By Joshua Resnek
If Revere were a hostage about to be executed and the budget process a firing squad, then it could be said that the city dodged death following this yearâ€™s budget-making process. In fact, the city dodged many bullets, that is, it escaped the most drastic cuts and wholesale chops with the $127 million budget signed, sealed and delivered.
â€œWe need reserves to survive fiscal year 2010, and after that, we havenâ€™t much cash left to work with,â€ said Mayor Thomas Ambrosino.
The mayor said the proposed budget couldnâ€™t have been accomplished if it werenâ€™t for an enormous amount of cutting.
Although dramatic cuts were made, no fire stations have been closed, and the police department is slightly smaller than it was this time last year.
â€œA day of reckoning is coming at some point,â€ said the mayor, â€œbut that day isnâ€™t here yet.â€
The city has been hurt by smaller state distributions, a soaring payroll, higher costs for city health insurance and unfunded pension liabilities.
The cityâ€™s pension fund assets dropped about $30 million with the near collapse of the stock market and the onset of the deep recession currently experienced.
Payroll, Ambrosino said, is about one-third of the cityâ€™s budget, or slightly over $20 million.
In order to reduce payroll, city employees must be laid off. At this point, the mayor believes everyone who can be laid off without disrupting city services are already gone.
However, there are other formidable hurdles.
Health insurance totaled $15 million for the year, up millions from the year before, and is an unsustainable expenditure, said Ambrosino. Also unsustainable is the cityâ€™s pension liability, he added.
The city budget is $73 million.
The School Department budget is $54 million.
Looking ahead is dreary, said the mayor.
With payroll costs rising and health insurance premiums for city employees soaring out of sight, the city will need $5-$6 million it wonâ€™t have on hand next year in order to maintain this yearâ€™s expenses, all of which, said Ambrosino, is a virtual impossibility.
â€œWe need relief. Health insurance would be a good place to start. If the cityâ€™s unions all agreed to join the GIC â€“ the Group Insurance Commission – the city could save almost $3 million with no difference in the quality of care,â€ he said.
The only difference would be in co-payments that would be slightly larger with the GIC plan.
The cityâ€™s unfunded pension liabilities were heading for a planned 2024 payoff.
â€œThatâ€™s out the window. Now weâ€™re looking to extend the schedule,â€ said the mayor.
The mayor held out some hope for new revenues.
He talked about the possibility of added gaming revenues.
The state government is said to be ready to consider casino gaming licenses or slot machines in the fall for the stateâ€™s remaining dog racetracks and also for Suffolk Downs.
â€œThatâ€™s the only glimmer of hope I see,â€ said the mayor. â€œThat, and smaller hikes in two local taxes on restaurants and hotel rooms.â€
As of October 1, the cityâ€™s meals tax will be raised to .75 percent and the hotel tax will rise to 2 percent.
â€œCity services have been reduced. We donâ€™t have as many personnel. Sidewalk repairs and tree cutting will be cut back. Youâ€™ll still get city services in Revere, but those services will be delivered more slowly,â€ said Ambrosino.