Budget woes – Aldermen and Councilors tackle 2011 city budget

A joint meeting of the Common Council and the Board of Aldermen held May 19 on the 2011 budget broke the bad news. Everything is going up in the City and the safety net from the state to fund some of these expenses has gaping holes.

Whether they were looking at the increasing school enrollment figures or health care costs, the city will be paying more in 2011 to deliver the same basic city services than it paid in 2010.

Department heads, Mayor Carlo DeMaria, members of the School Committee and Superintendent Frederick F. Foresteire appeared at the joint meeting to explain their proposed budgets.

Cuts were proposed in several budgets.

The Assessing Office lost $65,000 of its annual appropriation.

The city solicitor’s office proposed cut of $60,000 was rejected.

School Committeeman David Ela opened the meeting by explaining the proposed school budget at $64,789,971. He noted that there were 237 more students enrolled at the local schools bringing the total school enrollment to 6,122 representing about a 4 percent increase.

The new students were enrolled at all different levels with the high school and elementary students comprising 109 students and English Language Learners adding 73 students. Everett was one of the few cities to experience an increase in school enrollment in the state as almost 60 percent of the reporting districts revealed a decrease in enrollment.

Foresteire explained that low rents as well as an abundance of housing stock is what contributed to the increase. Alderwoman Millie Cardello commended Foresteire for his programs for special need students.

“I am so impressed with what the school department has done with special education,” she said.

Ela also noted that over the last five years most of the increases in the school budget have been received from the state.

He noted that Everett taxpayers will pay only $76,000 in additional taxes for the school budget, whereas more than $1.8M will be received from the state.

Foresteire also noted that the school department has saved money by outsourcing plumbing duties.

Both the Aldermen and Councilors had few questions on the school department budget unlike the city budget.

Procurement officer Jill Barringer was questioned about salaries including her own. Alderman Charles DiPerri made a motion to reduce her salary from $75,329 to $70,000. DeMaria said that Barringer is an asset since she is also a lawyer. He noted that both the State’s Inspector General’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office were very pleased that Barringer was the Procurement officer. The measure to reduce the salary was defeated by a 13-6 vote.

Assessor Bill Hart was questioned extensively about the $165,000 in outside services that will be paid to help the city fight rebates and assure the higher assessments to property owners that have been approved but maybe contested in the courts.

Hart said the City saves money by using outside vendors and that he expects the fee to go down when the new bids are opened in June.

The members voted to cut this account by $65,000 by a 11-7 vote. They acknowledged that they would be open to restore the funds at a later time in 2011.

Mayor Carlo DeMaria warned the Board, “If you cut this from the budget, I can not add this amount that will pertain to the 2 ½ override for future budgets.”

The members left in the request to fund an assessor’s position at $75,000 that has been vacant since December. Hart noted that his office needs this position to be filled and noted that due to the salary, the city will have to accept a person with less experience than the person who was there before.

City Solicitor Colleen Mejia was also grilled by Alderman Michael Marchese about adding another Assistant Solicitor to the payroll. DeMaria and Mejia acknowledged that the position is needed to go after people who refuse to pay the fines except by court order.

“Don’t cut a $60,000 position that could bring in $100,000 in revenue,’ DeMaria said, Last year more than $164,000 were brought in fines having been brought to court.

Councilor Rosemary Miller told her colleagues, “We need a person to do this work.” The motion to cut the position failed on a 13-4 vote.

DeMaria warned again as the budget hearing continued, “We need to cut millions of dollars or have the state house pass the reforms like health care.”

DeMaria was referring to the law that would allow the Mayor to have city employees enroll on the state health insurance plan saving the city millions of dollars in premiums.

Both the Aldermen and Common Councilors will continue to debate and finally vote on the 2011 budget at their respective meetings

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