In his address, Drew said that he inherited a "budget crisis" when he took office, he blamed both increased expenses and the loss of $1.9M in tax revenue paid by Aetna (the grand list actually remained stable compared to last year, due to an increase in other properties). Drew said that his administration had taken a number of steps to reduce expenditures, reducing the potential tax increase from 12% to his proposed 3.8%.
Drew said that he had eliminated 12 positions, and transferred employees between departments "to maximize the efficiency of our existing workforce." He negotiated a better rate for energy, changed aspects of the pension fund management ("Re-distributing asset revenue and taking steps to reapportion pension fund risk") and cut the budget for overtime. He also announced that he would be flat-funding the schools, providing no increase to what was provided last year (more details).
In his address, Drew said that his budget reflects what he viewed as our city's highest priority, its benevolence. He said that he was increasing or maintaining spending in areas which he felt would "realize a return on that investment". These include the following:
- Adding a grant writer (The budget adds $60,000 per year for this purpose to the Mayor's office budget).
- Opening Russell Library on Sundays ($25k per year for overtime)
- Fostering youth employment opportunities (I'm not sure where in the budget this is, the Youth Services line item is minimally changed, from $224,234 last year to $224,677 in this year).
- Adding money to support downtown events ($47k will go towards Police over time for the 5k Road Race, Cruise Night, Holiday on Main, Kids Health and Safety Fair, Motorcycle Mania, Regatta, St. Sebastian's Festival, Westfield Memorial Day Parade, MiddNight on Main, Fourth of July).
- "We have maintained a commitment to Arts funding" (The total line item for "Arts" is down from $223,443 to $208,531).
The next step in the budget process is for the Common Council to review the Mayor's proposal. There will be a series of Council meetings to hear from various directors about their budget needs. In May, the Council will vote on the Mayor's budget, either as presented or following amendments. If the mayor's budget fails to pass, the Council will substitute a budget of its own.
The analysis of, and proposed changes to, the Mayor's budget has been led by Councilwoman Hope Kasper. Kasper told The Eye that she and other Council members would be examining the Mayor's proposal just as closely this year as in years past. She was confident that they would be proposing some changes.