City Budget Hearing 5/5/09

7:13: Getting going in a bit…

7:18: We’re jumping back to council biz for a second…nothing big.

7:23: Still technically under council, but relating to budget…Germain is asking for the public health nurse layoffs to be halted until the swine flu “crisis” passes.

O’Brien, reiterating an earlier council item. In essence: Budget reality is rough. It’s bad. Budget deficit is big. The budget situation is tough. Things are going to be hard. “Grim situation.”

O’Brien has asked for tactical support from UMass. They’ll help with any outbreaks, etc…nurses, faculty, staff, etc. “With that assurance…we’ve sustained the core mission of public health.”

7:35: Rushton says that public safety, as important as it is, has been “too narrowly defined,” and should include public health.

Public Health is a priority. Public Safety is a priority. Public Schools are a priority. Public Works are important….what’s not a priority again?

7:39: Toomey: “It’s important we retain the ‘public’ in public health.

7:43: This is great. Having conversations about public health items that are being referred to the finance committee that will meet as soon as this conversation is done where they will have more conversations on public health.

Actually in Finance now. First up the library

7:45: Dr. Judy Finkel talking.

“The library serves as an important part of economic development.” (Because it’s downtown.)

“With the loss of public school libraries and librarians, the library is the place to come.”

“Serves as a public common…reflects the strength and diversity of our community…an essential part of our democracy.”

Large portion of users come to use internet, she says.

Loss of financial support would have a “great impact”

New head librarian Lisa Gangone:

Cuts have “already had an impact on the library”

  • Total hours down 15.5 hours a week to 65. Dangerously close to 63 hours a week required for state funding.
  • Loss of funding and certification would mean residents couldn’t borrow from other libraries; non-citizens couldn’t use ours.
  • Usage of computers has increased 20% in the first half of the fiscal year
  • Number one in the state for a community our size in computer use
  • 64% of the population have library cards…filling DCU Center 7.5 times.
  • 1200 people use library on Sundays

7:54: Why Mondays? asks Palmieri.

Because keeping the main library is harder than branch libraries…and workers need a two day weekend, if possible.

How much money will it take from this council to keep the library open for seven days? asks Palmieri.

Report to come from City Manager.

Palmieri…on PILOT!!!!! Have any of the colleges agreed to pay up to help the library get back where it belongs?

O’Brien: Already have $50k coming from MCPHS. He’s still negotiating with non-profits, including colleges and universities. He’s made “dramatic progress,” particularly with one more institution, and he expects to make an announcement in the next few weeks.

Palmieri asks if there are more coming to help the library after the second. O’Brien says he’s going to continue to work.

8:20: Great revisionist history: Rosen says that colleges that have “resisted PILOT for years…are now interested in supporting our library.” 1 and 1 potential, a trend it does not make yet, Gary. Maybe soon, not yet.

8:26: PUBLIC HEALTH(again. For real)

Again, this is devastating stuff. There’s a lot of support here for nurses tonight; there was a rally of sorts earlier.

8:31: O’Brien says a lot of the nurse tasks are being reassigned—tattoo parlors, for example, will go to inspectional services.

8:33: Rushton asks to suspend the rules to let the large crowd the opportunity to speak. Lukes doesn’t like it; Rushton says they’ve been here for several hours, including while library was taken out of order.

Robin Clark of the UMass Center for Clinical and Population Health Research: Asking for public health cuts to be restored. Details a myriad of effects if cuts are maintained.

And asks for the City Manager to share his plan for keeping core services.

Another speaker, Ann, a public health nurse from Worcester…a member of Mass. Nurse Association: “I know my community is in danger. The decision to [layoff nurses] is a shortsighted and dangerous one.”

8:46: A speaker from Neighbor-to-neighbor. “I don’t understand how in the world a population of 175,000 could only have two nurses trying to protect us.”

“I don’t understand how we can cut a service like our healthcare.”

“How can we leave our fate to UMass? They’re a great place, but this is Worcester, this is our baby.”

8:51: HOPE Coalition representative….keep Public Health.

8:53: Mike Kennedy from the Center for Living and Working…talking about disability services….wants funding restored.

He calls for “creative” use of the office—running stings on inappropriate use of placards, etc.

9:01: Toomey: Funeral directors are concerned about being able to find parking at City Hall when they come to get burial permits.

9:04: Worcester already has one of the highest infant mortality rate in the state; Toomey’s worried it’ll go higher without nurses.

She also asks about diseases being reported to the city/state appropriately. “If we do not provide a level of autonomy, how to be ensure…everything’s being reported?

Derek Birindisis says it’s state law for PCPs and hospitals to report—and if they don’t, their license can be in jeopardy.

9:15: Rosen says every other public department is being maintained – public schools, works, safety – despite cuts. “Somehow we decide public health in Worcester won’t be public anymore.”

