Finance Committee declines to cut budget

WESTFIELD – The first act of the annual three-act play concluded last night as the Finance Committee declined to identify any cuts in the 2013 budget to recommend tonight during act two of the annual budget approval process.
The opening act provided little tension, except the hint of conflict when other council members, Ward 2 Councilor James E. Brown Jr., Ward 4 Councilor Mary O’Connell and At-large Councilors Agma Sweeney and James R. Adams, attending last night’s session asked if they would be allowed to participate.
Finance Chairman Richard E. Onofrey Jr. denied that request, stating that the councilors will have opportunity to discuss the budget tonight.
Some years the play is a tragedy, as severe cuts eliminate jobs and reduce services. That is not the case this year, although Mayor Daniel M. Knapik presented the City Council with a severe budget that has substantially reduced departmental line items for capital purchases.
The only department which has sent out “non-renewal notices”, pink slips, is the School Department, which notified 23 teachers and 10 paraprofessionals. Those notifications were sent with the hope that the department’s budget will receive an additional infusion of state funding when the Legislature approves a final budget, to recall those teachers and paraprofessional.
If the 2013 budget play falls into any category it is a historical drama in that the members of the Finance Committee did not find one cut that seemed reasonable. The committee reviewed the proposed budget, containing a total of 65 line items, with no motion to recommend cuts to the fill City Council tonight when it meets as a Committee of the Whole.
“We have no motions coming out of finance to amend the mayor’s budget,” Onofrey, the Ward 5 councilor, said.
At-large Councilor David A. Flaherty, a Finance Committee member, had made a motion to cut the $100,000 Knapik requested for the reserve account, arguing that Knapik and department heads could request additional appropriations.
“We get those requests every month.” ¬†However, Ward 6 Councilor Christopher Crean, also a Finance Committee member, and Onofrey, objected to the cut.
Onofrey noted that free cash may not be certified by the Department of Revenue until January or February and appropriations from the reserve account require a super majority of nine votes, instead of the seven votes required to approve appropriation from the reserve account.
“It still has to come to us,” Onofrey. “The reserve of unforeseen account is not a private account of the mayor’s.”
Flaherty withdrew his motion.
Flaherty said that he would have made a number of other cut recommendations, but many of the line items are required by state law.
“I’d have a lot of motions but some of the line items we can’t touch, such as labor, health and debt.”
Onofrey said the dearth of cut motions reflects the action taken by the council over the past several years.
“Over the last six to seven years, we’ve chipped and chipped away. There’s not much left to cut,” he said.
The Finance Committee members discussed the department budgets, identifying one after another that are not funded to meet operational needs.
The members identified the Law, Technology Center, City Clerk, Police, Fire, Emergency Dispatch, Solid Waste Collection, Health and Public Works as departments which need additional funding.
Onofrey, during the department-by-department review of the 2013 budget told many department heads that he anticipates they will be seeking additional funds next January to supplement their budgets.
Onofrey said yesterday that he also anticipates that Knapik will submit a request late in the fiscal year for the council’s approval of a bond to fund capital investment for departments to replace aging vehicle fleets and make other equipment purchases cut from the budget.
The City Council will meet tomorrow for the third, and final, act of the 2013 budget plan, when it votes on motions made today by the Committee as a Whole and on the final budget.

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