Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Budget Workshop: Public Works, Parking, and More

The Common Council held the second of three workshops to discuss the budget for the coming fiscal year. These workshops allow the Council Members to hear from the directors of city departments about their budgetary needs, and to make statements about the process.  The first was held Monday, and it dealt with the Mayor's office, Treasurer, Finance, Tax Assessor, Town Clerk General Counsel, Office of Emergency Management, Central Communications, Fire, Police, and Board of Education.

Tuesday's workshop covered Old Burying Grounds, Health, Human Relations, Parking, Recreation and Community Services, Registrars, Russell Library, Public Works, and Technology Services, it lasted less than half as long as Monday's marathon 5 hour session.  The longest discussions were on the biggest of those, Public Works, and the one with the most potential changes, Parking.

Health, Registrars of Voters, and Old Burying Grounds
Joe Havlicek, Director of the Health Department, answered a few questions about the Mayor's proposed  $733,375 budget for his department. Most of that expenditure is for salaries. Overall, the salary budget for the Health Department is rising from $673,880 to $718,713; the Mayor's budget includes $209,559 for 3 health sanitarians (last year $191,076). The Council asked questions about the line items that are NOT funded in the budget, including events like the Flu Clinic, and Kids Health and Safety Day. Those events might receive funding later.

Democratic Registrar of Voters Lisa Santangelo listens to
Council questions.
The two partisan Registrars of Voters ($227,061 in the Mayor's proposed budget) aired their ongoing dispute over the staffing required for primary elections. The dispute centers over the issue of moderators. The Republican Registrar, Janice Gionfriddo, has argued that in a primary election, it was not necessary to provide double staffing, with separate Republican and Democratic staff. The Democratic Registrar, Lisa Santangelo, was emphatic that each party should provide its own staff.  Gionfriddo estimated the cost of this duplication at about $7,500.

Old Burying Grounds, who knew? The Director of Old Burying Grounds said that the city now owns 8 cemeteries, and that his budget ($77,220) was sufficient to maintain them.

Russell Library has a reduced budget
Geen Thazampallath, chair of the Russell Library Board of Directors, said that the $2,832,632 budget would allow the library to provide all the services it currently does, including remaining open on Sundays. The overall Library budget is lower than last year, despite an increase in the salary for the director, because the new board and the new director anticipate a reduction in staff. Thazampallath said that it was clear that the Library was overstaffed at certain times.

Public Works asked to investigate maintenance of school properties
Bill Russo, Director of Public Works, was praised for his thoughtful memo explaining his department's $6,275,463 proposed budget, which is slightly lower than the current year's budget. Councilman Tom Serra suggested that the city to start the process of taking over maintenance of school properties, transferring money from the School budget to Public Works, "It's time we do this".

Serra asked Russo to request the money he would need to hire a consultant to determine the costs of this maintenance, "What would it take for you to analyze how much it would cost to maintain the outside of the schools?"

Russo responded cautiously, saying that he hoped he could convene a meeting with school officials, someone from the city finance department, and at least three of the five council members who serve on the Public Works Commission.

Mayor Drew has proposed two major changes to the parking ordinances, as part of his budget. The first would eliminate the Parking Fund, which is currently entirely funded by parking revenues and dedicated to maintenance and improvement of the City's parking facilities. The parking revenues would instead go into the General Fund, and used to pay general city expenditures. The immediate effect of this ordinance change would be to provide $90,000 into the general fund next fiscal year.

The second proposal would dramatically increase the fines for late payment of parking tickets.

Both ordinance changes are worthy of a longer article, stay tuned, faithful reader.

Not done yet
All of you municipal maniacs who just cannot get enough budget workshops have one more to go! On Wednesday (7PM, Council Chambers), the Council will hear directors discuss the budgets for Council of Veterans ($8577), Probate Court ($40,130), Transit District ($270,003), Lower CT. River Council of Governments ($3,560), Planning ($756,396), Water ($6,724,397) and Sewer ($9,448,761) Departments.

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