Worcester Budget Hearing 4/28/09

7:17: INSPECTIONAL SERVICES

Commissioner of Inspectional Services Joe Mikielian is highlighting his department’s cuts

  • 70 positions last year; 17% reduction for FY2010 to 58
  • $463,000+ decrease in expenditures

Mikielian says the cuts are tough “personally and professionally.

  • Most services in housing will still be provided, including the property review team and handling of problem properties, neighborhood sweeps, and the nuisance team.

This is one of the departments that has gone through huge changes over the past year or two, and has gotten huge accolades for that transformation—several city councilors are hitting on that point, thanking the department for their efforts.

7:23: Haller: “I don’t want this department’s reputation tarnished by unrealistic expectations of what they can deliver.”

7:30: Mikielian says one change is employees won’t be as visible at neighborhood meetings, but will be just as accessible to neighborhood groups and citizens through phone, email, 929-1300, etc.

7:34: Mikielian also says at some point, service times may increase.

7:38: Services are being cut back on – the public health lab, for example – but the services with the greatest direct effect on people are being maintained it sounds like.

7:57: POLICE BUDGET

Chief Gemme:

Starting talking about when he first took the helm of the department…how he and the City Manager agreed that a fully funded department was key.

There were 467 personnel in 2004, and there are 467 today.

  • $2.5 million reduction in salary from last year, $3.1 million overall
  • Losing 4 civilians, on top of 18 already lost
  • All told, there are 56 vacancies in the department
  • 80 police officers will no longer be employed
  • State is not supporting a number of major police grants, such as the Shannon Grant. Not to mention the Quinn Bill.

Challenges:

  • Maintaining community policing and community impact division
  • Anti-violence, domestic violence, police involvement in problem property team, etc.
  • Loss of overtime—affecting investigations, seasonal impact, etc.

Focus will stay on violent crime, and on “drugs, gangs, and guns.”.

“…Hard to provide…the way we’ve provided community policing to this community.”

8:03: Gemme: The department is applying for several other grants to supplement funding to restore some cuts in service

8:09: City Manager Michael O’Brien says “informal dialogue” continues with police unions about contract reforms (or contracts, period)

8:11: Some interesting analysis here from Gemme.

  • He needs bare minimum 45 officers to staff lockup
  • He needs others on backup, in addition to regular patrol
  • Traffic personnel is down to 16, including day and night officers and fatality investigations

So if he has only 300 something officers at some point, there aren’t a lot of places to pull from, aside from community impact, etc.

  • Gemme says he’s confident he’ll get “some level” of additional funding from the COPS grant or something else…COPS will come through in October, and would keep 24 officers. If we are set to lose those 24, says Gemme, he’ll look to pull from the overtime account.
  • One of his big fears is losing the Summer Impact Program

8:26: Toomey: Do people owe money for details?

Zidelis: As of June 30, we’re back in the black. If there are people who haven’t paid, they can’t get another detail, and need to pay in advance.

8:29: Damage is listed as a $0 expenditure—if there is a damaged car in a wreck, and costs are recovered, they are channeled through operational budget, and zeroed out.

8:31: Theoretically, based on one scenario put forth earlier tonight by City Manager Michael O’Brien, would potentially mean another 40 beyond the current 54 and (current potential) 24 cuts…

Gemme says beyond lockup, call response, and a small homicide unit, he wouldn’t be able to provide many services.

8:44: Interesting question from Rosen: Will the age of the average police officer increase as layoffs hit younger officers?

Gemme says overall, the department is getting younger. But he’s concerned about the amount of stress on a department stretched so thin. Compared to other departments – according to an upcoming study he cites – we are understaffed.

8:54: Gemme says the problem with reducing community policing and proactive work is that calls for reactive policing will go up.

“If we reduce the frontline of police officers, we cant [ensure] backup…”

Safety of officers, says Gemme, will remain his #1 priority.

9:01: If Gemme cuts overtime to save officers, it will mean cutting back on impact teams, keeping anti-crime teams out late night, etc.

Post hearing from Gemme….no cuts at this time to Alcohol enforcement

9:17: FIRE DEPARTMENT

  • Average age at the end of FY2010 will be 47
  • Dio: “The city will not be covered as safely as past years”
  • Training cut by 60%—only mandatory training
  • Cut of $2,625,714 in budget
  • Three men crews instead of four in most cases, to meet response time
  • Response times will increase 30 seconds for every company not in service
  • Average response time will be 6 minutes
  • Injuries will increase for civilians and firefighters, says the chief, as will wear and tear on apparatus
  • Dive team will suffer, at the same time pools are closed, increasing risk for water rescues at ponds
  • Permitting, inspections will be delayed
  • Violation response calls will increase from 2 to 4-6 days
  • Community involvement-crime watch, school functions-will be reduced 30%

“These budget reductions will not allow the Worcester Fire Department to perform to the highest level.”

9:25: Chief says during the summer, we could have 5 companies out of service—he projects a 7 minute response time.

And fires double every minute.

He says that there will potentially be some areas of the city with no coverage if that many companies close.

“This summer is going to be particularly bad,” says Clancy.

“Correct,” says the chief.

9:30: Haller: “I was actually dreading this budget presentation…This is the department I’m most concerned about. I continue to find this [budget] dangerous.”

“Unlike the police department, we don’t seem to have any sugar daddies out there.”

9:43: Haller asking a question we’ve been wondering—-most calls for WFD are for EMS and health calls….with such cuts, are we looking at reorganizing, down to the alignment of stations.

Dio says those recommendations for the minimum alignment were made two years ago—and we’ve cut since.

No word on the EMS side of the equation.

9:45: Haller holds the Fire Department budget. “This is too radical for me to approve tonight.”

9:53: Dio: Older crews, more injuries…more injuries, more guys who go on IOD, still count as a worker, but can’t be replaced with a younger firefighter.

9:56: Dio says he doesn’t feel – at this time – that there are any areas of the city that are seriously at risk beyond others.

10:15: We haven’t forgotten you, just not much new said.

10:29: Some debate over Haller’s motion to hold—you can’t hold a partial piece of a budget, but the only vote that really counts is the final vote…so they’re approving the budget, but Haller wants to discuss further down the road. Lukes reminds her that the Council’s authority is only to cut.

But they have increased or restored cuts for other departments.

10:31: Communications approved with no discussion.

10:32: We’re adjourned.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Worcester Budget Hearing 4/28/09

  1. And with the number of days we’ve already had a red flag warning for fire danger, it’s not a good year to have fewer firefighters or a longer response time.

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