Few changes in final budget hearings

WESTFIELD- The final day of Finance Committee budget hearings concluded in City Council Chambers Thursday evening with Barnes Regional Airport, the Council on Aging, Veteran’s Services, and Information Technology presenting budget requests for FY20.

Eric Billowitz, airport manager for Westfield Barnes Regional Airport, said that the airport’s budget for the coming fiscal year will remain largely the same as it did this past year.

“It’s really business as usual,” said Billowitz.

Billowitz did detail a repair  project for one of the runways. He noted that a runway is typically replaced every 10 years. The secondary runway, Billowitz said, could begin replacement next spring. He said it has been in operation since 1972, so it gave them a good run if it lasted this long. One reason cited for the repairs of one of the runways was inefficient drainage, a project that Billowitz said will also need to take place to prevent future damage to the runways.

He added that there were some parties interested in building hangars at Barnes. They are still in the stages of deciding what size spave they need and where exactly they would go on the property.

City Councilor Matt Emmershy asked Billowitz about the landing fees that were implemented in recent years. Billowitz said that the fees had totaled to about $75,000 in revenue to the airport since July of last year.

The Council on Aging’s budget was presented by Executive Director Tina Gorman. She announced that the CoA would be giving the city at least $6,000 over the next fiscal year. She also explained that the position of outreach coordinator had previously been paid their salary by both the city and the state. Gorman said that, in order to make it easier for payroll and the auditing department, she moved the salary entirely to the city. To compensate, she said she moved the salary of another part-time employee entirely into the state allocation. Gorman said that they made an effort to keep the budget mostly the same from last year.

She noted that the Senior Center has had an increase in elderly citizens coming in and taking part in services, programs, and lunches. She noted, however, that many of the people now coming in are arriving with what she called “very complicated cases.”

Julie Barnes, director of Veteran’s Services, said that there would also be little change from last year’s budget for her department. The only major change, she said, would be a $90,000 cut. She said  $70,000 of the budget was cut from the Chapter 115 Veteran’s Benefit Package. She noted that they did not use much of that money in last year’s budget, so they found no reason to include it this year. In addition, $10,000 was cut from Barnes’ position from what it was last year.

The final hearing was for the city’s Information Technology department. It was said that their project budget was going to increase slightly from last year by about $70,000. The department is looking to hire three people after having lost three people over the last year for various reasons. They said that they have been in talks with the mayor to increase the salaries to the two remaining employees.

About $35,000 of the increase comes from the copy machines throughout the city. The decision was made to remove the copy machine budgets from their respective departments and consolidate them into the IT budget.

One of the biggest expenditures is the proposed change to a new email system for the city. The IT representative said that the current system they use is rather old and vulnerable to attack. He said that they realized the need for a new system during the 2016 elections when they saw over 10,000 hacking attempts from IP addresses in Russia and China. He proposed that they move the system to a Google or Microsoft based email, as it would be more secure than what they use now.

All of the budgets submitted this week will be reviewed in a special City Council meeting on Tuesday. All interested persons will be allowed to speak for or against any proposed expenditures or cuts.

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