WESTFIELD – The Special City Council meeting to finalize the FY20 budget is still on for Thursday, June 27 in Council Chambers with an amended agenda. The first item reads Budget Workshop/Committee of the Whole to review the FY20 Budget, followed by Final Passage of the FY20 Budget.
“Dave (Flaherty) was incorrect in his assumption that we couldn’t do it,” said At-large Councilor John J. Beltrandi, III, who will preside over Thursday’s meeting. He was referring to the scheduled Special City Council meeting on Tuesday, June 25 to review the budget, which was cancelled on a point of order raised by Councilor Flaherty, challenging the process.
“Now we have the legal opinion to back it up,” Beltrandi said.
While the Law Department was unavailable for comment, Mayor Brian P. Sullivan explained Flaherty’s error. “Here’s what he’s wrong about. The budget was given to the City Council as a whole. The Council gave it to the Finance Committee for review, but it was still in the Council,” Sullivan said.
Flaherty maintains that he is not wrong.
“On June 12, the City Council received the budget from the Mayor, stated Flaherty. “According to the minutes ‘Upon motion of Councilor Bean, it was VOTED: That the Mayor’s FY20 Budget be accepted and REFERRED TO FINANCE COMMITTEE.”
Flaherty said the Rules of Council Section 27(a)(1) state: The finance committee shall have initial jurisdiction over the annual city budget and the setting of the property tax rate.
“It’s clearly the case that items that are in committee stay in committee until the processes outline in Section 31 (a) or (b) are followed. If there was any other interpretation or intent, Section 31(b) wouldn’t be in the Rules,” said Flaherty, “I should know. I was on the Charter and Rules Committee during the last major update. We paid an outside lawyer to review all of the Charter and Rules clauses and give us advice. He then edited or wrote every paragraph. The Committee and the full City Council at the time also discussed every single paragraph. This 90-day clause was discussed and it was left in there in order to give the committees the time they thought they needed before the full City Council could take impetuous action on an item.”
Flaherty said he knows some people are unhappy he delayed the budget vote, but he believes it is his “role and obligation to do what I think is in the best interest of the residents and business owners of Westfield. Sometimes that means playing hardball and doing things that don’t make everyone happy.”
Flaherty then called the current budget process “a disaster.”
The first item on Thursday’s amended agenda is Budget Workshop/Committee of the Whole to review the FY20 Budget, which is identical to the sole agenda item at Tuesday’s cancelled meeting.
When asked whether he hoped to pass a budget on Thursday night, Beltrandi replied with an “emphatic yes.”
“It’s my job as a member of the City Council to make sure the city is funded by July 1, so that all of the projects that are already in place aren’t jeopardized,” Beltrandi said, adding that the most important thing is to provide services to the residents. “That’s our job,” he said.
“The bickering has to stop. We’ve got to get our work done. That’s what we’re there for,” Beltrandi said.