Call in the reserves – Mayor: We have to dip into our savings

It’s time to dig deep into the City’s piggybank this year.

Mayor Tom Ambrosino unveiled his City Budget on Monday and said that there is no more left to cut, and that the City would survive this year by raiding the Rainy Day Fund to the tune of around $2 million.

“We need $2 million in reserves to survive Fiscal Year 2011,” said the mayor. “We’re opening City Hall back up on Fridays and we’re adding two police officers. I’ve done enough cutting [the last few years]. We can’t cut anymore. We can’t get our work done as it is now. All I can do [to trim the budget] is to cut more people.”

When asked to sum up this year’s budget in one word, the mayor responded with, “Horrible.”

The total City Budget is $135.8 million and that represents a 6.8 percent increase over last year – which is pretty hefty on its face, but the mayor said there’s more to the story in the details.

Of the $8.66 million budget increase, nearly $3.2 million (2.8 percent) comes from the School Budget – which the state increased quite a bit due to the loss of Stimulus Funds that were doled out last year. To make up for the lost Stimulus in the schools, state leaders have tentatively bumped up School Budgets substantially.

So, in actuality, city government alone only increased about 4 percent – and most of that, the mayor said, comes from fixed costs like contractual employee raises and health insurance plans.

There are no frills and no new programs.

The only change to the status quo is that City Hall will be open on Fridays once again after being closed on Fridays for more than a year. The Hall will still close one Friday a month as a cost savings measure.

Another change will be the addition of two new police officers to the budget, as was ironed out last week when the City Council passed the local option Meal’s Tax increase. The money collected from that increased tax will go directly to funding the two new police officers.

The total budgeted for the police officer contingent is 89. That number assumes that two officers will be funded by the schools and another three officers will be paid for with state and federal grants that are still pending.

“We’re pretty optimistic that we’ll get money from those grants,” said the mayor.

Meanwhile, the Fire Department remains static with 96 firefighters. Five firefighters have retired and they will be replaced this Monday in a City Hall ceremony with new recruits fresh out of the Fire Academy.

The biggest budget buster this year, however, is salary increases.

Last year, several city unions agreed to postpone contractual raises to help the city make its budget. Now, those raises are knocking at the door, and they will take quite a toll on this year’s budget – accounting for a lot of the budget increase.

“All of the raises were deferred to Fiscal Year 2011,” said the mayor. “The unions aren’t going to defer salary increases any further.”

Meanwhile, health insurance coverage for city employees has also increased by nearly $1 million. That is a pretty big increase (about 7 percent), but certainly not along the lines of 10 to 15 percent increases that came in the recent past.

“Health insurance increases were probably about 7 percent,” said the mayor. “That’s not so bad in comparison to other years. It’s still a significant number, but it’s not as large as it has been.”

Other large increases included MWRA water and sewer assessments, up by $815,000 over last year.

Also, the city’s debt schedule increased by about $100,000 – and that’s after applying more than $800,000 received from the car rental surcharge to pay off the Public Safety Facility.

The city now carries $3.768 million in debt payments per year, which include principal and interest payments for the new schools and the Public Safety Facility – among many older projects.

The mayor said that by October he would have a better handle on how much savings the city would have to use to make it through the year. Removing money from Rainy Day Fund requires a vote of the City Council.

The mayor said that after using savings for this year’s budget, there would probably be enough left for next year too. After that, the well would be dry.

“We have enough to survive on reserves one more year,” said Ambrosino. “In Fiscal Year 2013, the city will be in trouble unless [state] revenues pick up.”

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