City Council Liveblog 3/31/09

7:23: Late start tonight. The budget presentation is in our hands and literally hot off the press. We’ll blog as the City Manager presents later, and try to get material online as/if possible.


O’Brien calls it “unprecedented times.” “The ripple effect is real…we have to recognize we’re not alone.”

He also calls out the “false sense of security” that there are “others” who will solve the fiscal problems for the city. “There will be resources to mitigate our challenges…but the operative term is “to mitigate.”

7:30: O’Brien reiterates the five point fiscal plan…this is essentially an 18 month budget, O’Brien says.

  • Extension of Pension Schedule-$6.5 million saved
  • One Time Revenues for Snow Removal Carryover-$2.5 million
  • One time Revenues to Stabilize Services-$1.5 million
  • Seventy current/projected frozen positions-$2.5 million
  • Non-union employees wage&benefit changes-$850,000
  • Increase in Administrative fee for grants-$1,000,000
  • 911 Communications grant funding-$620,000
  • Fee Increases(Parking, permits, records, etc) – $500,000
  • City Street light acquisition and maintenance – $1,000,000
  • Reduce Capital Borrowing Cap to $15,000,000 – $300,000

REMAINING FY2010 BUDGET GAP: $14,130,000

7:38: O’Brien has cut out the planned trash bag fee increase, which would have brought in $1,000,000. But he has eliminated wage increases, saving $2,000,000($1,000,0000 will go to establish Emergency Stabilization fund) and gotten health insurance increase reduced to 8.5% from 10%, saving another $689,391.

CITY SIDE FY2010 BUDGET CAP: $12,440,609

7:40: “The other shoe is set to drop.”

State FY2009 9-C Cuts of $5 million and snow deficit of $3 million will magnify problems and layoffs.

FY2009 salary savings from layoffs will exceed $2 million. Overtime reductions will bring in more.

7:42: Operational priority is clearly police, fire, and DPW, says O’Brien.

In his presentation document: “These reductions are significant. Decline in the services we provide and the quality of life we enjoy.” Top to bottom layoffs coming.

308 positions eliminated.

  • 308 positions lost
  • 99 layoffs effective today
  • 31 WPD recruits(24 may be saved by Byrne/COPS grants)
  • 54 vacancies frozen and eliminated
  • 80 early retirements
  • 20 future vacancies

“It could have been a far different scenario,” says O’Brien


  • Split force/community impact sustained
  • Neighborhood watch sustained
  • Night traffic sustained
  • Domestic Violence unit sustained
  • Assumes control of Animal Control from inspectional services
  • Recruit class remains on layoff
  • 24 Officers funded by Byrne from April-June 30, 2009 and from July 1 through September 30th, peak season.


  • No layoffs of current line firefighters
  • New fire class laid off
  • Deputy Chiefs positions reduced to two upon retirement
  • Promotion to official ranks frozen. Vacancies upon retirements filled from fire class
  • Manpower drops from 406 to 384
  • Elimination of manpower overtime—rolling company closures
  • Emergency management goes to communications
  • Fire administration positions transferred to the line


  • Streetlights on
  • 4 city beaches open for summer
  • “Honest conversation on pools”
  • Parks staff down to 25 people(40% reduction in 4 years)…no staff to maintain pools in summer. 30 years of no capital reinvestment in pools. “Pools…will not be open this summer.” BUT “We’re working with some community partners to potentially open their pools.”
  • Programs reduced or eliminated: long patch, guardrails, crosswalk painting, berm repairs, abandoned vehicles


  • One inspector layoff in code and housing each
  • Clerical and tech support reduced
  • Vacant positions eliminated
  • Response time for inspections to increase
  • Water lab eliminated; outside testing
  • Emergency stabilization funds remain


  • Library and branches open
  • MCPHS funding for FY2010
  • No Sundays or Mondays at Main Branch
  • Elimination of 8 librarians, 2 other staffers


