To the Editor,
I would like to thank the residents and department heads who remained in Council Chambers
until 3 AM during the nine hour Council budget meeting. I appreciate the effort by the Mayor,
department heads and committees who worked to craft a budget to meet the needs of the City,
and those unions still negotiating labor contracts. We are all trying to move the City forward
with a limited amount of financial resources. In the end, the Council was able to pass over a
million dollars in reductions.
The Mayor requested departments level-fund for FY20, yet the budget increased by 3.97 million
dollars more than last year, even with a reduction in personnel, mostly from 37 positions not
filled in the school system.
The issue is we cannot spend more money than we take in, or tax people and businesses more
than they can afford. This hurts people and our local economy, when people have less money
Revenue from new growth for last year was only 1 million dollars. Residents and taxpayers have
to pay increases in property taxes, water and sewer rates, storm water fees and a meals tax,
and Westfield is still unable to fund maintaining our roads.
We cannot spend money we don’t have. Revenue from new growth is simply not enough. We
cannot ignore residents, seniors, working families and small businesses that cannot afford all of
these increases, and who demand we control spending, hold the line on tax increases and focus
on fixing our roads and infrastructure.
It is not personal. We are faced with making tough decisions. Each year that we continue to
raise property taxes brings the City closer to the levy ceiling, a point at which we cannot raise
taxes under Proposition 2 1/2, except for overrides for specific items. Westfield is only a few
years away, and currently at almost 90% of its’ tax levy ceiling limit. After the housing bubbles
of the last few decades, I don’t see a big increase in property values coming to our rescue. Only
28 new homes have been built in Westfield, in the last two years. In fact, with the formulas the
state mandates for schools, fire and polices, new homes and families actually cost the City
money. This means we cannot grow our way of this funding problem. We simply have to make
do with the money we have, control spending, and put pressure on the right places to correct
the root cause of our funding shortages and increases in property taxes.
In many ways, our government has lost touch with ordinary working people. The City has a
$132 million dollar budget, and takes in over 6 million dollars in vehicle excise tax, meals tax
and Chapter 90 funds. All of that money should be spent on its intended purpose of maintaining
our roads. It costs residents and working families a small fortune in tire and vehicle repairs.
Despite a 43 billion dollar budget, and billions in unexpected revenue over the last 6 years, our
Governor and legislators in Boston have failed to restore Local Aid, fund unfunded mandates or
provide sufficient funding for road maintenance. Out of 43 billion dollars, the state only gives
cities and towns 200 million dollars for regular road maintenance, when we need about 500
million a year. The Registry of Motor Vehicles alone could provide the money. It costs 60 million
dollars a year to operate and takes in nearly 600 million. Where is the other 540 million dollars
If city leaders in Massachusetts are truly concerned with public safety and providing basic
services, then we need to make our voices heard and address these issues before more cities
hit their levy ceiling, or go belly up.
For this reason, I do what I can as a City Councilor with the money we have and support
reasonable reductions in purchases and services, and increases we cannot afford and can live
This brings me to a front-page article that appeared in last week’s Westfield Evening News,
“Fire department budget cuts are safety concern says Chief Egloff.”
When the Chief was in front of the Finance subcommittee, he went over the vehicles he was
looking for. According to Chief Egloff, our existing brush fire truck was inadequate, and the
Zodiac rescue boat was not worth repairing. The Finance committee did not make or vote on
any recommendations for cuts in the FY20 budget. I accepted the Chief’s recommendation and
assessment on the need to replace the rescue boat and the brush truck. (Although, with low
mileage and in good condition, we may wish to consider modifications that would make it
During the Council Budget cut meeting, City Council President Ralph Figy made a motion to cut
$170,000 for these 5 vehicles, which Councilor Mike Burns, (Liaison to the Fire Department)
amended to provide $70,000 for the brush truck and zodiac boat. I spoke in favor of both
items, but was willing to cut the other vehicles.
Councilor Figy said he had discussed these items with the Mayor, the City Purchaser and Chief
about cutting from the budget, and using free cash in November, for first of 3 lease payments.
Mr. Figy said he told the Chief there was no guarantee that there would be free cash, and that
Chief Egloff understood.
I asked, if we could get through this years’ season without the truck and boat, and was
reassured by Councilors Figy and Beltrandi, who said they spoke with Chief, and that we could
get through the season. Based on that information, the Council overwhelmingly voted in favor
of these recommendations.