Finance chair looks ahead to budget season

Ward 2 Councilor Mayor Ralph J. Figy also serves as the council liaison to the school district. (THE WESTFIELD NEWS FILE PHOTO)

Story updated April 14, 2020

WESTFIELD – Ward 2 Councilor Ralph J. Figy, chair of the Finance subcommittee, has been looking ahead to the budget season, taking into consideration the City Council’s current meeting restrictions, the Open Meeting Law violations found in last year’s process, and the looming deadline of June 30 to pass a budget.
Currently, the City Council is meeting remotely, with the meetings audio broadcast on Channel 15. Public participation is possible only by emails sent in advance to councilors and read during that portion of the meeting.
Figy remains cautious following the Open Meeting Law violations determined by the Attorney General on a complaint by Councilor Dave Flaherty concerning the June 18, 2019 meeting of the Finance subcommittee, chaired by Brent B. Bean II, at which nine councilors attended in addition to the three on the subcommittee.
The Attorney General found that the quorum in attendance constituted an unposted meeting of the whole, in which all the councilors participated by asking questions through the chair. The minutes of the meeting were also determined to be not adequately detailed, also a violation.
Figy said the way he would like to proceed this year is after Mayor Donald F. Humason Jr. presents the budget, to schedule several meetings of the whole committee with department heads to review their portions of the budget.
“Since the meetings will all be committees of the whole, the other councilors would get to have discussions at that point,” Figy said.
Figy said during the discussions, the legality of any cuts recommended by councilors could also be checked. Last year, the majority of cuts,  $700,000 out of $1.2 million passed in a nine-hour City Council budget review, were restored.
Figy said he hopes to avoid a marathon City Council budget review this year by having all the councilors participate in the Finance subcommittee meetings of the whole. He said he plans to schedule 20 minutes for each department to present its portion of the budget and hopes to start the meetings at the end of May, completing the process by the third week of June.
Figy also said that he would like to schedule a public hearing as the first meeting following the Mayor’s presentation of the budget, before the Finance committee begins to meet.
The unknown will be the amount of state aid that will be coming to Westfield this year. “The legislature could be the holdup,” Figy said, adding, “They’ve always been the holdup. (Last year,) the final state budget wasn’t approved until July.”
Another unknown not mentioned by Figy is when restrictions for meeting in person will be lifted.

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