  • Cabinet position and Office eliminated, sub departments assigned to CIty Manager’s Office
  • Human Services(Human Rights, Disabilities, Veterans) relocated to City Hall
  • MMRS Program to Emergency Management Department
  • Grant Funded Health operations maintained


  • FINANCE: 10 positions eliminated…focus will be on first ine service, collections, internal controls, budget monitoring, contract compliance
  • TECHNICAL SERVICES: 5 positions lost
  • ASSESSING: 5 positions lost


Attorney and Clerk eliminated; two positions in HR eliminated


  • Oversee Human Services
  • Cabinet oversight of library, elder affairs, public health
  • Maintain parades funding
  • Loss of 3 positions for management and clerical support


“Shell of former self”

But will partner with UMass and other institutions, bringing about a “national model.”


O’Brien says the city is reducing $3,034,395 in funding but netting $4,350,000 in savings/additional revenues.

We missed a couple department summaries as we flew through…our apologies.


Talks about assumptions…if things get worse though, more layoffs, tapping into emergency reserves, and upping the trash bag fee will all have to be looked at.

“We have played all our cards.”

O’Brien says reforms at the only and best medicine going forward, and that this will be at least a three year fiscal cycle of this type.

“We have not seen the depth of cuts seen in other communities.”

8:05: Here come the council comments/questions.

Barbara Haller first.

-Does the budget impact fund reserves, key in the “5 point plan”

O’Brien admits that by planning for no wage increases next year, he has to actually accomplish that in negotiations.

But, he says…the budget plan sticks mostly to the plan.

8:10: Kate Toomey:

“Clearly this has been a sad day for Worcester.”

8:12: Rosen: Sorry for the people who have lost jobs.

8:15: Clancy. It’s a “somber” budget and a “sad day for the city.” “It’s a shame…to see the decline in city services.”

8:18: Petty: Also recognizes the laid-off employees, the City Manager’s work. He asks if we’ll city impact statement.

O’Brien: They’re on the way…potentially as early as tomorrow.

8:20: Councilor Smith, reciting the most overused chestnut in the history of historical history. “This reminds me of the Tale of Two Cities…it is the best of times, it is the worst of times.”

“Reforms..[mean] a lot less pain then we otherwise would have felt.”

8:23: Palmieri: Behind the numbers are faces.

8:27: Rushton: Keeping a literary battle alive with Smith, “There is no joy in Mudville.”

“We don’t know where this is going to end.”

He encourages “the people” to engage. “While we have the general framework…there are the nuances and details that matter.” He asks O’Brien to be open to opinions and conversation about changes, not just affirmations.

8:31: Lukes: “We all share the anguish of this day.”

8:32: Talking about budget hearing schedule…final vote needs to be around May 12 to fit within the 45 days mandated by the charter. Lukes says she doesn’t know if the school budget will be ready by then.


8:33: If the schools are late, or the state comes back with cuts on, say, May 13th, O’Brien says it would be changed through transfer or other action.

8:40: Unruly party ordinance-Madnick speaks; he hates it.

Germain: “This order is imperative for Worcester.”

“However…I agree there are things we need to vet a little further.”

Lukes agrees it’s overly prohibitive.

It’s being sent to Public Safety committee(Haller’s) to tweak it a bit more.

9:00: Airport. Eddy raises an interesting point about the potential airport transfer to Massport under the proposed transportation reform. As seen in this document, if the city can’t negotiate a sale price to Massport, one will be established for it by the state.

9:13: Limb cleaning is getting to be a pain. DCR/other authorities are going to be cleaning some of the limbs still left from the ice storm.

Moylan says limbs need to be put on/near sidewalks when they see signs to do so posted. In the southern part of the city, limbs under 8 inches can be brought to Ballard/Millbury Street; over that size, a contractor must be called.

He draws a distinction between cleanup related to the ice storm, and repairs to sidewalks, properties, etc due to ALB removal. Cleanup because of ice storm=Worcester; ALB-anything=DCR/USDA

9:23: Salaries for all school personnel and school administration personnel.

9:27: Adjourned.


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