City budget narrowly approved

WESTFIELD – The City Council formally approved the municipal 2014 budget last night by a margin of one vote, with several councilors expressing reservations about this and future city budgets, as well as the city’s ability to finance future bonds.
The budget was approved by a vote of 7-6 councilors
Finance Chairman Richard E. Onofrey Jr., said the committee attempted to cut the budget by $1.5 million because of the reduction in money available for bond debt and the fact that there are several major projects planned in the near future that need to be financed through bonds.
“We agreed to set aside $1.5 million so we could maintain borrowing power going forward,” Onofrey said. “No, we are not going to present any of these cuts tonight, we are voting on the mayor’s budget tonight.”
At-large Councilor Agma Sweeney said that she is “disappointed that there was no discussion” of the Finance Committee’s proposed cuts at the council’s budget workshop Wednesday night or at the City Council meeting last night.
“I thought we’d go through the budget as a full council and maybe accept the $600,000,” Sweeney said. “I am uncomfortable we are moving forward without any cuts.”
The Finance Committee had proposed $600,000 in “targeted cuts” to eliminate one-time, non-recurring expenditures which could have been covered with free cash or stabilization account funding.
The first order of business last night was to take immediate action on communication from the mayor requesting the council to transfer $1,083,497.96 from the free cash account into the stabilization account.
Several councilors also expressed concern throughout the session that the city debt is down to $5.5 million because money that should be allocated for debt payments was incorporated into the operational budget.
Ward 1 Councilor Christopher Keefe commended the Finance Committee for taking a stand on the debt issue.
“The Finance Committee rose to the occasion,” Keefe said. “The three members stood up and said we have an issue, we need to free up $900,000 so we can keep up debt payments. The committee did the job no one else would do.”
At-large Councilor John J. Beltrandi III, a Finance Committee member, made the motion Wednesday night to accept the mayor’s budget as presented.
“The mayor answered some tough questions,” Beltrandi said. “It was a lively debate. The mayor was asked if he could give a balanced budget and make it work and said he could. We need to hold his feet to the fire on that promise.”
Voting “YES” to adopt the budget were Councilors James R. Adams, Bean, Beltrandi, Ann Callahan, Crean, Kevin Harraghy, and Brian Sullivan.
Voting “NO” were Councilors Flaherty, O’Connell, Onofrey, Agma Sweeney, Keefe and Brian Winters.

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