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City’s $75.7M budget plan passes

City’s $75.7M budget plan passes

The City Council voted 6-1 on Saturday to adopt a $75.7 million spending plan that cuts budgeted exp

The City Council voted 6-1 on Saturday to adopt a $75.7 million spending plan that cuts budgeted expenses for several departments and won’t raise property taxes next year.

Mayor Brian U. Stratton, who had threatened to veto the proposed budget if the cuts went through, declined to comment afterward on whether he will veto the budget. He has 10 days to do so, and the council would need five votes to overturn his veto.

“We’re going to look at this budget carefully,” he said.

Councilman Mark Blanchfield presented $914,363 worth of revised cuts to the council at the Saturday morning meeting.

The cuts allow property taxes to remain at their current level or even be reduced slightly — perhaps a 0.25 percent decrease, Blanchfield estimated.

“It’s our view that this is not a time to increase the level of services,” he said.

The mayor’s proposed budget called for a 2.9 percent tax increase.

Many of the cuts were made to individual line items that weren’t completely spent in the past. In those years, the resulting surplus was shifted into the city’s fund balance, which stands at $1.6 million.

Two positions that are slated to be cut are not currently filled, Blanchfield said.

But finance consultant John Paolino warned the council that the cuts will affect how quickly and how well the city will be able to address public needs.

The budget removes an appraiser from the assessment office and $70,000 in assessment service fees, which City Assessor Pat Mastro said will stretch his office thin.

In the past, the city has allowed property owners who were challenging their assessment to sit with staff for an informal review before the board of assessors hearing.

“We won’t have the opportunity to do informal reviews with this cut in spending,” Mastro told the council Saturday.

But Blanchfield said the cuts won’t affect essential city services.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for this council to be blamed or that the people should be scared somehow,” he said.

Councilman Gary McCarthy cast the sole “no” vote, saying afterward that he would like to see the city police department receive more funds to improve its response times.

Councilman Joseph Allen said he is concerned about how much the state will cut in aid to municipalities after its special Legislative session Nov. 18.

“I’m waiting for the shoe to fall from the state and federal government as far as their cutbacks,” Allen said. “I think we’re probably going to have to come back and make adjustments to this budget.”

The city charter requires a final budget by Nov. 1. But Stratton had urged the council not to pass a spending plan until later in the month. “These are extenuating circumstances,” he said.

A proposed 3 percent pay raise for Stratton was removed from the budget. He makes $96,706 a year.

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