request is 2.28% higher than fiscal year 2021, though he did make substantial cuts to department requests.

“It has been my goal throughout this process to provide as many services as possible while also being fiscally sound,” Murphy said. “I have made substantial cuts to budget requests, not because I thought there was little value in the proposals but simply because projected revenues could not sustain these additional expenses.”

Despite the cuts, Murphy is asking city councilors to balance the budget by raising the city’s sewer user fee to eliminate a deficit in the sewer fund. That deficit, he said, is depriving the city of needed services. The city raised the fee in 2018 by $1.25 after years of flat rates leading to deficits.

In order to offset any concerns about the increased burden a sewer fee increase could have on residents and businesses, Murphy proposed that the city transfer money from its stabilization account to provide tax relief in fiscal year 2022.

Murphy said he spoke to the city’s financial advisers at the firm Hilltop Securities, who confirmed that balancing the sewer account would put the city on a more solid financial footing. He said Cinder McNerney, a managing director at the firm, told him she didn’t think offsetting the sewer fee increase with stabilization funds would negatively impact the city’s bond ratings.

Should the council adopt the sewer fee increase, Murphy said it could help reduce a budget deficit down to $500,000.

“While revenue projections have used conservative calculations, I do believe that much of that could be made up with local receipts,” Murphy wrote to councilors. “As we recover economically from the pandemic, those receipts could move closer to FY20 totals than those of this fiscal year. If local receipts reached 80% of what they actually were in FY20, there would be a slight surplus within this budget.”

Murphy’s proposed budget also would boost the number of police department patrol officers from 90 to 92, and would also increase the HPD’s reserve officer ranks from 24 to 35. Amid scrutiny of HPD’s high overtime pay, Murphy said that change is intended to reduce the need for overtime within the department’s ranks.

In Murphy’s proposal, there are several other changes to the staffing of city departments.

One of those changes is in the city solicitor’s office, where Murphy proposed employing only three lawyers and a paralegal as opposed to the five lawyer positions requested by the department. Murphy noted that his proposal boosts the pay of those positions — increasing the city solicitor’s pay from $75,823 to $91,000, for example.

Another change would occur in the Department of Public Works, Murphy said.

“I have approved several new laborer positions in the expectation that they can improve the consistency of constituent services, especially regarding recycling and trash collections,” Murphy wrote.

At the City Council’s special meeting Wednesday, At-large Councilor Joe McGiverin asked whether Murphy’s budget included any funds from the federal coronavirus economic stimulus package known as the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Murphy said the $29.8 million coming to the city over the next two fiscal years as part of that package is not included in the budget.

The city will hold budget hearings in the coming weeks with department heads before making possible cuts to Murphy’s proposed budget before it is approved.

Murphy, who fellow councilors elected as acting mayor in April, will hold office until November, when a new mayor will be elected for a four-year term.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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