The City Council is only halfway through its line-by-line review of the 2014 budget, but it will hold a public hearing today to find out what residents think about the proposed spending plan.
The hearing will be at 7 p.m. at City Hall.
Overall, the $79.6 million budget would increase the average homeowner’s tax bill by $68 a year. Of that, $38 would be in higher sewer and trash fees. The rest would be in additional property taxes, at a total rate of $13.92 per $1,000 of assessed property.
Council members have vowed to reduce that, but the news thus far has been discouraging.
So far, the council has learned that many revenues fell far short of their goal this year. Among the biggest hoped-for sources of money, the city is down more than $500,000 because the police didn’t collect any unpaid old traffic tickets and very few landlords paid for rental property inspections.
And expenses are going up. The police are well over budget for overtime this year, at $1.4 million as of the end of September. They were budgeted to spend $750,000 for the entire year. The proposed budget calls for an increase to $850,000, but police Chief Brian Kilcullen said that would still not be “realistic.”
In past years, the police spent more than budgeted on overtime but balanced out the cost by not filling some positions. The savings in salary roughly equalled the over-spending in overtime.
This year, the police filled all their positions — a move that previous chiefs have said would reduce overtime. But Kilcullen said he needed the overtime anyway to fill vacancies during vacations and other leave.
He also told the council that overtime is costing much more than it should cost the city because of a quirk in police policy.
Senior officers get first dibs at overtime, even if the overtime shift isn’t for their normal job. As overtime for detectives was cut, but overtime for patrol officers remained steady, detectives have taken more and more of the patrol overtime shifts. Detectives get paid more than patrol officers and are paid overtime on that higher salary, even if they are working as patrol officers.
At the Fire Department, costs are also going up with the addition of an assistant fire chief. That person will work for part of the year and then be promoted to chief when Chief Michael Della Rocco retires.
The proposed budget cut a deputy chief to reduce the cost of the new position, but Della Rocco said he needs all six deputy chiefs.
Four oversee the firefighter platoons, while two oversee training, emergency medical service and the hazmat team.
With the deputy and other expenses, the Fire Department budget would go up $500,000 next year.
The council is also considering whether to spend small amounts of money on new initiatives.
The proposed budget includes $22,500 for part-timers to walk through the city next summer looking for dogs. Their census would be used to enforce the dog license law and crack down on loose, dangerous dogs.
The city would also pay cash for two police cars and two small fire vehicles, using money squirreled away in this year’s budget.
Council members discussed cutting that money during last year’s talks, but eventually agreed with the finance commissioner, who asked them to save it for unforeseen expenses.
Councilman Vince Riggi pointed out that the savings doesn’t mean the police cars are free. He argued that taxpayers were over-taxed last year to raise the money.
“Taxpayers paid for them this year,” he said.
The budget also calls for an increase in sewer and water fees so that the city can pay cash for repairs, rather than borrowing money each year.