Committee considers funding requests

WESTFIELD The City Council Finance Committee reviewed more than $2.3 million in appropriations and transfers submitted by 11 city departments during a three-hour marathon session Wednesday night.
Most of the funding requests were approved for a positive recommendation to the full City Council for the Jan. 19 session, but the Finance Committee did balk at several of the funding requests.
The most debated issues were the annual transfer requests within the Water and Waste Water departments. Water Resource Superintendent Dave Billips presented a power point presentation to explain the request to transfer $1,232,000 from the Water Department undesignated funds to seven line items and $513,445 from the Waste Water undesignated account to six line items.
The two department make annual transfer requests because of state laws that prohibit approval of budgets which exceed the total revenue documented in the budget of the last fiscal year where the books are closed for both departments.
Billips said that the state law means the current 2012 budget is limited by the revenue generated in the 2010 fiscal year because the books were not closed on the 2011 fiscal year.
“We do this every year,” Billips said. “It’s a silly way to do things.”
Finance Chairman Richard E. Onofrey Jr., asked when the departments’ revenues would cover the budgets.
“When we set rates that funds operation of these departments the way they should be funded,” Billips said. “We have one of the most complex drinking water systems in the state with wells and surface water sources and a hundred-year-old infrastructure. We go through this all of the time.”
Billips also said that the weather events of 2011 did substantial damage to the infrastructure of the two departments, as well as escalating the use of overtime funding.
At-large Councilor David A. Flaherty made the motion to approve only the overtime funding, $48,000, and to table the rest of the transfer request.
“There are so many line items and the numbers are so big, I’d like to have time to think about it. I think we should do a little more investigation,” he said.
Billips said that he has no money remaining in his purchase of service account ($364,500) or his supply account ($187,500) and that bills for those two line items are pending.
The Finance Committee agreed to meet again to consider the other line item funding requests and to bring the issue before the City Council at the February 2 session.
Flaherty also attempted to table the Waste Water transfers, but failed to gain a second on his motion.Ward 6 Councilor Christopher Crean agreed with Billips statements that this is an annual request.
“He’s right,” Crean said. “We put this stuff off and off. I do want to review the Water Department numbers, but I’ve heard the (Waste Water funding request) for years.”
The committee voted to make a 3-0 recommendation to the full council to accept those transfers.
The committee approved two requests submitted by the Police Department, but also tabled one item with a request for further information. The two requests given a favorable recommendation are a $2,088 transfer within the Animal Control Department account, moving those funds within the budget and a $650 request for a 2011 fiscal year bill submitted for training department personnel. A prior year funding request will require nine votes of the council. A request to transfer $33,704.79 from the city’s free cash account to the department’s overtime account was tabled.
Capt. Michael McCabe said the overtime account is being used to increase the police patrol presence in the downtown at the request of Mayor Daniel M. Knapik.
Flaherty moved to table the account.
“It doesn’t seem to be a pressing issue,” Flaherty said. “Do we really need this? I’d like more of an explanation.”
The committee voted to make a positive recommendation for an appropriation of $125,500 from free cash to the Fire Department for purchase of three vehicles for the command staff and mechanic.
Fire Chief Mary Regan said a 2006 Ford Expedition, now used by the on-duty deputy chief will be replaced. That Ford will be assigned to the Fire Prevention Deputy Chief for inspections. The 2006 four-door Ford sedan now being used by the Fire Prevention officer will be surplussed to the city.
Regan said the 2000 Chevrolet Tahoe she currently uses is no longer safe for emergency response, while the 1999 Tahoe used by the department’s mechanic will not pass state safety inspections.
Flaherty said that the replacement of vehicles should be a line item in municipal departments annual budget requests. Regan said that she is submitting a 2013 budget with a request for $1.2 million to replace fire apparatus.
The committee also approved the appropriation of $93,332.14 from free cash to the Public Works Department to begin the process of replacing the department’s aging fleet of recycling and solid waste trucks.
DPW Superintendent James Mulvenna said the city is entering a lease to own program that will replace the fleet of trash and recycling trucks over the next three years. The five-year leases are based on the cost of the vehicles and a 2.51 interest rate.
Mulvenna said that the future lease finding will be included in his departmental budget, with a $93,000 request in the 2013 fiscal year budget, which begins July 1, 2012, and for the next two fiscal year budgets. Mulvenna said that both the trash and recycling trucks are of a better design than the current vehicles and will increase efficiency.
The Finance Committee approved $299,985.72 for the Westfield School Department maintenance.  Director of Operations, Maintenance, and Food Services Frank Maher, presented a long list of projects and equipment purchases.
Maher said that several of the maintenance issues were deferred because funding in the current budget was transferred to special accounts to deal with storm related damage during a very unusual year, in terms of weather events.
The committee approved an appropriation of $20,205 from free cash to the City Clerk’s office to cover the cost of the presidential primary elections this spring.
The committee approved an appropriation of $13,000 to the Health Department. Health Director Michael Suckau said the funding will replace funds that were used for an unexpected project, removing compost from the Twiss Street following the freak October storm. The transfer station was a primary storage area for the tree debris which is still being collected by the Department of Public Works.
The department hired a contractor, at the cost of $13,000 to screen the compost, which was then sold for more than $14,500, but that money was returned to the city’s general fund and not the department, which was planning to use those funds for maintenance.
The Finance Committee will also recommend to the full council that $3,500 be appropriated to the Westfield Athenaeum to fund an education program.
Athenaeum Director Christopher Lindquist said the appropriation will fund the facility’s English as a Second Language (ESL) program, one of several adult education programs offered by the Athenaeum.

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