Mayor Brian P. Sullivan on budget cuts

Westfield Mayor Brian P. Sullivan (WNG file photo)

WESTFIELD – “Nothing that got cut was devastating to the way I’m going to manage the budget,” Mayor Brian P. Sullivan said this week, reflecting on the $1 million in budget cuts made by the City Council during last week’s nine-hour budget review.
“I am very sympathetic to employees in the city who went through a salary cut, or license or fee cut. Some of those things are required in their contracts,” Sullivan added.
The largest cuts of the night were to employee health insurance ($271,248) and contributory retirement ($250,000).
Sullivan said he had cut $1 million out of the health insurance at the start of fiscal year 2019, but had been forced to put it back in at the end of the year by sweeping accounts and using Free Cash. He said it had been a tough year for health insurance, after several good years. He also added it back in to the fiscal year 2020 budget.
“I’m not worried about that one at all. They announced on the Council floor if we need it later, we can use Free Cash. (But) we have no idea what that number will be,” Sullivan said, noting that Free Cash is not certified until November.
As for the cut to contributory retirement, the Mayor said that number is given to the city by the Public Employment Retirement Administration Commission (PERAC), and is contractually obligated. “The auditor will support me in this. Statutorily, they can’t cut this number,” he said, adding that the Council will have to change their votes to put it back in.
Sullivan said some departments got cut and some didn’t, and some of the cuts seemed personal. “For example, everyone in my office received a cut,” he said.
Sullivan said some of those cuts were also statutory, such as the Mayor’s salary, which is set through an ordinance, and has to go through an ordinance change to be reduced.
Also reduced in the Mayor’s office were the Facilities Manager and City Advancement Officer positions. Sullivan said the cut to the Facilities Manager Bryan Forrette was for his building license, which is required.
Sullivan said currently the City Advancement Officer position, formerly held by Joe Mitchell, is being contracted out for another three months, due to activity in the Elm Street Urban Renewal Project and the Turnpike Industrial Park. Also reduced was funding for the Westfield Redevelopment Authority. He commented that the council has made it “unfriendly” to go through the process.
“We’re going to have to come up with tax incentives to get that built,” Sullivan said, referring to the Elm Street Urban Renewal Project. He said currently they have pushed back the Request for Proposal (RFP) while they investigate possible federal, state and local incentive programs. He said that’s why those programs are out there.
“The Turnpike Industrial Park is a prime example. MassWorks and state funding helped to get us through the MEPA process. It’s the same thing with the Elm Street process. It can work, but it will (need) a lot of smart people. Some of that got cut,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan pointed out that no programs in the School Department or the city were cut. “All of these things were reductions in the numbers,” he said.
Sullivan also said the cuts weren’t consistent across unions. “Out of 10 people in a union, they cut three, but not the other seven,” he said, which can’t be done. “That’s why there are unions,” he said.
As far as union negotiations, Sullivan said there are four or five left on the city side to be ratified before going to the City Council. He said the school unions, Unit A and D, were pushed off until September, but the clerical union is close to being ratified. “We won’t take the summer off like the Council does,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said a lot of councilors were criticizing how late the Mayor got the budget to them, presenting it to the Council on June 12.
“I will take responsibility for some of that,” Sullivan said.
However, he said the Council shares some of the responsibility. “Every year for the past 15 to 20 years, the Mayor always brought the budget out on the first Thursday in June. This year that meeting, originally scheduled for June 6, was changed to June 10, then June 5, then June 3. I wasn’t ready for June 3,” he said, adding that he agreed to the next scheduled meeting.
Sullivan also said the school budget was in the Council Share on April 24. “They had well over 45 days to go through the whole school budget – ample time to go through half of the city budget.”
“I cut $1.9 million from the department heads budget before sending it to the City Council,” the Mayor said. He explained that he had asked for level-funded budgets from the departments, but some costs went up, including insurance and pavement, that led to increases.
“At the end of it, looking at what they cut doesn’t make a lot of sense fiscally or managerial,” Sullivan said.

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