Letter to the Editor: At what cost?

To the Editor,

Recently the City and School Department seemingly agreed to new labor contracts that call for raises of 1% for the first year, and 2% in subsequent years.

Though 1% and 2% don’t sound bad, and many people believe city employees deserve to be “fairly” compensated, the 1% and 2% numbers alone are very misleading. The actual costs in real dollars for the life of these contracts are quite significant. Costs that don’t seem to make the press releases are: step increases, seniority bonuses, shift premiums, education incentives, severance pay, retirement cost increases, service bonuses, overtime, and short-term and long-term health care costs. Almost everyone would like more take-home pay. The fact is that the City just doesn’t have the money. The City is already passing millions of dollars per year onto future generations of taxpayers for services received this year, and we are failing to adequately maintain much of the city infrastructure that we all depend on.

The City and School Department owe the citizens and taxpayers an honest fully-detailed report of the costs of these contracts. Personally, I believe the City Council and School Committee should have these details before they ever consider voting on the funding or the contracts.

I also believe the citizens and taxpayers should be told how these contracts will be funded. Where’s the money coming from? What may we have to give up in order to fund these contracts? What will happen if we hit our levy ceiling, the maximum local property tax allowed under prop 2 ½, like neighboring Holyoke? How much more does the Mayor, City Council, and School Committee think that taxpayers can handle?

It’s not my job to calculate the costs of these items, but my quick rough calculations put the increased cost at about $10+ million per year by the third-year of these contracts. We can’t find $5+ million a year to fix our roads (over a 15+ year period), but somehow we are expected to find $10+ million for pay increases? We can’t find enough money to fully fund the normal costs and obligations for pension and health care, yet somehow we are expected to come up with $10+ million a year for pay increases? We can’t find enough money to properly maintain our levies and dams and associated flood protection systems, yet somehow we are expected to come up with $10+ million a year? We can’t properly maintain our buildings and infrastructure, but are expected to find $10+ million a year and pay for future bonds to rebuild or refurbish.

Some will say that the State is giving us more money for Schools under Chapter 70, and that that will lessen the local impact. That’s a bit true, but the State increased education funding to address several deficiencies in education, to improve special education services, to address challenges face by gateway communities, to help with transportation, and to increase the amount that goes towards retiree healthcare costs. The State expects measurable results. Paying the same people more money isn’t going to necessarily improve things – anymore than paying the Red Sox players 2% more would have resulted in a better outcome this past season. I believe the State intended us to use much of that extra money to hire additional staff, for enhanced programs, or to outsource certain services to third-party specialists.
We continue to approach the breaking point. Something’s got to change. Hopefully the new Mayor and City Council will work towards appropriate solutions.

To help with this, I have been contacted by a group of people who want to start a Westfield Taxpayers Association in 2020. The goal of this group would be to research matters, represent the concerns of taxpayers, and to plan action that will result in appropriate changes. If you would like to learn more, or participate in this Association, please email [email protected] and you’ll be added to their contact list.

In closing, as many of you know, I have been a volunteer with Boy Scouts for many years. This year, seven fine young young men from St. Mary’s Boy Scout Troop 109 have earned the rank of Eagle Scout. Nationally, only about 4% of the boys who enter scouting, earn Eagle Scout. This is the largest Eagle Scout class that I remember. Congratulations to Joe Crean, Zach Hall, Aidan Cioch, Trent Stucenski, William Fouche, Ethan Flaherty, and Aidan Burke! I am, and your families and community are, very proud of you and your accomplishments.

The Troop will be holding their annual Bottle and Can Drive on March 7th. Please save your returnables for them. They’ll be posting details in the press and online in the coming months.

May you and your family be blessed with a Merry Christmas; a Happy Chanukah; and a Happy, Healthy, Peaceful, Rewarding, Memorable New Year!

Dave Flaherty
At-Large City Councilor
[email protected]


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