Budget Liveblog 4/14/09

6:53: Off we go.

LAW DEPARTMENT:

  • Reduced by two positions; one restored due to Clerks’ union agreement. Essentially level-funded.

Barbara Haller wants to know if there’s enough money to hire outside counsel—both for foreclosure issues, and other city issues–to stay on top of them and prevent a backload.

City Manager Michael O’Brien, boiled down, says it’ll be tough, and that there’s essentially little money for outside counsel, except for labor counsel for negotiations, infrequent development negotiations (CitySquare), etc.

7:07: PROPERTY AND CASUALTY INSURANCE

  • Level-funded.

Lukes: “Why? Everything else is going up.”

Solicitor David Moore: Hanover Insurance stepped up with lower costs as the insurance provider, allowing the city to keep costs down.

7:26: One of the interesting aspects to budget hearings is how councilors use the opportunity to brush up on how departments work, and discuss internal policies procedures, etc. Lot of conversation about Law Department related material right now, with David Moore explaining the “why’s” behind the “what’s.”

7:30: WORCESTER CIVIC CENTER:

  • DCU naming rights revenue “has been exhausted.”
  • 10 year deal, but the money was all up front

7:44: Take for example of almost-off-budget remarks, this little exchange: Mayor Konnie Lukes complains that the vast majority of the fiscal burden of the DCU Center is on the city—that we own everything. She sarcastically says she always waits for the contract with SMG to be up, only to get the “good” news that it’s been renegotiated on the same terms.

Bill Eddy quickly jumps in, asking what generously could be called a leading question to the City Manager: “Isn’t it true…this is one of those special circumstances” that losing money is, essentially, OK, because the building brings in spin-off revenue. The City Manager concurs whole heartedly, calling it a “loss leader.”

7:48: Rosen: Are we considering getting out of the entertainment business?

O’Brien: We’re pleased with SMG…everything’s on the table…will be evaluated along with conversations about leasing city-owned assets.

7:49: Worcester Auditorium

Moylan asks to frame the DPW& Parks budget as a whole to make it easier to understand, as it is, he says, more difficult to follow.

DPW&PARKS

  • Cut by $3.4 million, 17%
  • 37 cuts
  • Cuts come from three areas: “Traditional” DPW-26 positions (Roads, administration, etc); Parks – 11 positions; Streetlights – $1million+
  • Salary reduction of 37 positions:$1.6 million. Administration- 4 Operations-14 Parks-11 Engineering-8
  • Prominent cuts: $100,000 or 350 fewer crosswalks; no more “long patch” program; no guardrail repair; no berm repair. “For all the damage we cause…this damage will not be repaired until this funding [comes back],” says Moylan
  • Closing 8 pools
  • Grass along medians and islands will be cut twice a year
  • No safety surfacing at playgrounds

“As I look over the DPW&Parks budget…as I look back 10 years ago, our department is now down 74 positions from where we were,” says Moylan.

“If I look back 20 years, we are down 196 positions.”

“We still have the same responsibilities and tasks…in fact, we have more.”

He points to the abandoned car program(profitable, he says), the graffiti removal program, customer service center, the higher number of parks, the bulk waste drop off, nuisance team, inhouse design.

“Maybe we are victims of our own success. Sometimes in government you need to fail to get the resources…

“We are at the tipping point…Failure, while I don’t hope for it…could actually happen with this budget.”

Concerns:

  • Ability to complete fall leaf collection
  • Snow removal: He says he knows they won’t be able to complete street owned sidewalks in compliance with city ordinances
  • Street sweeping: “I could see street sweeping taking us until June or July

He says he has no regrets taking over the streetlights from National Grid, “but we have no idea what we’re going to buy,” in terms of condition of infrastructure.

“There will be a learning curve [and a need] for patience.”

Wow. Hell of an intro from Moylan. Moving on to individual departments in a moment.

8:02: O’Brien says he’s looking to save money in DPW through union contract negotiations, a possible increase in trash bag fees.

And, says O’Brien, it may be time for the council to take a critical look at raising taxes.

(He also says there’s the possibility of the state closing the telecom loophole, implementing the meals tax, etc).

8:07: “There are tough days ahead and [it’s time] to look at the revenue side,” says O’Brien.

Haller wants to know if the city can save money on city-owned cars for employees; Moylan says it’s due within 60 days or so.

Haller: “As a society, we’ve become spoiled, expecting government to do too much for us.”

8:15: Palmieri says the most calls to city councilors are about DPW, and points out he talks to Moylan more than any other councilor. He also says that “at times, the administration turns a deaf ear…to those in the greatest need.” He calls for reform in city-owned vehicles, and says it’s the “bottom rung” that feels cuts the most.

We’re having a lot of city server issues here tonight; we apologize if updating is slow going forward.

8:22: Germain wants a comparison of how much trash bags cost compared to other cities.

8:24: Eddy says it’s time for Green Hill Golf Course to stop being a loss leader….although Moylan says this year, they’re anticipating no tax levy subsidy.

8:29: Moylan talks about the new “tiered” system of parks maintenance. “In the past, all parks were sort of treated the same…it became clear we could no longer do that.”

“It’s more of an art than a science.”

He says he’ll submit a report with full details, but the criteria included past investment in parks, need for keeping it up, etc. That third tier of parks, he says, will receive “minimal” attention from city employees.

“Parks in the lower tier will get minimal trash removal and be cut as little as twice a year.”

8:46: 24,000 lbs. a day, 13,000 homes, and 15 miles: the daily total of a trash bag collector, says Moylan.

8:59: Joff Smith is asking if citizens can take on some of the DPW tasks being neglected; Moylan says that some basic tasks can be, with appropriate supervision. But, says Moylan, position eliminations means he’s less wiling to do the outreach himself. Smith says he’ll coordinate…at least for District 1.

Smith also asks if the jail can take over making street signs…going back to the good old days of license plate manufacturing. Cue chain gang music, here.

9:07: Rosen, like Palmieri, calls for the administration to somehow consider opening pools.

9:11: Rosen talks about the passion of the people speaking at pools hearings: “They don’t plan on going to Worcester airport…they don’t plan on seeing Herman’s Hermits at Hanover Theatre…they don’t go to Mechanics Hall that much…but they use the pools.”

“I know we can’t afford them…obviously we can’t come up with [money]….whatever we can do to save pools in the future….they’re just as important as Hanover Theatre, and Green Hill Golf Course…the train station, the airport, Mechanics Hall. The pools are just as important as other amenitites [are to us].”

City Manager Michael O’Brien: “I just want to echo Councilor Rosen’s passion for the pools.”

“It comes down to…priorities and choices.”

He says he doesn’t want to repeat the mistakes from the past of building pools, but not being able to sustain them over time.

9:18: Toomey asks what the next round of cuts will entail.

O’Brien answers: “In the event that there are dramatic reductions in local aid…we are prepared to make necessary reductions if required by going deeper in departments.”

Toomey: “So it’s safe to say the worst is yet to come?”

O’Brien: “…plan for the worst and hope for the best.”

9:24: Lukes: “No matter what we say here tonight, we’re going to have to go through…a second round of cuts.”

“It’s the burden of the employees’ leadership to keep them working….to keep them from unemployment…to see they’ve been generous.”

She says the City Manager’s demands on unions are fair, that the city has been “generous” over time and she is disappointed in unions for not stepping up.

“As we all know, this is not over yet. If we’re going to solve the problem, we’re going to have to start talking
furloughs.”

Adjourned.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Budget Liveblog 4/14/09

  1. Wait, the Golf Course is losing money? And we’re supporting it?

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