WESTFIELD – Mayor Donald F. Humason Jr. brought his fiscal year 2021 budget proposal of $155,798,326 from all sources to the City Council June 12.
This number, which includes the general fund and enterprise funds such as water, sewer/ stormwater, ambulance and Community Preservation Act funds, totals $2 million more than FY20, largely due to increases in user fees.
The general fund portion of $137,034,172, which includes funding to all of the city departments and the schools, is $10,000 lower than last year’s, according to City Auditor Christopher Caputo.
This was Humason’s second take on the budget; the first included a charge of cutting $4 million to the school budget to bridge the gap of a predicted $8.1 million deficit. After an outcry from the public and school staff when the school budget included 33 layoffs, Humason went back to the drawing board to try to ease the impact to the community.
During a call before the meeting Friday, Humason and Caputo said they were able to offset their original projected $8.1 million shortfall by filling gaps from free cash and other one-time revenues and by cutting expenses.
“Obviously, it’s a balanced budget, and it will be done by the beginning of the fiscal year, when it’s required. We think it’s going to be acceptable by the ratings agent, and will preserve the city’s AA [bond] rating,” Humason said.
The mayor said this is not the budget he wanted to present in his first term of office.
“I would have liked to say it was a pleasure to present my first budget to the Council, but it’s not a pleasure, it’s been a difficult process. People worked hard, and did what they had to do to live within their means,” Humason said, adding that the budget is based on a projected 10% cut from the state.
“We really have no idea from the state what the cut will be. If [the city gets] more, that will go to make some restorations. With this economy, I can’t bank on that, and have to do the fiscally responsible thing while hoping for the best. I’d love to hope that we will get all sorts of money,” Humason said, adding, “My experience with the state legislature shows me that we are not going to get a lot of money from the state. I hope I’m wrong.”
Humason called the FY21 department budget of $137,034,712, the only one that can be cut, slightly less than last year’s budget. “Not much less, considering,” he said, referring to negotiated increases in employees salaries, losses in local revenues, and the projected loss in state aid.
Humason said it preserves all of the city services, with some big strains on departments. He said there are no layoffs on the city side, although there are positions that will not be filled.
On the school side, the superintendent is counting 27 fewer positions. “Folks are going to get pink slips,” Humason said
“We made the necessary cuts to get to that $8 million,” Caputo said.
They were also able to fill in some of the gap with the $1.5 million in free cash for the school department, proposed by the mayor and voted on by the City Council on June 4, which resulted in 19 fewer positions being cut. Another approximately $1 million from an upcoming one-month health care premium holiday will be used to offset cuts to the city side of the budget.
“There’s definitely an impact on our budget, on the school department side and to city departments; positions unfilled, reductions in travel and supplies. Considering how bad things are across the country, we’re going to be okay. I don’t think we could sustain this if we had another year like this next year,” Humason said
“Westfield is not alone,” he stressed, referring to other cities and towns across the state. “Some are dealing with it differently, dipping into more of their cash reserve, hoping for a lower state revenue cut. We need whatever reserves we have for next year if the economy doesn’t improve. If money doesn’t materialize, (we will all) end up making cuts in the middle of the fiscal year, which is harder to do,” Humason said..
Humason said the budget process was a collaborative one.. “It was not done in a vacuum. I think the City Council has been very good to work with up to this point. President Bean and Ralph Figy, the chair of Finance, were pretty helpful,” he said, adding that the budget was developed in consultation with department heads, the city auditor, city treasurer, three former mayors and the superintendent of schools. He said they also listened to parents, students and teachers.
“We took money from different sources, took money from different departments, and laid some people off. Not what I wanted to do, but what I needed to do. I don’t like it, it’s not the one I wanted to present, but the one I had to present to live up to my responsibility as chief executive. I’m hoping for better times down the road,” Humason said.