Finance subcommittee reviews begin

Ward 2 Councilor Mayor Ralph J. Figy also serves as chair of the Finance subcommittee. (THE WESTFIELD NEWS FILE PHOTO)

WESTFIELD – The Westfield City Council Finance Subcommittee of the whole met remotely June 15 for the first of four budget reviews scheduled for this week.

The reviews, which run through Thursday this week, are broadcast on Channel 15, and all begin at 5:30 p.m.. The review this Thursday, June 18, includes the School Committee, and is directly followed by the regular City Council meeting at 7 p.m.

A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Monday, June 22 at 6 p.m. Residents may participate in the public hearing by calling into 1-929-205 -099 (Meeting ID: 885 4292 2523; Password: 792210), or by sending in their comments to [email protected].

On June 29 at 6 p.m., a Special City Council Meeting will be convened to vote on the fiscal year 2021 City Budget.

At Monday’s meeting, Council President Brent B. Bean II turned the meeting over to Finance chair Ralph J. Figy for the rest of the reviews. The Airport Department, Emergency Dispatch, Tech Center, Personnel, Payroll and Purchasing departments each presented their budgets to the Council, the majority of which had already sustained cuts from Mayor Donld F. Humason, Jr.

Figy had said in advance of the meeting that the finance committee intended to ask for a vote on each budget of each department, along with any reductions recommended by councilors after each review. At-large Councilor Dave Flaherty asked whether that meant that no cut votes will be accepted before the final vote on the budget.

“It happens right here,” Figy said.

“Due to the format, I might be voting no on these budgets now, and I may be voting no at the end. I don’t want to be implying that I’m going to vote in favor of this budget. I’m sitting back here saying, ‘I told you so.’ So much of this has been predictable,” Flaherty said, adding that he thought 15 minutes for each department was rushing the process.

New Airport Manager Christopher Willenborg presented the Barnes Airport budget. Willenborg previously served as manager of Barnes Airport for nine years, before going on to serve positions in the MassDOT Aeronautics Division and with the Baker-Polito administration’s Military Asset and Security Strategy Task Force.

Figy said he was happy to see that revenues have exceeded expenditures at the airport this year.

Ward 1 Councilor Nicholas J. Morganelli Jr. asked if the airport manager had any plans for new revenue this year. Willenborg said he has been on board for seven weeks. He said development plans include constructing a new hangar, and said one developer is currently interested in building a 12,000 squar- foot hangar for general aviation and small aircraft.

Communications Administrator Nina Barszcz presented the budget for Emergency Dispatch. She said her department has 11 full-time dispatchers plus herself, and two part-time per diem employees to offer relief. She said that line-item had been reduced by the mayor.

Barszcz said typically, grant funding covers a good portion of overtime at the center. She said she has applied for three grants this year for emergency medical dispatch, training and a support and incentive grant. She also said a good portion of the purchase of services in her budget is for the CAD system that serves Fire and Police as well. She said one of the grants may cover a good portion of this cost.

Internet Technology Manager Lenore J. Bernashe. (THE WESTFIELD NEWS FILE PHOTO)

Internet Technology Manager Lenore J. Bernashe presented the highlights and goals for her department, which has been at the center of the switch to remote learning and remote meetings for the city during the pandemic.

Bernashe said with the pandemic, the city now has 60 people working at home, her department has ramped up with Media Specialist Peter Cowles on the zoom meeting broadcasts, and also provides program support for parents and students on remote learning.

She said four out of the past six years, she has had a decline in her budget accounts. She is now down to eight people with one part-time technical assistant. She said any increases would go into personnel, preferably full-time.

“I went into this budget asking for two positions to be filled. I’ve agreed to remove those from the budget as it stands right now. From a staffing standpoint, I’m down at least two people in my budget. My expenses did not change significantly. One of the cuts, removed my part-time tech position. I reduced other areas to keep that position for the start of the school year, when our help desk questions go from 50 to 60 requests a week to 300 requests a week,” Bernashe said.

Bernashe called it creative personnel management. She said IT has split the team, with half of the members working half a week at home and alternating. “My concern right now, is because we don’t have enough team members, if someone were to get sick, it could wipe out the whole support team for the city,” she said, adding that they are a 24/7 organization, with one team member getting calls in the middle of the night from Emergency dispatch, fire and police.

Also in the works is a MUNIS upgrade in the city for next year. Bernashe said Westfield is jumping two versions to the newest, as the current version is reaching its end of llfe. Bernashe said MUNIS runs payroll, human resources, taxes, etc. for the city. She said in some ways it is under-utilized, and she has plans for more training about the new system for employees.

Also presenting on Monday were the department budgets for Personnel and Payroll, presented by Acting Personnel Director Joanne Lemelin, and Purchasing Director Tammy Tefft.

Flaherty commented that the Personnel Department has had a huge turnover in the last ten years. “Is there something in your mind that can help us retain department heads,” he said.

Lemelin responded that she didn’t see any set problem. “The personnel director is a difficult position. You have to find someone who fits. I’ve seen this happen in other communities. I don’t think the perfect fit has been found in Westfield,” she said.

Flaherty also asked if she thinks there is a compensation correlation, or whether Westfield in the right ballpark regarding salaries.

“From what I see, Westfield is on the lower side of the spectrum,” Lemelin said. She said the compensation for the position is low for a seasoned director, but adequate for a new director.

Tefft said her budget is what it’s been every year. She said some of the savings from Westfield Gas & Electric due to energy efficiencies, that normally goes back into the budget for Green Community efforts, was moved over to the general budget this year.

Tefft also said insurance on city building valuations has increased this year after being held harmless for ten years.

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