Councilor O’Connell: Ward 4 update

The Westfield City Council voted on and passed a new budget this past week. It was the most difficult package I have seen in the ten years that I have served on Council. The bottom line is that the City is short of funds and things are getting worse. Allocation among schools and education, public safety and Fire and Police service, DPW budget and infrastructure maintenance presents a real dilemma.
We received the budget from the Mayor very late this year and reviewed it as best we could. First stop for me upon receipt of this budget is always to a copy center in downtown Westfield to I can get a manageable hard copy document on which to work. Then I mark up my reviews and comments. It is distressing to see our City Departments cut to the bone. That said, we still needed to cut an additional millions or suffer the consequences later in the year.
The Council did manage to cut almost $2 million dollars from this FY 16 budget and it was painful. There was a $400,000 cut to the School budget and many smaller miscellaneous cuts to other budgets such as $1500 from the Flood Commission budget (due to a cut in commission members). We cut $100,000 from the account to fund Siemens Corporation for building maintenance.
The City is partially self-insured for certain employee health costs. The biggest cut we made was $1.3 million was to the Insurance Trust Account. This is an account that, in good times when City employees stay healthy, remains a sort of savings or reserve account. If it turns out that we need funds to pay medical bills for employees we will have to take these monies from Free Cash. There is over $8 million in this account currently.
The City Council will not meet again until August 20. We had a light agenda on July 2 after coming off of several weeks of budget hearings as well as a Special Meeting on Tuesday, June 30.
One issue that we address through first reading is an ordinance change requiring residents to attach their license plates to their vehicles. As the law now stands, all vehicles MUST be registered and this change merely requires folks to attach their plates to their vehicles. Believe it or not, some people who have registered vehicles (as the law says one must) refuse to attach their license plates. This creates a problem for our police and compliance officers.
Council Harris has been addressing the issue of unfilled vacancies. One concern is the makeup of the Cultural Council. (I have long had concerns over our many other vacant Board and Commission positions). Councilor Harris has explained that we are potentially losing funds (upwards of $20,000) from the state because the Mayor has refused to fill vacancies on this Cultural Board. The majority of these funds historically go to Westfield school teachers (for individual projects). It is hard to understand why candidates for these positions have not been nominated.
I reached out to Bob McKean, the Managing Director of Stanley Park for an update on the date for the re-scheduled fireworks. Unfortunately, no date has yet been set as there are many events already scheduled at the Park, including weddings. Mr. McKean did mention that the new pavilion & kitchen is under construction and hopefully will be completed sometime in September or early October.
The 1970 graduation Classes from the three High Schools in Westfield, Westfield High School, Westfield Vocational High School (name at the time of graduation) and St. Mary’s High School are holding a reunion on August 15, 2015. The information is as follows: Tekoa Country Club, Russell Road, 7-11 p.m. $30 per person with checks due by August 1. Hot & Cold Appetizers, Coffee & Desserts, casual attire. Please email [email protected] for questions or reservations.
Happy July 4th to all and best wishes for a Safe and Happy weekend.
Mary O’Connell
Ward Four City Council

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not the staff, editor, or publisher of this publication.

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