I’m responding to the May 20 article about the mayor’s presentation of the proposed 2024 city budget (“Mayor’s $171M Budget Focused on ‘Pavement, People, Parks,’” Page 1, The Westfield News). The article had some accurate numbers, but I think it left the wrong impression with some folks.
First, I support this mayor, and in general the budget he has proposed. There are tax and spending increases, as we both mentioned last Thursday evening. However, given the inflation that has affected all of us, this budget is no surprise, and it does not contain any significant low-hanging fruit that can be cut. The mayor and his team have reviewed this budget in painstaking detail over the last five months. The mayor has done a great job using the resources that are available to accomplish his goals. “Pavement, parks and people” are important priorities that are shared by many residents, business owners, department heads and city councilors. Much of the capital spending is being paid for with ARPA money — money that the federal government “gave” to cities and towns across the country, and money that your kids and grandkids will have to pay back over the course of their lives.
Second, my comments were addressed to the council and the public — not as a slight to the mayor, and my goal was to make it clear that the budget included increases in taxes, the use of one-time money to balance the budget, and that there will be more challenging budgets in the future. The reason I brought this up now is because over the last few years a few councilors seemed surprised that we had to raise property taxes for homeowners when setting the tax rates in November. The budget is set now. This is when tax increases have to be addressed — not in November.
My comment about $3 million in new taxes included the $2.1 million increase for existing properties (2.5%) plus the $900,000 new growth number. You can see these numbers on page 282 of the budget. The numbers quoted by the mayor referred to the increases in spending.
My comment about the use of one-time money referred to the $1 million use of free cash (see page 282), the temporary reduction in health care insurance of about $1.4 million (due to healthy funding in the reserve account, on page 286), and the use of about $5 million of one-time grant money in the school budget (see School Department budget). The city cannot count on using these funds for recurring operating expenses going forward. Therefore, I’d expect the budgets for the next couple of years to be much more challenging.
In conclusion, I generally support the mayor’s budget, but am concerned about the use of one-time money. However, I accept that it’s the best we can do given the economic challenges, the constraints of Proposition 2½ and Massachusetts state laws, and the limited funding provided by the state. In my opinion, the mayor is prudently using the resources available to accomplish the goals shared by many.
The writer is a former city councilor.