Westfield’s budget to take effect with council amendments intact

WESTFIELD – Several amendments to Mayor Daniel M. Knapik’s 2013 budget and approved by the council last week are not affected by the fact that the City Council did not vote Wednesday to either approve or deny the municipal budget.
The council was poised Wednesday to approve the $111,269,016 municipal budget financed through local property and excise taxes and through state and federal aid. That vote did not occur because the City Charter and Council Rules state that there must be unanimous consent by council members to act on a financial matter at one meeting. Those rules require that financial issues, orders, and ordinance changes be voted upon at two council sessions. Typically a financial issue or appropriation is introduced for the first reading at one meeting, and then brought out for second reading and final passage at the next session.
The vote Wednesday was blocked by At-large Councilor David A. Flaherty who stated that the City Council members should be more involved in the development of the budget by the executive branch. Flaherty’s primary concerns are the increases in the salaries of the city’s employees and deferred liability, particularly those related to post employment benefits.
The city currently funds those obligations on a pay-as-you-go basis, a practice that Flaherty feels does not adequately address the growing liability.
The impact of Flaherty’s objection to suspending the rules is that Mayor Daniel M. Knapik’s budget automatically takes effect Sunday, July 1.
Ward 5 Councilor Richard E. Onofrey Jr., chairman of the Finance Committee, said Friday that the amendments made to the budget are not erased by the fact that the council was blocked from voting to approve or deny the budget.
The council approved four amendments to Knapik’s budget, adding $2,500 to the Committee for Citizens with Disabilities line item to adjust that budget, basically stipends paid to the commissioners, because the number of members on that board was expanded.
The council also approved a $2,838 increase to the Assessors Department to fund purchase of services. That money is used to pay outside vendors for revaluation services.
Knapik requested council support for to substantial budget increases, adding $105,300 to the Police Department full-time hourly account to fund the salaries of three new patrolmen who were hired after the proposed budget was finalized and $100,000 to the new Public Safety Communications Department which is a new account. The Dispatch Department, operations formerly performed at the Police and Fire departments, becomes an independent, operational department Sunday, the first day of the 2013 fiscal year.
“We voted to accept the changes at the mayor’s request,” Onofrey said Friday. “So those amendments to the budget were implemented.”
Onofrey, whose committee conducted interviews with municipal departments and city officers as part of the budget review process, said the budget is not perfect, but is based upon information available to Knapik and the City Council. The budget is generated based upon very conservative assumptions in the funding levels from the state and federal government because hard numbers for the level of state and federal unrestricted aid, and education funding are not known during the budget process.
The state legislature approved the 2013 budget Friday and the federal government’s 2014 budget is initiated on Oct. 1 each year
“The budget is what it is,” Onofrey said. “It’s very tight, we’re barely on a shoestring, but I don’t have a problem with it.
“I think that many departments will be coming back in January and February for additional funding, but we see mid-year transfers all the time, typically at the beginning of the calendar year,” he said.
One reason for the department request for additional funding at the beginning of the year is that is when the city has hard numbers on the level of state and federal aid, as well as the Department of Revenue certification of the city’s free cash which cannot be used in generating the annual budget.

For video of the city council meeting, click here.

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