“We know we’ll be sitting here in a month looking at the budget again; well, we won’t be looking at public health, because it won’t be public.”

He’s asking UMass to PAY for a portion of the city’s public health services, rather than do it themselves.

9:19: One of the strongest arguments from O’Brien yet…firmly says that with tough times in the coming years, essentially…we’re going to DEFINITELY make more cuts, possibly as soon as this summer—so if the council isn’t ready to talk about new revenues, what do they want him to do?

9:21: Rosen calls for a public health committee meeting about the UMass/city partnership and plan.

He also criticizes the City Manager for cutting the department THEN setting up a task force with UMass to talk about the plan—he says it’s backwards, leading O’Brien to give a recent history lesson on how precipitous the drop off in finances was.

9:28: And, asks Rosen, if the department is being cut…and the new setup is months away, are we essentially without a public health department for a bit?

9:30: Eddy asks if councilors can limit comments to 10 minutes to save us from a all-night affair.

9:38: Rushton says in Cambridge – a potential model for the new Worcester public health system – puts $6million into the system; we put $600,000 yesterday

9:40: We’d like to take this quick break to call out a tiny bit of BS. As Mayor Lukes continually reminds the council, they only have the authority to cut the budget, not increase. Yet, their first item of the budget calendar a few weeks ago was the City’s Clerk office, who got a potential bump up of one clerk and a new printer. Nothing huge, but clearly the council has added to budgets in the past.

9:42: Birindisi says that in case of outbreaks, the idea is to formalize the relationship with UMass’ Graduate School of Nursing to use students to complement city staff on community health efforts. (Those students already have RN licenses)

9:50: Germain: “This one scares me.”

9:59: Petty—more cuts a-coming.

O’Brien/Petty: Let us paraphrase: WE’RE GETTING A TON MORE CUTS! OK? GET IT!!!! WE’RE GETTING MORE CUTS!!!!!

10:10: Birindisi: “We are down to a level where we are doing what’s required under national law.”

“The public is safe…I feel safe going home at night.”

“I don’t see…us privatizing public health. As long as we have the staffing levels to provide assurance to the community…whether we use community partners..[we’re doing our job.]”

10:18: Birindisi slides in a remark we missed—why are we categorizing this as privatization if we’re talking about a public hospital?

10:31: Eddy has raised concerns about supporting one hospital over another; Lukes is concerned about monitoring of public nurses and who owns the records—the city or offsite locations they’re working at.

10:34: MOVING ON TO CITY MANAGER ADMINISTRATION

10:37: Fran from Office of Rights and Disabilities

She says the biggest loss is the support staff…

10:41: Scary moment as Dawn Clark, chair of the Disability Commission, takes a fall as she’s being led to a seat at the center table…she is able to continue after being lifted back to the chair.

“I’m scared of walking across the street, because I fall on pebbles…I fall on cracks,” says Clark, who uses a walker.

“We can do this…”

“I have nothing to lose…that’s the beauty of my life.”

“I could sit here and tell you we want the Office of Disability reopened…that…we’re the ones who are going to lose [if public transportation goes away]…we’re the ones who are invisible.”

10:51: Karen Greenwood on Veteran’s Affairs

She says it’s an exceptionally difficult job for one person – sending out checks, dealing with calls from veterans and widows, budgets, etc. She says the state might even come in and help her rebudget, because it needs to get done.

She asks for help, or suggestions.

11:03: Rushton says clearly, there are major gaps that need to be met to help serve the lowest end.

11:14: LICENSING, CITY MANAGER’S CONTINGENCY APPROVED.

11:18: ELDER AFFAIRS

  • The head is now working the desk at the senior center
  • $100,000 reduction or so
  • Staff Assistant, clerk, and custodian eliminated
  • Programming cuts
  • Support staff non-existent
  • Lack of multicultural staff
  • Lack of nurse has a big impact…partnering with other agencies, but no fulltime nurse that has relationship with “regulars”

11:38: HUMAN RESOURCES

The last department. By rule, councilors need to wrap up within 21 minutes. Cutting it close.

  • 2 staff positions cut, mitigated by administrative fee going up to 3%
  • Losing front desk person
  • Reduction of AA staffer (midlevel/senior management)
  • Anticipating an increase in needed services

11:41: Germain taking the opportunity to ask about about the insurance audit…123 subscribers scrubbed so far. 140 non responses.

Germain says there’s probably a reason those 140 haven’t responded, so he anticipates that 123 will grow.

11:52: Next week will be ALL BUDGET ALL THE TIME! Starting at 4pm,going straight through.  We…can’t…wait.

ADJOURNED!

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1 Comment

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One response to “City Budget Hearing 5/5/09

  1. Are they taking a dinner break? And do we know what they’re starting with?

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