Councilors vote against legislative budgeting

Marlborough – The City Council meeting March 23 was alive with debate as councilors aired their opinions on issues from the placement of cell towers to the fiscal year (FY) 2010 budget. But it was an order requesting the Department of Public Works (DPW) to take steps to reduce its budget that raised concerns that, if approved, was singling out one department to budget by legislation.

    Submitted by Council President Arthur Vigeant, Ward 1 Councilor Joseph Delano, Councilor at-Large Stephen Levy and Ward 2 Councilor Paul Ferro, the order specifically asked DPW Commissioner Ronald LaFreneire to prepare the FY 2010 budget with a 3 percent reduction, reduce the number of employees by four and begin to privatize lawn maintenance.   

    Explaining to the council that the order came from the Operations and Oversight Committee, Vigeant explained that it was not singling out one department: the School Committee was also asked to reduce their budget by 3 percent. His committee was only asking the DPW to do at least the same, he said.

   “We have taken a lot of heat for reductions in the Police and Fire departments,” Vigeant said. “We asked them [police and fire] not to backfill retirees’ positions … We are asking them to make cutbacks.”

    Asking the DPW to reduce employee headcount by four is because that is the number of positions that are currently not filled, according to the commissioner’s report, Vigeant explained.

    Raising concern that the DPW has already begun to fill these open positions in spite of a citywide hiring freeze mandated by the mayor, Vigeant said he wanted to be sure that the DPW was living under the same constraints as the public safety departments. 

    “It is only right to give them fair warning so when they get cut, it is not a surprise,” Vigeant said.

    Councilor at-Large and Chair of the Finance Committee Michael Ossing said he was planning to vote against the order, explaining that the message of fiscal restraint was already sent down to all departments by the mayor and that all of the departments have already submitted budgets.

    “I am not a fan of legislative directions to set budget,” Ossing said. “Our job is to approve the budget when it comes down.”

    “I will support the Chairman of the Finance Committee [Ossing]. I think they did a fine job with last year’s budget,” Ward 7 Councilor Donald Landers said. “That is the process I would like to follow.”

    “My feeling is we need to reduce,” Delano said. “We need to put a system in place to do this a different way.”

  “The pain has to be shared everywhere,” Ferro said “Either way, we are going to have the same results.”   

    “I am not going to support this,” Councilor at-Large Patricia Pope. “We did not asks the School Department to make reductions … I am not going to make the DPW the scapegoats … Let’s get the budget in front of us and then analyze it.”

    “We have financial issues. Anyone in the city, state or country who does not know that is hiding under a rock,” Ward 5 Councilor Robert Seymour said. “… In my view it is not necessary.”

    The order was shot down, with seven councilors voting against it. 


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